Suzanne Novak, Staff Attorney, Earthjustice: “They dismissed the complaint but they still did not do what they were supposed to, which was rule upon the issues raised in the complaint about the disparate environmental impacts it would have on this community of color.”
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.
Jonathan Smith, Attorney, Earthjustice: “This is actually the second time in history that we know of that EPA has issued preliminary findings of discrimination in response to one of these Title VI complaints. It’s sort of baffling why it would take 10 or 20 years to rule on a lot of these things.”
Salon's Alli Joseph sits down with Christine Ernst of Earthjustice to discuss Trump's environmental policy.