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Doug Jones urges EPA to enforce civil rights protections

Minority communities are disproportionately impacted by environmental hazards, and the  Environmental Protection Agency isn’t using all the tools it can to end those dangers, according to a letter sent to the EPA by U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala, and signed by 21 other senators. 

Jones’s letter, sent to the EPA’s acting inspector general, Charles Sheehan, on Nov. 21 urges the agency to fully enforce Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits disbursement of federal funds to anyone who discriminates when implementing programs and activities. 

 The EPA’s Office of Inspector General has announced that it plans to evaluate the agency’s implementation of Title VI, but currently only plans to evaluate organizations receiving EPA Clean Air Act funds, according to the letter. 

 Jones is asking that the EPA’s OIG broaden the scope of that evaluation to include all federally delegated programs. 

“The EPA, whom these Americans entrust to treat them fairly with respect to enforcing the country’s environmental laws, is failing to fulfill its mission,” the letter reads.  “Title VI has historically been used as an enforcement mechanism for communities seeking redress for environmental injustices. However, due to a persistent lack of adequate enforcement, minority and low-income communities continue to suffer the disproportionate adverse impacts of contaminated air, land, and water.”

 The letter cites a 2016 report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that found that the millions of Americans who live in minority and low-income communities often “lack the political and financial clout to properly bargain with polluters when fighting a sitting decision or seeking redress from pollution already in their community.” 

“The EPA has a history of being unable to meet its regulatory deadlines and experiences extreme delays in responding to Title VI complaints in the area of environmental justice,” the 2016 report states. 

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Residents of the small black community of Uniontown in Perry County, Alabama have been inundated with environmental hazards, according to an Oct. 2018 article by Pew Charitable Trust. Coal ash is dumped in a landfill, and a cheese plant and catfish processing plant pollutes the community’s creeks, according to the article. 

Residents there say the EPA and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management are failing to protect them from harm caused by the polluting companies, according to the nonprofit. 

An Aug. 2015 study by the Center for Public Integrity, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit investigative journalism organization, found that the EPA dismissed outright more than 90 percent of environmental civil rights complaints.

Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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