Civil rights groups hit EPA for 'environmental discrimination'

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is turning a blind eye to cases of "environmental discrimination” in a controversial rule it proposed last month, critics say.

The so-called nondiscrimination rule could actually make it easier for the EPA to disregard civil rights complaints, they say. The agency already dismisses the vast majority of these cases, according to reports.

“You would think at a time of increased national focus on civil rights and racial justice on the part of the Obama administration and the Black Lives Matter movement that the EPA would see an opportunity to do more on civil rights, not less,” said Marianne Engelman Lado, attorney for Earthjustice, which is teaming with civil rights advocates in opposition to the rule.

Environmental discrimination can be difficult to quantify. Civil rights advocates allege that “communities of color face a disproportionate burden of environmental pollution.”

They’re concerned about states that send facilities with high levels of pollution to low-income neighborhoods.

The EPA is responsible for reviewing environmental discrimination complaints such as this. But the proposed rules would remove the procedural deadlines by which the agency is currently bound to decide the cases.

Critics fear this could lead to massive delays in resolving civil rights complaints.

It’s not as if these concerns are without precedent, according to Earthjustice. Environmental and civil rights groups sued the EPA last July because it had not issued a decision in five civil rights complaints that lingered on for more than 10 years.

“They should be doing more to prevent discrimination on the basis of race, not looking for a way to avoid taking action in a timely way,” said Ronald Smith, who represents the nearly all-black Ashurst Bar/Smith Community, which is a party to the lawsuit.

An agency spokeswoman defended the draft rule.

"The proposed amendments to EPA’s nondiscrimination regulation are just that — proposed," he said. "We are currently in a public comment period and look forward to engaging with the public on the proposal."