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  • Summary date: Apr 18 2023 - View Summary

    Sets forth nine NCGA findings, including (1) establishing that Black, Indigenous, and Persons of Color (BIPOC) and individuals with low income are disproportionately exposed to environmental hazards and unsafe housing, facing higher levels of  air and water pollution, mold, lead, and pests and the harm that that causes, (2) pointing to federal antidiscrimination laws and State constitutional guarantees of equal rights, (3) emphasizing that lack of a clear environmental justice policy has resulted in a piecemeal approach to understanding and addressing environmental justice in North Carolina and creates a barrier to establishing clear definitions, metrics, and strategies to ensure meaningful engagement and more equitable distribution of environmental benefits and burdens, and (4) concluding that it’s the State’s responsibility to pursue environmental justice for its residents and to ensure that its agencies do not contribute to unfair distribution of environmental benefits to or environmental burdens on low-income, limited-English proficient, and BIPOC communities.

    Enacts new Article 21D, pertaining to environmental justice, in GS Chapter 143 to identify, reduce, and eliminate environmental health disparities to improve the health and well-being of all State residents.  Defines environmental benefits, environmental burdens, environmental justice, environmental justice focus population, limited English proficiency, meaningful participation, and Program (i.e., the Environmental Justice Program of the Department of Environmental Quality).

    Establishes the State’s policy as that no segment of the population of the State should, because of its racial, cultural, or economic makeup, bear a disproportionate share of environmental burdens or be denied an equitable share of environmental benefits. It is further the policy of the State to provide the opportunity for the meaningful participation of all individuals, with particular attention to environmental justice focus populations, in the development, implementation, or enforcement of any law, regulation, or policy. Creates an Environmental Justice Advisory Council (Advisory Council) to provide independent advice and recommendations to State agencies and the General Assembly on matters relating to environmental justice, including the integration of environmental justice principles into State programs, policies, regulations, legislation, and activities. Also creates an Interagency Environmental Justice Committee (Interagency Committee) to guide and coordinate State agency implementation the Environmental Justice State Policy and provide recommendations to the General Assembly for amending the definitions and protections set forth in Article 21D. Provides for appointment process, membership, specific duties, co-chairs, terms, appointment of vacancies, and meeting requirements for both bodies.  Specifies the duties of both bodies. Requires both bodies to consider and incorporate the Equitable Access & Just Transition to Clean Energy provisions of the North Carolina Clean Energy Plan in their work.

    Requires covered agencies (Departments of Environmental Quality [DEQ], Health and Human Services [DHHS], Transportation [DOT], Commerce [DOC], Public Safety [DPS], Agriculture and Consumer Services [DCAS], Public Instruction [DPI] and the Utilities Commission [Commission]) to do the following: (1) consider cumulative environmental burdens and access to environmental benefits when making decisions about the environment, energy, climate, and public health projects; facilities and infrastructure; and associated funding; (2) adopt a community engagement plan on or before July 1, 2025; (3) submit specified information to the Advisory Council annually beginning January 15, 2024; (4) generate baseline spending reports in line with the guidance discussed below starting July 1, 2024; and (5) issue and publicly post an annual report summarizing all actions taken to incorporate environmental justice into its policies or determinations, rulemaking, permit proceedings, or project review by January 15, 2025.

    Requires the Program in consultation with the Interagency Committee and Advisory Counsel to: (1) review the definitions listed above at least every 5 years and recommend revisions to the NCGA to ensure the definitions achieve the environmental justice policy; (2) issue guidance on how the covered agencies will determine which investments provide environmental benefits to environmental justice focus populations on or before September 15, 2023, with a draft provided for a 40-day comment period before the final version is released.

    Requires DEQ, in consultation with the Advisory Council and the Interagency Committee to adopt rules to: (1) define cumulative environmental burdens; (2) implement consideration of cumulative environmental burdens within the Program; (3) inform how the public and the covered agencies implement the consideration of cumulative environmental burdens and use the environmental justice mapping tool developed by the Program, on or before July 1, 2025. Requires covered agencies to adopt policies to implement Article 21D by July 1, 2026, and to amend those policies as appropriate. Requires the covered agencies to consult with the Advisory Council prior to engaging in rulemaking and for the Advisory Council to vote on the proposed rule with those in support and in objection of the proposed rule recorded and part of the rulemaking record.

    Requires, on or before December 15, 2025, for the Program to submit a report to the General Assembly describing whether the baseline spending reports completed pursuant to GS 143-215.133(g), as enacted by the act, indicate if any municipalities or portions of municipalities are routinely underserved with respect to environmental benefits, taking into consideration whether those areas receive, averaged across three years, a significantly  lower percentage of environmental benefits from State investments as compared to other  municipalities or portions of municipalities in the State. Specifies that the report must include a recommendation as to whether a statutory definition of underserved community and any other revisions to Article 21D of GS Chapter 143, as enacted by the act, are necessary to best carry out the policies described in Article 21D.  

    Effective July 1, 2023, appropriates $500,000 in nonrecurring funds and $250,000 in recurring funds for the 2023-2024 fiscal year from the General Fund to DEQ to be allocated for the following purposes:

    (1) $500,000 nonrecurring for the cost of conducting community outreach associated with the work of the Advisory Council.

    (2) $250,000 recurring to establish the following positions: one full-time Civil Rights Compliance Director and two new full-time positions to assist in the implementation of the Environmental Justice State Policy and support the Advisory Council, one to be hired after July 1, 2023, and one to be hired after December 31, 2023.