Discriminatory Environmental Permitting in Camden, N.J.


SCCA v. New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection

It was clear that polluters were not going to stop targeting Camden, and that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) would do little to stop them.

When DEP approved a slag grinding plant in Camden, a city already far past saturation with polluting facilities, we brought South Camden Citizens in Action (SCCA) v. NJDEP, a lawsuit charging DEP with discriminatory permitting practices.

Brought in partnership with Camden Legal Services and the Center on Race Poverty and the Environment, the lawsuit followed CRCQL v. Seif and sought to enforce Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits recipients of federal money from operating in a way that disproportionately harms minority citizens. The case argued that NJDEP, by consistently allowing polluters to locate in Camden, has violated the civil rights of the city’s residents.

In District Court, the judge ruled that the regulations are enforceable in lawsuits brought by private parties, that NJDEP’s actions had a discriminatory effect, and that NJDEP had not tried to determine whether the facility complied with anti-discrimination laws. The judge ordered an investigation of the slag-grinding plant’s racial impact, and he prohibited the $50 million plant from opening until the study was completed.

Unfortunately, after we won a ruling in federal courts, a Supreme Court ruling in a separate case took away the right of private groups to sue under the law on which our case was based. The lawsuit was dismissed, and the slag-grinding plant opened, spewing thousands of tons of dangerous pollution into the city’s air.