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March 31, 2022

Groups File U.S. Civil Rights Complaint Against Florida DEP Over Environmental Justice Issues

Action filed under 1964 Civil Rights Act and Other Laws

Contacts

Dominique Burkhardt, Earthjustice, (561) 445-1555, dburkhardt@earthjustice.org

Nestor Perez, Earthjustice (786) 339-4802, nperez@earthjustice.org

Sebastian Caicedo, Florida Rising, (305) 323-8945, sebastian@floridarising.org

Washington, D.C.

On behalf of the nonprofit group Florida Rising, Earthjustice has filed a complaint with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as other civil rights laws.

The complaint is against the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and points out discriminatory acts and practices, including DEP’s permitting of Miami-Dade’s trash incinerator in the South Florida community of Doral. The complaint also aims at DEP’s discrimination against non-English speakers, from not publishing official notices in other languages like Spanish to failing to provide proper Spanish-language interpretation at the agency’s officials events. The complaint asks EPA to ensure that DEP considers environmental justice in its permitting actions statewide.

Statement:

“Florida is a diverse state with a large population of Latinx people and people from other countries. It is long overdue that DEP come up with a plan to ensure non-English speakers have the same access to environmental processes affecting their health and environment that English speakers do,” said Earthjustice attorney Dominique Burkhardt. “With the majority of Florida’s trash incinerators in communities of color, it is also time for DEP to consider environmental justice when considering permits for these polluting facilities."

Background:

  • 93% of people living within 3 miles of the Doral incinerator are people of color and 36% live below the poverty line.
  • FDEP is discriminating against members of the public on the basis of race and national origin in its incinerator permitting actions.
  • The Doral Incinerator spews pollutants known to cause cancer, respiratory and reproductive health risks, and increased risk of death, among other health impacts. The terrible odor keeps people from enjoying the outdoors — everything from hanging in the back yard to playing soccer has to get shut down because of the stench.
  • Miami-Dade County’s operating contract with Covanta for the Doral incinerator will automatically renew this year for up to 20 years, unless the County affirmatively votes by October 31, 2022 not to renew the contract. The incinerator is 37 years old. Costs to modernize it could be as high as $300 million.
  • FDEP published its Notice of Intent to issue the Title V air permit for the incinerator in a predominantly Latinx community, noticed the February 24, 2022 public hearing in English only, planned for a virtual-only Teams public hearing, refused to provide a competent Spanish-language interpreter, and has failed to maintain a required Limited English Proficiency program.
  • The notice was published in English only in the Miami Daily Business Review, a specialty publication that caters to lawyers, legal professionals, and business people.
  • The draft permit fails to take into account environmental justice laws and guidance, or the disproportionate impacts its permitting action could have on the surrounding community. Indeed, there was no consideration whatsoever of any social or economic factors of its permitting action, notwithstanding that the Florida DEP has a duty under state law to protect public health, safety, and welfare; prevent the creation of nuisances, and enhance the environment for the people of Florida.
  • Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VI”) provides that “[n]o person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000d. Likewise, for any agency that receives federal financial assistance, the Age Discrimination Act of 1975 (“the Age Discrimination Act”) prohibits discrimination on the basis of age, 42 U.S.C. § 6101 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (“Section 504”) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. 29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq. EPA’s nondiscrimination regulations also prohibit discrimination on these bases, as well as on the basis of sex. 40 CFR §§ 7.30 and 7.35(b). The DEP’s acceptance of federal EPA financial assistance creates an obligation on the recipient to comply with civil rights laws.

Additional Resources

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