This week the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment (CRPE) released a startling look into the institutional failures of the Environmental Protection Agency, which blocked civil rights protections from communities most affected by pesticide exposure—schoolchildren and families living in the center of California’s agricultural epicenters, like the Central Valley and Oxnard.
CRPE’s report, “A Right Without A Remedy – How the EPA Failed to Protect the Civil Rights of Latino Schoolchildren” uses history from a civil rights investigation, as well as internal agency document details into the EPA’s enforcement program, to shed light on how the agency permitted its Office of Pesticide Programs to limit enforcement of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. In turn, the office ultimately blocked Latino children in Oxnard, California, reprieve from continuous pesticide exposures.
From an excerpt of the report: “With heavy use of methyl bromide near Rio Mesa High School, Maria and the other parents sought EPA’s assistance on June 30, 1999. They filed a written request for EPA to enforce Title VI of the Civil Rights Act – called an administrative complaint – contending that California pesticide use in general, and as exemplified by methyl bromide use, results in racial discrimination. In 1999 and continuing today, Latino children represent a significant majority of public school students in California’s intensive agricultural areas. With pesticides and fumigants used in close proximity to schools, Latino children have exposures to these harmful chemicals while other, majority white schools do not face such harm. Because of this “disparate impact,” the complaint charged that the California Department of Pesticide Regulation violated the Civil Rights Act’s prohibition on racial discrimination by allowing such use.”
CRPE Legal Director Brent Newell, who authored the report, believes the EPA wants to have absolute discretion to decide, “whether or not it will protect the civil rights of Latino children in California, African-American residents of Flint, or anyone else suffering racial discrimination,” and noted in the organization’s release that, “EPA does not pay attention to the discriminatory impacts that environmental laws have on communities of color and ignores the Civil Rights Act’s demand that no person shall be subjected to racial discrimination.”
Sadly, the report finds that “EPA’s internal power dynamics produce such inequitable results” and finds the agency’s environmental programs “trump civil rights enforcement.”
This report highlights just a few of the countless instances showing how the nation’s environmental pollution is intertwined with problems of race and the need for justice.
Click here to read the report in Spanish. To visit CRPE online, visit: www.crpe-ej.org.
Editor’s note: Earthjustice is in court to demand that the EPA’s Office of Civil Rights complete investigations filed more than a decade ago over civil rights violations in vulnerable communities that have been disproportionately exposed to toxic contaminations. The EPA hasn’t resolved any of these investigations, and instead it has responded by proposing to eliminate deadlines for acting on complaints and further weaken the laws that would protect communities against environmental racism. Read more about the EPA’s poor response to civil rights complaints.