EPA: Louisiana may have discriminated against black communities facing air pollution

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said in a letter Wednesday that Louisiana may have discriminated against black communities living near sources of air pollution in the state.

In the letter to leaders of the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) and the Department of Health (LDH), the federal agency specifically raised concerns about residents living near a facility that emits chloroprene, which the agency says is likely to cause cancer. .

The letter states that LDEQ’s “actions and omissions” may have exposed black residents who live or attend school near the facility in question to discrimination.

Specifically, he said, the department had not acted appropriately on the facility’s permit renewal, failed to adequately enforce non-discrimination requirements and failed to provide accurate information to affected residents.

In one instance, state environmental officials, during the few meetings they attended about the facility’s emissions, referred to residents’ concerns about chloroprene as a “fear promotion,” the letter said.

“There appears to be a causal link between LDEQ procedures, failure to manage the air permitting program and the inverse and disproportionate distribution of cancer risks and toxicity from chloroprene exposure, by race,” the letter said.

“The Environmental Protection Agency has great concern that LDEQ’s methods of administering an air pollution control program may have subjected, and continues to be, predominantly black residents and schoolchildren of St. ”, referring to the Dinka company that owns the facility.

The message First reported by the lensa local news outlet, but later traded by environmental groups.

LDEQ spokesman Greg Langley declined to comment on the details of the letter, including its accusations of discrimination. But he stressed that the message is not an end result.

“It was a message of concern, not an outcome,” Langley said. “We will continue to work with the Environmental Protection Agency to try to resolve any issues and remain committed to protecting human health and the environment.”

Jim Harris, a spokesperson for Denka Performance Elastomer, the company behind the facility in question, argued that the EPA was overestimating the risks of chloroprene and highlighted steps the company was taking to reduce its releases.

Since purchasing the facility in 2015, DPE has invested more than $35 million to reduce its emissions by more than 85%. In addition, the company has conducted ambient air monitoring at sites across the community since 2016, and its results showed similar decreases in the measured concentrations.

Meanwhile, environmentalists said the EPA’s letter was a positive step toward addressing a critical error.

“Our government agency’s arrogance in not dealing with the serious environmental health problems related to this plant is outrageous,” said Daryl Malik Wiley, Senior Organizing Representative with the Environmental Justice and Community Partnership Program at the Sierra Club.

The message comes as the Biden administration seeks to tackle the disproportionately high levels of pollution faced by communities of color.

An EPA investigation was taken into residents of the state’s industrial corridor, sometimes referred to as “Cancer Alley.” EPA Administrator Michael Reagan visited the area last year.

Malik Willey said the letter showed management was acting on its promises.

“We’re really pleased that the Biden administration and the EPA are putting a new focus on environmental justice,” he said.

The EPA also said the state’s health department may be “causing and/or contributing to a disproportionate and adverse impacts on the black population” who live near the facility.

She said LDH may have failed to provide local residents with “important information about the cancer risks associated with chloroprene levels in these areas.”

In response, department spokesman Allison Neale shared a written statement saying that the department was “closely reviewing” the report and cooperating with the agency.

“We take these concerns seriously and are committed to health equity – which is why we are fully cooperating with the EPA’s investigation into Denka Performance Elastor,” the statement said.

The report also mistook the environment department in its handling of the permits for a proposed separate plant, saying it did not adequately take into account factors related to the Title IV discrimination law.

“Given the apparent discrepancies that exist in this letter, the EPA remains concerned that such a failure does not take into account the distribution of cancer risk in St. James Parish,” the agency said.

FG LA LLC, which is behind the proposed facility, told The Hill that its project will meet state and federal standards.

“We believe that the permits issued to FG by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality are in order and that the agency properly performed its duty to protect the environment in issuing those permits,” said Janelle Parks, director of community and government relations for the company. Email statement.

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