EPA and Title VI: Law Center Reviews Updated Discrimination Policies

Last week the Law Center renewed a long history of attempting to pressure the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) into changing its ineffective policies by joining with a large coalition to formally protest EPA’s latest proposed Title VI policies as ineffective and in need of significant improvement. The effort took the form of public comments on two recently released draft policy papers. The Law Center co-signed a detailed letter that highlights concerns about the draft policies and urges the EPA to develop a stronger, more comprehensive enforcement process.

Environmental Justice concerns the need to stop the disproportionate exposure of minorities to the harms of polluting facilities caused by the disproportionate location of those facilities in areas with high minority populations. Although in 1994 President Clinton called for increased attention to the enforcement of Environmental Justice, the EPA has never found in favor of a complaint filed under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits agencies receiving federal assistance – including state environmental agencies licensing polluting facilities – from discriminating. Prohibited conduct includes actions having disproportionate adverse impact on minority communities.

The submitted comments specifically critique the EPA’s poor and continued practice of analyzing adverse impact under Title VI only in combination with an examination of compliance of other environmental statutes and regulations as opposed to independent review of potential discrimination. A consequence of the EPA policy is that it never looks at disproportionate concentration of polluting facilities in minority communities like Chester and Camden as long as there is overall compliance with emission criteria. The comments also shine a spotlight on the fact that these draft policies fail to provide outlines for a final policy or strengthen the investigative process and protection of complainants.

One of the issues addressed in the submitted comments is that current environmental standards and regulations do not adequately capture or portray harm, and therefore fail to highlight potential discrimination, done to the public health of specific communities and their environments. The comments also focus on the EPA’s unfair treatment of complainants including criticizing the EPA for a lack of involving complainants and negatively addressing these individuals throughout the investigative process.

The Law Center and its partners will continue to monitor the EPA’s development of its Title VI enforcement policy moving forward.

Click here to read the letter signed by the Law Center

Click below to read the EPA’s policy papers: