The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has launched an investigation into allegations that the Louisiana Environmental Quality and Health Departments discriminated against black residents when evaluating permits for large industrial facilities.
The decision stems from complaints from environmental groups alleging violations of the Civil Rights Act and EPA regulations that prohibit discrimination by entities that receive federal assistance.
The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law filed a lawsuit on behalf of Concerned Citizens of St. John and the Sierra Club in January that alleges that the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) failed to protect black residents from pollution emitted by the Denka Performance Elastomer Plant in St. John the Baptist Parish.
The complaint also alleges that the Louisiana Department of Health failed to inform black residents of the health risks associated with emissions from the Denka plant, the only U.S. facility that manufactures chloroprene, the Associated Press reports. .
“It is high time for the EPA to step in to protect the residents of St. John the Baptist Parish from environmental racism,” said Dorian Spence, attorney for the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, when the complaint was filed in January. “The Louisiana Department of Health and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality have abandoned their duty to protect this predominantly black community. The EPA’s intervention is essential to protect the health and well-being of St. John’s residents.
A separate complaint from the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic highlighted the disproportionate burden of air pollution suffered by black communities in a stretch of industrial development between New Orleans and Baton Rouge commonly known as “Cancer Alley.”
Tulane’s complaint relates to the first peer-reviewed Louisiana Cancer Burden Study that found higher levels of cancer in poor neighborhoods compared to affluent neighborhoods.
In total, the complaints target at least seven existing factories and two planned projects in two parishes: a $9.4 billion Formosa Plastics complex in St. James Parish and a $400 million grain terminal in St. James Parish. St. John the Baptist, according to the newswire.
EPA Civil Rights Director Lilian Dorka recently sent a notice to environmental groups and state agencies about the EPA’s environmental justice investigation. The review will examine whether the manner in which the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality administers pollution control measures has a racially discriminatory effect and whether the Health Department provides adequate information about threats to pollution-related health, according to The Times-Picayune.
Gregory Langley, spokesman for the Department of Environmental Quality, told the news site that “LDEQ’s permitting process, mandated by state law, is unbiased and unbiased.”
Steven Russo, general counsel for the Louisiana Department of Health, told The Times-Picayune that the department takes complaints seriously and reviews them closely.
A spokesperson for Formosa Plastics’ “Sunshine Project” in St. James Parish, Janile Parks, defended the project in an email to the AP.
“The Sunshine Project was thoroughly reviewed and approved by church and state agencies because it was based on sound science in the design and met all regulatory criteria,” Parks wrote.
Jim Harris, a spokesperson for Denka, released a statement to The Times-Picayune alleging that the Louisiana Tumor Registry shows that there are “no high and widespread cancer rates in the parish of St. .John the Baptist vs. State Average”.
“The complaint claims that local, state and federal authorities turned a blind eye to the health impacts in the area, but in fact these agencies studied the situation long before these groups got involved – and chose to consider the real science rather than the pseudo-sensational. studies,” Harris wrote.