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January 20, 2022

Louisiana Has Failed to Protect Black Communities from Toxic Air

Community groups file civil rights complaint with EPA against state agencies

Contacts

Erin Fitzgerald, efitzgerald@earthjustice.org

Washington, D.C.

Today, Earthjustice and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, on behalf of Concerned Citizens of St. John and the Sierra Club, submitted a complaint to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) against the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality and the Louisiana Department of Health for violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Black residents of St. John the Baptist Parish have been subjected to disproportionate air pollution and extremely high cancer risk caused by various manufacturing facilities, including the Denka neoprene production plant. These agencies have failed to control hazardous air pollution and mitigate its harm. Administrator Michael Regan visited St. John the Baptist Parish on his “Journey to Justice” in late fall 2021 due to the severe environmental injustice this community has faced and is facing.

“For years, we have tried to engage with state agencies and local officials to share our concerns about our communities’ ongoing exposure to toxic air pollution and the extraordinarily high rates of cancer we experience. But we have been dismissed time and again,” said Mary Hampton of Concerned Citizens of St. John. “It is unacceptable that we’ve been ignored for so long, and so now we’re asking the EPA to step in to protect our civil rights, including to have equal protection from environmental harm, and to ensure that our right to breathe clean air is finally enforced.”

“Environmental injustice in St. John the Baptist Parish has created a public health emergency,” said Deena Tumeh, Earthjustice attorney representing CCSJ and Sierra Club on the Title VI complaint. “This predominantly Black community suffers disproportionate exposure to toxic air pollution and, as a result, the highest cancer risk from air pollution in the nation. EPA must protect the civil rights of St. John’s Black residents and ensure that federal funds are not used to discriminate on the basis of race.”

“It is beyond time for the EPA to step in to protect the residents of St. John the Baptist Parish from environmental racism,” said Dorian Spence, director of the Special Litigation and Advocacy Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.“The Louisiana Department of Health and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality have abandoned their duty to protect this majority Black community. Intervention from the EPA is critical to protect the health and wellness of the residents of St. John.”

“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must step in and protect the residents of St. John the Baptist Parish,” stated Jane Williams, chair of the Sierra Club’s National Clean Air Team. “Louisiana has failed to protect fenceline communities, including St. John residents, from the harms of highly polluting facilities. Now is the time to act.”

About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law — The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, particularly in the areas of voting rights, criminal justice, fair housing and community development, economic justice, educational opportunities, and hate crimes. For more information, please visit https://lawyerscommittee.org.

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.