Energy & Environment

DOJ to investigate illegal dumping complaints against city of Houston


The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Friday announced an environmental justice investigation into reports of illegal dumping by the city of Houston in predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods.

The investigation concerns a complaint that the city may be in violation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the DOJ’s civil rights division said in a call with reporters Friday. 

“Data compiled by the city shows that a high concentration of the illegal dumping occurs within Houston in particular in communities of color,” Clarke told reporters. “Historically, Houston has also placed a high concentration of its municipally owned and operated dump sites and solid waste facilities within predominantly black and Latino communities.” 

The complaint alleges 11 of Houston’s 13 city-owned landfills and incinerators are located in predominantly Black neighborhoods, and the probe is set to investigate whether the city’s waste management practices have resulted in discrimination along ethnic and racial lines in Houston.

Clarke said the probe will incorporate several different city agencies and institutions, including the Houston Police Department, the Houston Department of Neighborhood, the Solid Waste Management Department and the 311 system. All of the institutions are bound by Title VI, which bars discrimination on the basis of race by recipients of federal funds.

Officials on the call said the investigation was part of Attorney General Merrick Garland’s focus on environmental justice issues and the disproportionate harm environmental degradation inflicts on low-income people and people of color.

Garland created the department’s Office of Environmental Justice this past May. 

“Although environmental crime and injustice can happen anywhere, communities of color and low=income communities often bear the highest burden of the harm caused by environmental crime and pollution,” U.S. Attorney Jennifer Lowery of the Southern District of Texas said on the call. 

In a statement Friday afternoon, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D) called the probe “absurd, baseless, and without merit” and disputed the DOJ’s claim that the city received advance notice.

“For years, the City of Houston, in collaboration with Harris County and others, has worked to assist to assist Black and Brown Houstonians living in the Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens community, where cancer-causing creosote from Union Pacific Railroad has created health concerns,” he added. “Yet, the DOJ has remained silent. We have taken legal steps to advocate for people living in these communit[ies] with no help from the DOJ.”

The Hill has reached out the Houston Police Department for comment, which referred The Hill to Turner’s statement.

Tags Houston Kristen Clarke Merrick Garland Sylvester Turner Texas

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