Residents file Title VI Civil Rights complaint over Corpus Christi desalination plant

Desalination plant would disproportionately harm a historically Black neighborhood


Alexandria Trimble,

Today, Earthjustice, on behalf of Hillcrest Residents Association and Citizens Alliance for Fairness and Progress, submitted a civil rights complaint to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) against the City of Corpus Christi for violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. The complaint requests that the EPA’s External Civil Rights and Compliance Office and HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity investigate whether the City of Corpus Christi is in compliance with Title VI based on the City’s decision to locate a new industrial facility — the Inner Harbor Desalination Plant — in the historically African American Hillcrest neighborhood.

Corpus Christi’s refinery row surrounds Hillcrest residents who have endured decades of segregation followed by environmental racism in the form of refinery pollution, new highways, and disinvestment by governmental entities. As a result, Hillcrest residents have worse health outcomes and a 15-year lower life expectancy than other parts of Corpus Christi. The complaint argues that the city has a pattern of siting industrial facilities in the Hillcrest neighborhood, and the decision to site the desalination plant there is intentionally discriminatory and would subject Black and Brown residents to disproportionate adverse impacts from the increased industrialization of their community. The complaint follows two successful previous Title VI complaints filed by the Hillcrest community, including one against the city for proposing to locate a new sewage treatment plant in the same part of the neighborhood as the now-planned Inner Harbor Desalination Plant. The city is a recipient of federal funding from HUD and EPA and is therefore required to abide by Title VI.

“I believe that the City of Corpus Christi’s Inner Harbor desalination plant proposal is destructive to both the Hillcrest neighborhood and Corpus Christi Bay marine life,” said Reverend Henry Williams, president of the Hillcrest Residents Association. “This Title VI complaint aims to preserve both.”

“The City of Corpus Christi has proven over and over again that it values profits over Hillcrest residents’ health and quality of life,” said Adam Carrington, senior pastor of Brooks AME Worship Center and co-chair of the Citizens Alliance for Fairness and Progress. “The city is sacrificing Hillcrest yet again to support industry’s need for additional water and we call on the federal agencies to stop this latest injustice.”

“If the City of Corpus Christi has its way it will cause environmental catastrophe in a historically African American community,” said Lamont Taylor, vice president of Hillcrest Residents Association and co-chair of Citizens Alliance for Fairness and Progress. “This latest desalination project is a prime example of environmental racism.”

“The City of Corpus Christi’s flagrant decision to site the Inner Harbor desalination plant in Hillcrest violates Title VI protections and perpetuates its pattern of discriminately locating industrial plants in this historically Black neighborhood,” said Erin Gaines, senior attorney at Earthjustice. “The project cannot move forward without a full investigation into Title VI compliance.”

The City and Port of Corpus Christi have proposed four locations for potential desalination plants that would enable the buildout of new petrochemical facilities in the Coastal Bend region. Freshwater is a key need to further industrial expansion of petrochemical facilities, which will lock in more climate pollution, plastic waste, and toxic chemicals that poison our communities.

Earthjustice and Perales, Allmon, and Ice, P.C. also represent the Hillcrest Residents Association in challenging the City’s Inner Harbor Desalination Plant water permit applications before the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to ensure the agency’s permitting includes an environmental justice review and protects critical marine ecosystems and the regional fishing, recreational, and tourism industries in the area that would suffer from the discharge of brine from the desalination plants.

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