Critical Steps to Strengthen EPA’s Title VI Compliance and Enforcement Program

We signed on to a letter and stand proudly behind Marianne Engelman, senior staff attorney of Earthjustice, who composed a letter to EPA Chief of Staff Matt Fritz and Office of Civil Rights Acting Director Lilian Dorkain in support of reforming and building upon the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Title VI compliance and enforcement program. We feel the changes are especially urgent now in the transition on to the next Administration.

The first change suggests a reversal of the proposed rule to rescind deadlines for case handling. The decision was never supported: “By removing the deadlines, EPA is at best weakening the sole legal recourse that impacted communities have to hold the agency responsible for undertaking a timely, meaningful investigation.” Timeliness and accountability are important in ensuring that we do no harm.

The next step is one that is long overdue: eliminating the rebuttal presumption. The rebuttal presumption requires proof of a violation of an environmental law in order to make a finding of discrimination. Essentially, as this stands, compliance with environmental law defends a civil rights case sending the message that, “they (EPA) will never be held responsible for disproportionately impacting communities on the basis of race and ethnicity.”

The letter also suggests that the EPA should finalize programmatic guidance clarifying requirements for Title VI compliance. As of now, the EPA plans to release a set of “best practices,” that we do not find substantial. In fact “a set of “best practices” will be used as a shield or defense for recipients who will argue that actions taken consistent with examples of such practices are sufficient, even if EPA includes a disclaimer indicating otherwise. At the very least, this set of “best practices” should not be released, and if time provides, the EPA should instead finalize what is required of recipients to end confusion among stakeholders.

Finally, Robert Garcia suggests that the EPA set aside ample time to address the current issues on their docket. “EPA should make appropriate findings of discrimination and recommendations for compliance this year, and consider the input of complainants when developing such recommendations.” It is important that issues of this year do not end up on the back burner as we transition to new administration in the New Year.

The shift in administration is a perfect time to be inspired to make changes and improve all possible ways. The changing world in general demands that we are always improving and adjusting. With that we suggest this is the perfect opportunity for the EPA to take meaningful action.

Click here to read the full letter.