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Biden Administration Promises Focus on Environmental Justice – NBC Bay Area

When President Joe Biden made environmental protection an important part of the campaign, he overhauled a federal office investigating complaints from people in the minority community who believed they were unfairly damaged by industrial pollution and waste disposal. I promised that.

The Environmental Protection Agency admits that the underprivileged community of the United States has been disproportionately affected by pollution, but hundreds of complaints sent to the Civil Rights Agency since the mid-1990s have been formalized only once. Brought to the recognition of discrimination.

This situation has sparked criticism from the United States Commission on Civil Rights, the EPA’s own Inspector General’s Office, and sometimes citizens who have complained for years or even decades.

Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, federal-funded states, cities, and other organizations are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race, color, or country of origin. This means that citizens who are at the mercy of industrial pollution can complain if federal funding is tied to the project.

In Uniontown, Alabama (mainly a black town of 2,200 people), Alabama’s Environmental Administration monitors a huge landfill containing 4 million tonnes of coal ash, where residents are responsible for respiratory, kidney, and other illnesses. I complained to the EPA in 2013 about what I did. Five years later, the EPA dismissed the complaint, saying that the landfill was not proving that it was causing health problems.

The United States Commission on Civil Rights called the dismissal of Uniontown’s complaint “another disastrous step in the wrong direction” by the EPA office.

The results were typical. In 30 years of complaints, the EPA’s Civil Rights Agency has found little that pollution has a negative impact on human health. And without such discoveries, the agency does not even consider whether illegal discrimination has occurred.

Marianne Ingleman Rad, recently appointed by the Biden administration to the EPA’s Legal Advisory Office, assisted in the proceedings of Uniontown residents. She almost never wins because the EPA maintains a way to assess such complaints, as scientifically proof that pollution is causing the disease is an almost insurmountable obstacle. It’s impossible.

Ben Eaton, a Perry County Commissioner involved in Uniontown’s complaint, warned lawyers that allegations of discrimination would normally go nowhere, but residents felt the evidence, including photos and videos, was compelling. Stated. “What is the purpose of having these institutions?” He said, “if they are not going to work?”

Residents of the predominantly black and Latin communities of Oakland, California, were similarly disappointed with the consequences of civil rights violations related to air pollution from ship and truck traffic at the busy Port of Oakland.

Margaret Gordon, co-founder of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, said her group was not seated at the table when the EPA issued an informal resolution with the port. Air pollution remains a problem, she said, but port authorities are now more willing to hear from members of the community.

Lillian Sotrongo Dolka, who heads the EPA office for external civil rights enforcement, touted the 2019 Auckland resolution as a “very effective” example of the differences that her office is making in people’s lives. ..

However, Richard Grow, who worked for the EPA for 40 years before retiring in 2019 and was one of the EPA’s negotiators, agrees with Gordon’s assessment.

“We have announced some very practical solutions and recommendations, but they just said’no’,” Grow said. When he reported the location of the harbor and city to Dolka’s office, he said he was told he couldn’t do anything.

There was no comment from the office, and the port issued a statement that it promised to continue dialogue with the community.

The EPA has the authority to withdraw funds from discriminatory groups, but has never used that authority. Dolka defended her office record, saying it eliminated the chronic unprocessed portion of the complaint.

“We very much disagree with the conclusion that our civil rights program can be judged by the number of (discriminatory) formal findings we have conducted,” she said, seeking an informal solution as much as possible. He said that was required by regulation.

US Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) is one of those who think the EPA’s Civil Rights Agency should do more. At a confirmation hearing by Biden’s candidate for EPA administration this month, Booker was a so-called “Alabama citizen suffering from tropical diseases caused by sewage pollution, a child with rising lead levels in his state, Louisiana. I talked about meeting a family of “cancer” alleys that felt abandoned by their government. “

An African-American senator told Regan that the EPA’s Civil Rights Department “has been revealed for years.” “In my opinion, I’m not even ready to actually start fighting these issues that affect millions of Americans.”

Regan has pledged to make environmental justice a top priority, including the Civil Rights Bureau’s “Restructuring and Reorganization,” which has 12 full-time employees. “We need additional resources ….” he said.

Critics admit that Dolka, who took over the post of external civil rights under President Barack Obama, has made some progress, including developing a case resolution manual to guide the investigation.

Obama’s final day in office was the only day Dolka’s office issued a formal finding of discrimination in a complaint filed 25 years ago against the Genesee power plant in the suburbs of Flint, Michigan. Authorities dismissed allegations that factory emissions hurt black residents and determined that there was insufficient evidence of harm to their health. However, the EPA has found that residents are not given a fair opportunity to participate in the permit process.

Mr Dolka said progress was ongoing under the Trump administration.

EPA spokeswoman Lindsay Hamilton said, “The new leadership team will work closely with career colleagues, receive feedback from stakeholder groups, and strive to strengthen the institution’s ability to fulfill its mission of environmental justice and civil rights. I will do it. “

Defenders of environmental justice say change needs to be important.

“People still have access to safe drinking water and live in the immediate vicinity of dangerous water sources,” said Vernice Miller-Travis, a longtime advocate and co-founder of WE ACT for Environmental Justice. I am. “This may be a real moment of sea change, in that the EPA does more than just pay civil rights lip services.”



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