What's at Stake
EPA’s delay allows these neighborhoods to continue to be harmed by the permits long after they were issued. Many of these facilities have already been built and are now on EPA’s “Significant Violators List” for their high levels of toxic pollutants.
Communities across the country sued the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to investigate their civil rights complaints for more than a decade. The complaints involve discrimination by the states in granting permits that subject already overburdened low-income communities of color to more big-polluting facilities.
EPA accepted the complaints which are on permits for two gas-fired power plants in Pittsburg, Calif., a landfill in Tallassee, Ala., a hazardous waste facility in Chaves County, N.M., a wood-incinerator power station in Flint, Mich., and an oil-refinery expansion along the Texas Gulf Coast. These permits are for facilities in predominantly low-income African-American or Latino neighborhoods.
The complaints, filed between 1994 and 2003, argue that state agencies permitted these facilities through discriminatory actions, processes, patterns or practices. Many states failed to consider the environmental burden the facilities, like ExxonMobil’s refinery expansion in Beaumont, Texas, would have on residents who already suffer from elevated levels of asthma and breast cancer due to pollutants in the area. Others actively stopped residents from participating in public hearings on the permits, or provided them with inaccurate information.
EPA’s delay allows these neighborhoods to continue to be harmed by the permits long after they were issued. Many of these facilities have already been built and are now on EPA’s “Significant Violators List” for their high levels of toxic pollutants. Some are paying hefty fines for Clean Air Act violations.
Earthjustice filed the lawsuit on behalf of CAlifornians for Renewable Energy (CARE) and its president Michael Boyd, Ashurst Bar/Smith Community Organization, Citizens for Alternatives to Radioactive Dumping, Maurice and Jane Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice and Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter.
The lawsuit seeks to compel the EPA to fulfill its duties to enforce Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and calls on the agency to finally investigate these discrimination cases and issue long overdue findings and recommendations.
“The single greatest determinant of where certain kinds of toxic sources are located, like hazardous waste facilities, is race, and yet [the EPA has] never once made a finding of discrimination, and they very rarely use any of the other tools at their disposal to push states or localities or private actors to change their behavior,” says Earthjustice attorney Marianne Engelman Lado.
"[EPA regulators] are always on the defensive so that they are sort of paralyzed into inaction," Earthjustice attorney Marianne Engelman Lado told Truthout. "Which candidate is going to step up to the plate and say that, in addition to environmental laws, we have to have fairness in the distribution of toxic sources, and we will no longer allow this lawlessness of dumping on communities of color?"
Earthjustice Attorney Marianne Engelman Lado: “In this country, we’ve talked a lot about Black Lives Matter, and children especially living in overburdened communities of color, their health matters. The issue of whether the EPA is going to enforce civil rights is immediate and important.”