A cemetery in Taft, Louisiana

A cemetery in Taft, Louisiana is seen near a petrochemical plant in the area known as "Cancer Alley."

(Photo: Shutterstock)

GOP State AGs Ask EPA to 'Eviscerate' Crucial Environmental Justice Tool

"Many of the states that have signed the petition have historically allowed these harmful facilities to be placed in predominantly Black and brown communities," said one advocate.

Led by Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, Republican leaders in 23 states on Tuesday filed a petition making clear their aim to allow petrochemical companies and other corporations to continue operating pollution-causing facilities without regard for the "disparate impact" they can have on low-income communities of color.

The attorneys general of states including Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas wrote to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Regan, asking him to amend Title VI under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The law prohibits recipients of federal funds from discriminating against residents based on race and national origin and allows residents to petition the EPA arguing that state agencies have intentionally discriminated or disparately impacted a particular community.

Title VI has underpinned hundreds of legal cases, including recent EPA investigations into the 85-mile stretch of land in Louisiana known as Cancer Alley, where dozens of petrochemical plants have been built and health experts have observed a disproportionate number of cancer cases and other medical problems among the predominantly Black population.

The attorneys general said they object to the Biden administration's use of Title VI to "advance what it calls 'environmental justice,'" and complained that the EPA aims to create "a condition in which no racially or economically defined group experiences adverse environmental impacts."

Andre Segura, vice president of litigation at the environmental legal group Earthjustice, said Wednesday that the Republican attorneys general aim to "eviscerate civil rights protections just to make it easier for industrial polluters to continue with business as usual."

"Everyone should be alarmed by these outrageous efforts," said Segura. "The fact is, many of the states that have signed the petition have historically allowed these harmful facilities to be placed in predominantly Black and brown communities, without regard for the health and safety of residents."

Manuel Fernandez, president of Miami-Dade County Democrats in Florida, said the effort was "embarrassing" and called on Moody to resign.

The petition was filed three months after U.S. District Court Judge James Cain Jr., an appointee of former President Donald Trump in Louisiana, ruled that Title VI requirements amount to "government overreach."

The EPA halted its Title VI investigation into the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) last year a month after Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, a Republican, sued the agency over its Title VI regulations. The EPA had been probing whether the LDEQ placed the historically Black town of St. John the Baptist Parish at risk by allowing companies to build petrochemical plants nearby.

There are more than 50 pending cases regarding Title VI violations, Earthjustice said.

"These decades-old Title VI regulations are critical tools for the federal government to use to ensure that funding is not used to perpetuate this toxic legacy," said Segura, "and the EPA should swiftly reject this petition."

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