Diverse allies across the nation submitted public comments to the US Civil Rights Commission following up on its report called Environmental Justice: Examining the Environmental Protection Agency’s Compliance and Enforcement of Title VI and Executive Order 12898 (2016) (“EJ Report”).
The EJ Report powerfully and authoritatively voiced what many environmental justice activists and advocates see on a daily basis: that the US Environmental Protection Agency’s civil rights enforcement is woefully inadequate and much more needs to be done to make the promise of environmental justice a reality.
The EJ Report included the following recommendations
- Congress should increase EPA’s Office of Civil Rights budget to increase staffing to meet current and future needs.
- EPA should bring on additional staff to clean up the significant backlog – in some cases decades old.
- EPA should continue to build up its recent efforts to share expertise among the regions and headquarters, and support the Deputy Civil Rights Officers.
- EPA leadership must empower and support the efforts of the Office of Civil Rights and provide it with the necessary tools and administrative responsibilities to support and hold accountable other EPA entities whose jurisdiction intersects communities of color. .. .
- EPA should not adopt a phased-approach to conducting post-award compliance review.
- EPA should include affected communities in the settlement process.
In many respects, EPA’s actions, particularly, since the new Administration came into office, further undermine hope for civil rights enforcement to address discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin by recipients of funds in the environmental sector.
The public comments remainder provide additional background on the status of the Commission’s key recommendations.
For example, at page 6: EPA should regularly conduct meaningful affirmative review of civil rights compliance and enforcement pre- and post-award. The City of Los Angeles, presents an opportunity for EPA to exercise its affirmative responsibility to review recipient compliance with civil rights mandates. Diverse stakeholders have repeatedly raised civil rights and environmental justice concerns with the City and EPA over the revitalization of the Los Angeles River, yet the goal of environmental justice through a straightforward civil rights compliance and equity plan is still far off. The City admits the River flows through the “epicenter of cancer risk” in Los Angeles, and the River has become a hotspot of green displacement and gentrification that disproportionately impacts people of color and low income people, making River revitalization the perfect opportunity for EPA to take meaningful action to implement both the recommendations of the Commission and EPA’s own Environmental Justice 2020 Action Agenda. To date EPA has not properly addressed compliance and enforcement in L.A. River revitalization. We ask the Commission to inquire into EPA’s efforts to conduct pre- and post-award compliance reviews.
Marianne Engelman-Lado Visiting Clinical Professor of Law
Benjamin W. Wedeking
Environmental Justice Clinic
Yale Law School
Public Comments on behalf of: The City Project * Earthjustice * Equal Justice Society * Gasp * GreenLatinos * Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law * Los Jardines Institute * Maurice & Jane Sugar Law Center for Economic & Social Justice * NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. * Natural Resources Defense Council * New Mexico Environmental Law Center * New York Lawyers for the Public Interest * PODER * Poverty & Race Research Action Council * Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia * Sierra Club * University of Miami School of Law Environmental Justice Clinic * University of North Carolina Center for Civil Rights * West End Revitalization Association * Yale Law School Environmental Justice Clinic * Marc Brenman * Adrienne Hollis * Ellis Jacobs * Helen Kang * Gregg Macey * Vincent Martin * Vernice Miller-Travis * Glenn Robinson * Maria S. Savasta-Kennedy
See Robert García & Tim Mok, Whitewashing The L.A. River: Displacement and Equitable Greening (2017)