In August 2017 we signed onto a letter to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights asking the Commission to follow up on its 2016 report: Environmental Justice: Examining the Environmental Protection Agency’s Compliance and Enforcement of Title VI and Executive Order 12898 (EJ Report). The 2016 EJ Report highlights the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) lack of civil rights enforcement and contains a list of recommendations on how the EPA can better achieve environmental justice. Due to the EPA’s failure to implement the majority of the Commission’s recommendations, we, in addition to many other signatories, are asking the Commission to investigate what the EPA has done to implement the Commission’s recommendations. Specifically, we and our partners asked the Commission to review EPA’s compliance with the following requirements under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act:
- Congress should increase the EPA’s Office of Civil Rights budget specifically to increase staffing to meet current and future needs.
During OCR Director Velveta Golightly-Howell’s testimony before the Commission, concern was raised over the fact that the OCR operated with only nine staff members. In order for the EPA to have the resources available for civil rights compliance, the OCR budget should be increased. We ask that the Commission look into current and future staffing needs to meet civil rights compliance.
- The EPA should bring on additional staff temporarily to clean up the significant backlog—in some cases decades old.
The EPA’s response to the Commission’s recommendations has been to close cases without thorough investigations, including closing cases without conducting site inspections or taking air, water, dust, or soil samplings. In other instances, the EPA has reached resolutions that include ineffective enforcement terms that do not adequately respond to or resolve discrimination. Again, in order for the EPA to handle the backlog and conduct proper investigations, the EPA’s staff should be temporarily increased.
- The EPA should not adopt a phased approach to conducting post-award compliance reviews.
We believe that the EPA should conduct affirmative reviews of civil rights compliance and enforcement before and after granting awards. To our knowledge the EPA has failed to conduct post-award compliance reviews and we ask the Commission to investigate the EPA’s efforts.
- The EPA should include affected communities in the settlement process.
Their failure to include complainants in investigations and discussions of remedy does not comply with EPA’s protocols and policies governing case solution. We ask the Commission to investigate the steps the EPA is taking to include affected communities in the settlement process.
- The EPA should take steps to increase transparency.
We believe that the EPA should increase their transparency so complainants and community members have access to public documents about the EPA’s investigations. The EPA has removed information on complaints from its website and failed to check an email inbox for Title VI complaints for over a year, significantly decreasing the agency’s transparency. We ask the Commission to seek information about the EPA’s plans to improve and increase their transparency with the public.