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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: Read More

News

Yesterday’s meeting of a special committee of the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors included passage of a much-awaited report about centers and institutes, with recommendations that a poverty-focused center run by an outspoken law professor be shut down.

You can read my full report about the recommendations here,

Though the closure of the poverty center has garnered much of the news coverage from Wednesday’s meeting, the  most contentious aspect, by far,  was discussion about another center, the Center for Civil Rights in UNC-Chapel Hill’s law school.

The board of governors’ committee recommended that the center stay open, but that UNC-Chapel Hill campus officials review the center within a year and tighten up policies regarding political participation and advocacy work.

Fierce objections to the center’s existence were also vocalized Wednesday by Steven Long, a UNC Board of Governor member. Long, a Raleigh attorney with the Parker Poe law firm, is a former board member of the Civitas Institute, a conservative think-tank and political action group.

Below is video of Long’s comments:

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News

Scroll down to read UNC law professor Gene Nichol’s response to the expected closure of the UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity. For a fuller account of Wednesday’s meeting, click here.

A committee for the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors issued a much-anticipated draft report on centers and institutes Wednesday, recommending that three centers on university campuses be shut down in the near future.

The report also recommends tightening existing university system policies banning political participation and limiting advocacy work.

UNC law professor Gene Nichol

UNC law professor Gene Nichol

Among the three recommended for closure was the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity, on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus. The others included the N.C. Center for Biodiversity at East Carolina University, which may be merged into a department, and the Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change at N.C. Central University. Winston-Salem State University’s Center for Community Safety could also face closure if it doesn’t find new funding within the next six months.

The poverty center, which was started by former Democratic U.S. Sen. John Edwards, receives no direct state funding.

Its director, tenured law professor Gene Nichol, has rankled some Republican state leaders and conservative groups in recent years by penning editorials decrying how state policies are failing impoverished North Carolina. (Note: Nichol is a past board member of the N.C. Justice Center, an anti-poverty non-profit that N.C. Policy Watch is part of. He had no role in the reporting or writing of this piece.)

“The Board of Governors’ tedious, expensive and supremely dishonest review process yields the result it sought all along – closing the Poverty Center,” Nichol wrote in an editorial published on the News & Observer’s website after Wednesday’s committee meeting. “This charade, and the censorship it triggers, demeans the board, the university, academic freedom and the Constitution.

“It’s also mildly ironic that the university now abolishes the center for the same work that led it to give me the Thomas Jefferson Award a year ago,” he wrote.

As a tenured law professor, Nichol will continue to be employed by the university. He was not at Wednesday’s meeting.

Wednesday’s draft report can be read here.

The review of centers and institutes across the UNC system was triggered by the Republican-led state legislature, which included an item in last summer’s budget requiring the UNC system to examine the centers, and make up to $15 million in cuts. The months-long review began with 237 centers, and the draft report made public Wednesday recommends action at 16 groups, while campuses moved to shut down eight others. A group of nine centers related to the marine sciences are expected to be examined at a later date.

The total dollars expected to be saved with the recommended closure was not available, but are likely to be a fraction of the up to $15 million in cuts authorized by the legislature.

The full UNC Board of Governors will vote at their meeting next week on the UNC-Charlotte campuses whether to adopt today’s recommendations. The current board of governors have all been appointed by a Republican-led state legislature, and attracted attention for its sudden decision last month to fire UNC President Tom Ross and look for a new leader of the 17-campus higher education system.

Much of the discussion at Wednesday’s nearly two hour meeting focused on the UNC Center for Civil Rights, a group within the law school on Chapel Hill’s campus that works with students and engages in litigation around the state. The draft report recommended that UNC-Chapel Hill review the civil rights center in the next year, and “define center policies around advocacy and conform with applicable university regulations.”

UNC Board of Governor member Jim Holmes speaks Weds. with UNC Center for Civil Rights' director Ted Shaw and other staff

UNC Board of Governor member Jim Holmes speaks Weds. with UNC Center for Civil Rights’ director Ted Shaw and other staff

Steven Long, a conservative member of the board of governors, spoke out Wednesday against the civil rights center, saying he thought it engaged in partisan politics, advocated for a narrow point of view and routinely sued the state.

“It’s really not an academic center at all; it’s an advocacy organization,” Long said, during lengthy remarks he gave Wednesday.

Long, a Raleigh attorney who was a board member for the conservative Civitas Institute until 2013, made reference to a federal desegregation lawsuit the center’s lawyers, who represented a group of African-American parents, filed against Pitt County.

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News

The UNC Board of Governors is delaying the release of a much-anticipated report about a review of the university system’s centers and institutes.

UNCsystemThe report, which could recommend cuts or consolidations of various academic centers, was supposed to be presented to the full UNC Board of Governors at next week’s meeting. It will now be presented at the Feb. 27 meeting.

Questions have been raised about the goals and purposes of the review, which is being conducted by a working group of the 32-member UNC Board of Governors, all of whom received their appointments from state Republican leaders.

In December, working group members questioned why conservative viewpoints weren’t explored more fully at several UNC-Chapel Hill centers, including the UNC law school’s Center for Civil Rights and the Center for Poverty, Work and Opportunity. (Click here for more background.) The UNC poverty center is headed by Gene Nichol, an outspoken law professor who has been critical of policies coming from the McCrory administration and Republican-led state legislature.

Jim Holmes, the Board of Governor member leading the effort, has said repeatedly that the group had no partisan or political aims when it began examining the more than 200 centers located on 16 different campuses. The review has now been reduced to 34 groups, several of which serve or study minority or disenfranchised populations. (Click here and scroll down for a list.)

A draft of the report wasn’t finished over the winter holidays, and a public meeting will be held sometime before the Feb. 27th meeting for the working group to finalize the report, said Joni Worthington, a spokeswoman for the UNC system.

The date for that meeting has not been announced.

Commentary

Caring and thinking North Carolinians should utter a word of thanks today to some dedicated advocates and activists working to make sure that all who wish to vote can do so. Of particular note are:

1) The legal experts at the UNC Center for Civil Rights, which is hosting a national voter protection hotline today. As the group noted in a news release yesterday:

UNC School of Law students, with other community volunteers, are staffing a toll-free, non-partisan hotline to answer voter questions on Election Day, Tuesday November 4th, as part of Election Protection, a national voter advocacy effort. Voters can call 1-866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683) or 1-888-VE-Y VOTA (888-839-8682) with questions about their rights and the voting process….This November is the first major election after the passage of North Carolina House Bill 589, which significantly changed the voting laws in North Carolina. The Election Protection Hotline will provide resources to support voters at the polling place. Voters can call the Hotline to report any problems they encounter or witness at the polls, verify their registration status, or find their polling location.

and, 2) the student activists at Ignite NC. This is from a release that group distributed this morning: Read More