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Under pressure from state environmentalists and the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will begin taking civil rights concerns into account in its permitting process for neighborhood afflictions like water-treatment plants and garbage depots.

In February, DEC announced that the agency will give minority communities earlier notice of permit applications, set up a dispute-mediation process between communities and businesses before permits are approved, and identify projects that may trigger environmental justice concerns.

The plan came out of months of informal discussions between the state agency and environmental groups, including the League of Conservation Voters and the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance.

Environmental groups hope DEC’s plan will give officials pause before placing noxious projects in minority communities. “You need to build a link in special circumstances, in communities of color that have been overburdened,” says Mathy Stanislaus, co-chair of the Minority Environmental Lawyers Association. “No agency has [taken] that step. That’s what led to the environmental justice movement.”

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