EPA Closes Probe Without Finding Discrimination in Louisiana's Air Pollution Issue
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on Tuesday that it had concluded its investigation into allegations of discrimination by the state of Louisiana regarding air pollution faced by Black residents. The probe, initiated in response to complaints from environmental groups, focused on the exposure of St. John the Baptist Parish residents to harmful pollutants.
Environmental organizations had raised concerns that the state had allowed a company to release excessive levels of the likely carcinogen chloroprene, disproportionately affecting the Black community in St. John. They also expressed worries about residents being exposed to ethylene oxide, another carcinogen, from various sources. The groups claimed that the state's failures had resulted in St. John's residents facing the highest cancer risk from air pollution in the nation.
However, the EPA stated in a court filing that it did not find any discrimination or civil rights violations by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality or the Louisiana Department of Health. The Biden administration, representing the EPA, clarified that no such findings were made. This court filing brings an end to the agency's investigation into the state, despite environmental organizations' complaints.
St. John the Baptist Parish is located within an industrial corridor known as "Cancer Alley," where residents have long been exposed to pollutants linked to cancer. The majority of the parish's population is Black. Last year, the EPA expressed concerns about potential discrimination, sending a letter to the state suggesting that it may have discriminated against Black residents living or attending school near the facility emitting chloroprene.
The agency's new letters attached to the court filing explained that the investigation was being closed based on the EPA's actions to address the issue. The EPA had ordered Denka, the company responsible for the facility in question, to lower its emissions and had filed a civil rights complaint against the company. Additionally, the EPA has proposed a new rule aiming to reduce emissions of both chloroprene and ethylene oxide nationwide.
While environmental advocates expressed disappointment with the EPA's decision, the agency emphasized its commitment to environmental justice and the well-being of impacted communities. EPA spokesperson Khanya Brann highlighted their urgent efforts to ensure clean air, clean water, and a healthy life for all individuals in the country. The EPA reaffirmed its commitment to improving environmental conditions in St. John the Baptist and St. James Parishes, emphasizing the importance of community participation in identifying problems and finding solutions.
Patrice Simms, Vice President of Health Communities at Earthjustice, expressed deep disappointment with the EPA's decision, stating that it deprived the affected communities of an avenue for justice and addressing longstanding toxic exposures. The conclusion of the investigation leaves the community members of St. John the Baptist Parish without the resolution they had sought.