Following Administrator Michael Regan’s Journey to Justice tour last fall, the Environmental Protection Agency has announced a number of enforcement actions to address issues such as air pollution, unsafe drinking waters, and other problems affecting minority communities in three Gulf Coast state.
Regan stated that the agency will conduct unannounced inspections at chemical plants, refineries, and other industrial sites that are suspected of polluting water and causing health problems for nearby residents. To improve enforcement at Louisiana’s plastics and chemical plants, the agency will install air monitoring equipment. There are many hotspots in the region where cancer risks are much higher than national levels.
The EPA also sent a notification to Jackson, Mississippi, stating that the city’s aging and overloaded drinking system violates the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. The order directs the city’s to develop a plan to address the significant deficiencies identified by the EPA within 45 days.
Separately, Regan asked city and state officials to use nearly $79million in funding that Mississippi received under the bipartisan infrastructure bill “to solve some the most urgent water needs in Jackson” and other areas in need throughout Mississippi.
These actions were one of more than a dozen announced in response to Regan’s November tour. Regan visited low-income communities, mostly minorities, in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas as part a federal effort to draw attention to communities that have been adversely affected by decades worth of industrial pollution.
The EPA has prepared a Toxics Release Inventory that shows that 56% of people living near toxic sites like refineries, landfills, chemical plants and chemical plants are African Americans. Chronic health problems like hypertension, diabetes, asthma, and diabetes are all possible negative effects.
Regan stated that every community I visited on the Journey to Justice tour was clear: residents have suffered too long.
He said that unannounced inspections at chemical plants and other sites were going to keep these facilities on their toes.
Regan stated that inspections are currently done according to a schedule or with advance warning. But, this is about to change. We are increasing our aggressiveness in using a tool that is in our toolbox that…has been there for quite awhile,” Regan said.
The EPA will use all tools available to hold facilities responsible if they are found to be in violation, he said.
In three Louisiana parishes, St. John the Baptist and St. James, a pilot project will combine high-tech air pollution monitoring and additional inspectors. These parishes are home of numerous industrial sites and have been plagued by water pollution and air pollution for a long time.
President Joe Biden made it a priority to address racial inequalities, including those related the environment. Biden has committed to ensuring that at least 40% of all new climate and environment spending will be spent on poor and minority communities. Two key environmental justice appointees have resigned, putting the administration’s commitment to this issue under renewed scrutiny. Cecilia Martinez, a top White House Council on Environmental Quality official, and David Kieve who was responsible for outreach to environmental justice groups, both resigned from the White House, highlighting the many promises still to be fulfilled.
Regan, a former North Carolina environment regulator, has made environmental justice a top concern since he was appointed EPA head. Regan told The Associated Press that he is the first Black man to head the agency.
He stated Tuesday that he would do more for those in communities that have been struggling for too long.
Regan stated that the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill signed by Biden will be of benefit to historically marginalized communities such as St. John and St. James and cities like New Orleans, Jackson, and Houston. The law provides $55 billion for water infrastructure and wastewater infrastructure. A Senate climate and social policy bill would provide more than twice as much funding to EPA programs that clean up the environment and address environmental justice issues.
Regan stated that as part of its enforcement action, EPA requires a former DuPont petrochemical plants in La Place (La.) to install fence line monitors to identify the source of emissions. Denka, a Japanese conglomerate now owns the plant.
The agency also stated it will increase scrutiny of a proposed expansion at Formosa Plastics in St. James. Additionally, it issued a notice to Nucor Steel for releasing hydrogen sulfide or other harmful chemicals.
Regan stated that he spoke with LaToya Cantrell, the New Orleans Mayor, about Gordon Plaza. It is a neighborhood built on the former site of a toxic landfill. Gordon Plaza was designated a Superfund site in 1990, but many families residing there are mainly Black.
Regan stated that the EPA would review the site starting in March. They will also add nine homes to the site that were not included in previous plans to help families move. Officials from the city hope to use money derived from the infrastructure law for relocation of families and construction of a solar farm.
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