EPA Blamed for Not Helping Communities Fight Environmental Racism

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EPA Blamed for Not Helping Communities Fight Environmental Racism

New report says the agency’s Office of Civil Rights isn’t doing enough to help those living with polluting hazards.

Earlier this year, Chicago’s public health department denied a Koch company’s request to extend the deadline for covering piles of petcoke on Chicago’s Far South Side. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

From garbage dumps to oil trains running through dense neighborhoods, the proximity of low-income and minority communities to potentially hazardous or unlivable environments is a problem in many U.S. cities. Excellent mapping tools have helped to expose environmental injustice, but daily hazards still threaten communities across the country. A report released this week says the Environmental Protection Agency is partly to blame.

In “Environmental racism persists, and the EPA is one reason why,” published Monday, the Center for Public Integrity outlines a decidedly lackluster response from the EPA Office of Civil Rights (which was created solely to make sure that agencies receiving EPA funding don’t discriminate) when it comes to environmental discrimination complaints.

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.

In its rejection filings, the EPA cited a variety of reasons, including complaints that were too late or inadequately described. According to CPI, “the EPA, in essence, requires complainants to have knowledge of civil-rights law and other nuances before filing a case.”

The CPI created an interactive graphic that lets users search how the EPA response relates to each state (national look above), and you can find the full report here.

Marielle Mondon is an editor and freelance journalist in Philadelphia. Her work has appeared in Philadelphia City Paper, Wild Magazine, and PolicyMic. She previously reported on communities in Northern Manhattan while earning an M.S. in journalism from Columbia University.

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Tags: racismenvironmental justice

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