Does the Environmental Protection Agency actually protect communities of color from environmental problems? A new report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights suggests it has largely failed that duty:
Since being established in 1993 and having nearly 300 Title VI complaints in its docket, EPA’s Office of Civil Rights has never made a formal finding of discrimination. EPA has never denied or withdrawn financial assistance from a recipient. Despite its regulatory authority to withdraw financial assistance from recipients, the Office of Civil Rights has long “avoided pushing civil rights complaints alleging discrimination based on disparate impact for fear that the agency would lose such a case if challenged in court.”
The Commission took the EPA to task in its compliance report on environmental justice and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, a regulation prohibiting “discrimination based on race, color or national origin in programs or activities which receive federal financial assistance.” Environmental justice, a term that has risen in prominence since an executive order from President Bill Clinton in 1994 made it an official duty of the federal government, is defined by the EPA as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”
Essentially, under Clinton’s order, the EPA has been the lead federal agency responsible for ensuring that fair treatment and meaningful involvement of minority populations in environmental laws, and has also under its Title VI duties been responsible for adjudicating complaints and lawsuits from local communities over environmentally unjust and discriminatory laws and actions by entities—like many local governments—that receive federal funding.