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EPA’s weak response to environmental racism complaints in focus at Friday public hearing in RTP

Though polluters and their apologists on the Right love to bash the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a bastion of leftists running roughshod over innocent businesses, the truth is quite frequently the opposite. Indeed, the agency is often guilty of bending over backwards to dismiss the complaints of pollution victims. This is particularly true for poor people of color who, as has been demonstrated time and again, are typically the first to suffer when pollution invades places of human habitation.

A 2015 report from the Center for Public Integrity (“Environmental racism persists, and the EPA is one reason why: The EPA office tasked with policing alleged civil rights abuses is chronically unresponsive to complaints and has never made a formal finding of discrimination”) made the following remarkable findings:

  • Ninety-five percent of the time, communities of color living in the shadows of polluters find their claims of civil-rights violations denied by the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • In its 22-year history of processing environmental discrimination complaints, the EPA’s Office of Civil Rights has reviewed nearly 300 complaints filed by minority communities. It has never once made a formal finding of a civil-rights violation.
  • While touting the importance of tackling environmental racism, the EPA has closed only 12 cases alleging such discrimination with official action on behalf of minority communities. EPA officials have negotiated settlements in nine cases; the rest were resolved among the complainants and targeted agencies.
  • At least 17 communities are still waiting in limbo — more than half for over a decade — as the EPA reviews their civil rights claims. The delays have left residents, many forced to endure unsafe pollution levels, without recourse.
  • The EPA’s civil rights office takes, on average, 350 days to decide whether to investigate a case. In nine cases, the agency took so long — an average of 367 days — that investigators had to dismiss the allegations as “moot.”

In the aftermath of the report and numerous complaints about the EPA’s performance in this vital area, the agency has proposed some new rules to revise its procedures that it claims are designed to make things better. Unfortunately, advocates representing victims are not so sure.

This Friday, the topic will be aired in public as the EPA Office of Civil Rights holds a public hearing in Research Triangle Park — one of five sites around the nation to do so. Advocates for victims of pollution and environmental racism are calling on citizens and advocates to attend the event and speak out. This is from news release issued by the UNC Center for Civil Rights earlier today:

“Although the agency has said that the revisions are intended to improve the way EPA’s OCR responds to civil rights complaints it receives, civil rights advocates, including the UNC Center for Civil Rights, which represents various community groups on civil rights complaints filed with OCR, say the proposed changes actually weaken existing protections by removing deadlines for the agency to respond and investigate complaints…

‘It is unfortunate,’ notes UNC Center for Civil Rights lawyer Elizabeth Haddix, ‘that notice of the rule and the “listening sessions” only came just before the holidays, and was only published on EPA’s website, instead of being distributed to community groups and organizations like ours that have had so much contact with EPA’s OCR over the years.’ Haddix adds, ‘Despite this inadequate notice, we hope that community members will register to speak at one of the RTP sessions, and come in large numbers to demand justice on January 15.’”

Here are the details on the “listening sessions”:

When/Where: Friday, January 15 at the EPA’s Research Triangle Park office (109 T.W. Alexander Drive, Durham). Session A will take place from from 9:30am-1:30pm and Session B will take place from 4:00pm-7:30pm.

Register to speak at Session A by clicking here or Session B by clicking here.

For more information: Contact Elizabeth Haddix at the U.N.C. Center for Civil Rights (919-445-0176; emclaugh@email.unc.edu)
Marianne Engelman Lado at Eartjustice (212.845.7393; mengelmanlado@earthjustice.org).

Let’s hope a lot of folks show up and speak out.

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