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Topic: Environmental Justice comes slow Northeast Flint

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untanglingwebs
El Supremo

Kary Moss with Greg Gibbs and 6 others.
3 hrs ·

Last night around 10 pm, as I left an event for the ACLU, I checked my email and saw a letter from the EPA with its ruling on a Title VI complaint I worked on with Father Phil Schmitter from the St. Francis Prayer Center in Flint back in 1992 before I came to the ACLU. The EPA ruled that the MDEQ had engaged in race discrimination for its decision to site a wood waste power plant in an African American, low income neighborhood in Flint. Here, 24 years later and on President Obama's last day in office, the EPA issued its ruling.

The issue then, as it is today, was lead poisoning of children as well although not from the water but from lead emissions. Father Phil got the complaint going when noone would listen. It was a wild card for a community with nothing to lose. My thoughts on some of the meanings:

*The wheels of justice may turn slowly but they turn. We don't know what lies ahead. The seeds we plant may very likely grow in ways we can't imagine today.
*Having people in positions of power motivated to use it well makes all the difference. Let's keep looking for them.
* Persistence matters. Motivation matters. Trying matters.
* Bold shots in the dark can land on the bullseye so we have to take them now and then.
* Even sluggish, often indifferent, public agencies can be moved to act under the right circumstances.
* We all have creative ideas that can and should be be tapped no matter your job title. Father Phil saw injustice and went for it.
Post Fri Jan 20, 2017 1:19 pm 
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untanglingwebs
El Supremo

Steel mill that never was 'casts a shadow' on EPA Office of Civil...
www.publicintegrity.org/2015/12/18/19068/steel-mill-...

Dec 18, 2015 ... As it turned out, the Select Steel mill was never built. But the threat of its existence prompted angry residents to file a complaint against the state
Post Fri Jan 20, 2017 2:13 pm 
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untanglingwebs
El Supremo

Environmental Justice, Denied
Steel mill that never was 'casts a shadow' on EPA Office of Civil Rights
A 1998 discrimination complaint set the office on a course from which it hasn't strayed — and that critics believe is misguided
By Talia BufordemailKristen Lombardiemail 5:00 am, December 18, 2015 Updated: 12:26 pm, January 5, 2016


Jan. 5, 2016: This story has been corrected.

In December 1997, a company called Select Steel moved to enter the then-bustling economy of Flint, Michigan.

It applied for an air permit with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, seeking to build a “mini-mill” abutting the city’s northern edge that would melt and recast scrap metal. The mill would send up to 100 tons of lead per year, as well as particulate matter, nitrogen oxide and other pollutants into the atmosphere.

Residents of the area already were dealing with pollution from the wood-burning Genesee Power Station. Nonetheless, in May 1998, state regulators approved Select Steel’s permit.

“This was just more unethical pouring of stuff into the North End,” said Father Philip Schmitter, pastor at Christ the King Catholic Church in Flint.

As it turned out, the Select Steel mill was never built. But the threat of its existence prompted angry residents to file a complaint against the state with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Civil Rights. The case led to the office’s first formal decision and set it on a course that many believe is misguided.

Because of Select Steel, the office to this day relies heavily on science — too heavily, critics say — to investigate alleged violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits racial discrimination by recipients of federal funding such as states and cities.

The prospect of a new pollution source is not enough to show a discriminatory impact on a community, the EPA has decided. Instead, it parses data to see whether emission levels will rise above legal limits set by the agency to prevent harm to the environment and human health.

The Select Steel case “casts a shadow on civil-rights enforcement,” said Marianne Engelman Lado, of the public-interest law firm Earthjustice. “It raises significant questions about EPA’s backbone and willingness to enforce the civil-rights statute.”

In a statement to the Center for Public Integrity, EPA officials defended their approach.

“In accordance with case law and [Department of Justice] guidance, all federal agencies, including the EPA, must determine whether there is sufficient harm for a disparate impact complaint to be actionable,” the statement said.

A Center investigation in August found that the Office of Civil Rights has routinely failed to enforce Title VI. The office has dismissed nine out of every 10 community claims alleging environmental discrimination, the Center found, and has never once issued a formal finding of a Title VI violation.

EPA officials say they have begun the work of turning the office around. They have announced plans to do more frequent compliance reviews and publish an annual report to chart the office’s progress. This month they issued a notice of proposed rulemaking removing certain deadlines and put out a case manual for investigators examining civil-rights claims.
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Flint's 235-acre complex known as Buick City, shown here after it was demolished, was in operation from 1904 until 1999.



Boom and bust

An hour northeast of Detroit, Flint was built on the back of General Motors. The automaker’s 400-acre complex, dubbed “Buick City,” which paralleled the Flint River and employed more than 27,000 workers, dominated the city’s landscape for much of the 20th century. For many in Flint, the path to the middle class went through the assembly lines.

By 2014, 15 years after the automotive industry fled, 41 percent of Flint’s 99,002 residents lived in poverty; the median household income was $24,679. Rising crime has pegged Flint among today’s most dangerous American cities.

Schmitter has seen the city boom and bust. For years, he was co-director at the St. Francis Prayer Center, a Catholic retreat on the north side of Flint, but he also lived in the community. He was well acquainted with the challenges some poorer residents had to face.

A social-justice stalwart, Schmitter sensed trouble when, in 1992, the Genesee Power Station sought a home in Genesee Township, just beyond the Flint city limits.

“That’s a favored tactic of big business,” Schmitter said. “They go to a city, but put the facility in the neighboring township.”

He and his late colleague, Sister Joanne Chiaverini, filed a civil-rights complaint with the EPA, protesting the facility’s permit. They filed another complaint in 1994, but the power plant went into operation the following year, as they waited for a response.

In June 1998 the church filed another complaint, this time asking the EPA to intervene in the proposed Select Steel project. It claimed state regulators had “sped through” the permitting process to avoid a court order requiring them to provide “meaningful” citizen participation and conduct an environmental review for each new polluting facility.

“The same unfair and disparate burden of pollution will fall on a group of minority, low income people, as in the case already before the EPA,” Schmitter and Chiaverini wrote, referring to the Genesee complaint. “We await your prompt and decisive action!”

Embracing science

More than 500 miles from Flint, in Washington, D.C., things were heating up for civil-rights investigators and administrators at the EPA.

In the late 1990s, civil-rights cases were still a novelty at the agency. By the time Select Steel came across investigators’ desks, the EPA had only received 50 complaints.

“There was no case law, there was no policy. There was no environmental framework for doing the analysis,” then-director Ann Goode said in a recent interview with the Center, “so all of this was fresh ground.”

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights had called for the EPA to develop guidelines for handling allegations of discrimination cases, while Congress pushed for a more scientifically rigorous approach by the agency overall. The civil-rights office tapped the EPA’s Science Advisory Board to analyze two proposed methods of assessing Title VI complaints.

The board dismissed as "insufficient" a method that considered the environmental harm caused by industrial facilities in a given area, comparing exposures in minority communities to those in white communities. Another method took into account the pollution burden from stationary, mobile and other sources in an area and compared it to legal limits. That method showed promise, the board said.

In Flint, then-EPA analyst Loren Hall was putting a version of this concept into practice. A monitor in a city park kept track of air pollution from the factories that loomed over neighborhoods. Hall looked for data suggesting Select Steel would have an “adverse disparate impact.”

He found none, he said; the levels of pollutants released by existing facilities were “way below” the legal threshold. As a result, his analysis of the project would hinge on the levels projected in the Select Steel permit. Those, too, did not give the agency the ammunition it needed to issue a finding of discrimination.

On October 30, 1998, after working around the clock to meet a promised deadline, the EPA found that the permit did not violate the civil rights of African-American residents. The mill clearly would discharge mercury and other pollutants, the agency found, but because emission levels would not exceed environmental standards, there was no adverse disparate impact.

“Health-based standards have nothing to do with civil rights,” said Engelman Lado, of Earthjustice. “The act of spewing the mercury is a disproportionate effect ­— that’s bad enough. It doesn’t have to be peer-reviewed bad. It just has to be a bad effect.”

In the end, community opposition proved too much for the steel company. Plans for the Flint mill were scrapped, and Select Steel eyed a new location near Lansing.

Plans for that facility also were abandoned after the company failed to get financing.
Environmental Justice, Denied
A look at the environmental problems that disproportionately affect communities of color.
Stories in this series
EPA works to remake troubled Office of Civil Rights
By Talia Buford 5 seconds ago
Report slams EPA civil rights compliance
By Talia Buford and Kristen Lombardi September 23, 2016
EPA discretion on settled civil rights case not subject to review, court rules
By Talia Buford May 12, 2016
Commentary: Why I missed the Flint story
By Talia Buford April 15, 2016
Residents of minority communities decry dumping of toxic coal ash
By Talia Buford February 5, 2016
Civil Rights Commission to hold hearing on environmental justice
By Kristen Lombardi and Talia Buford February 4, 2016
Commentary: The deeper meaning of Flint
By Jim Morris January 25, 2016
Steel mill that never was 'casts a shadow' on EPA Office of Civil Rights
By Talia Buford and Kristen Lombardi December 18, 2015
EPA begins 'wholesale attempt' to fix much-criticized Office of Civil Rights
By Talia Buford December 1, 2015
EPA draft plan would perpetuate environmental racism, critics say
By Kristen Lombardi and Talia Buford October 9, 2015
Click here for more stories in this investigation

Debate over ‘adversity standard’

The Select Steel case remains a touchstone, sparking a debate over the EPA’s adversity standard that rages still.

Under Title VI, advocates argue, the mere act of releasing a toxic substance like mercury should constitute disproportionate harm. Instead, they say, the agency substitutes environmental law for civil-rights law.

“We’re still at an impasse,” Engelman Lado said. “This fight over the adversity standard is one of the key barriers for them enforcing civil rights.”

Goode said she empathizes.

“It’s understandable from the community’s perspective; they haven’t gotten a win,” she said. “I wouldn’t be satisfied if I were sitting on that side. No way.”

Still, Goode defended EPA’s reliance on science-based analysis, saying it lends legitimacy to the agency’s decisions.

“There has to be some logic to this,” she said. “I don’t think you could issue an opinion otherwise.”

Hall also stands by the Select Steel analysis.

“It’s not that the environmental justice concerns aren’t credible,” he said. “But at [the Office of Civil Rights] we have to prove adverse disparate impacts by a preponderance of the evidence.”

Adapting civil-rights law for the environmental context has proven tricky, said Joseph Rich of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Most cases dealing with disparate impacts involve housing or employment issues, he said, leaving the EPA to do the best it can with the case law that’s out there.

“They’re all looking at the same basic standard, but how you apply it ... is a difficult issue,” said Rich, who co-directs the committee’s fair housing program.

The EPA for years has grappled with how to evaluate civil-rights cases.

In 2000, it drafted policy guidelines that allowed targets of civil-rights complaints to argue there was no discrimination if a facility complied with environmental standards. The agency issued a position paper in 2013 promising to eliminate that defense under pressure from advocates. In its statement to the Center, the EPA said it is “still considering and working on this issue.”

While the EPA sorts things out, Schmitter and others in Flint are still waiting to see what will come of the Genesee Power Plant case, pending since 1994. Earthjustice filed a lawsuit against the EPA on behalf of five community groups, including the St. Francis Prayer Center, with civil-rights cases that have been pending for at least a decade.

“I’m not happy with the distinction of filing the oldest unacted-upon case in the history of EPA,” Schmitter said. “That’s not a battle ribbon I want to be wearing.”

Jan. 5, 2016: An earlier version of this story misstated the name of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
More stories about
Environment, Environmental policy in the United States, United States Environmental Protection Agency, Environmental justice, Earthjustice, Environmental Protection Agency, case law, Flint, Philip Schmitter, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s office of Civil Rights, Select Steel
Post Fri Jan 20, 2017 2:21 pm 
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untanglingwebs
El Supremo

Environmental Justice, Denied
Civil Rights Commission to hold hearing on environmental justice
A 2015 Center investigation examined the EPA's handling of discrimination complaints from minority communities
By Kristen LombardiemailTalia Bufordemail 5:00 am, February 4, 2016 Updated: 5:00 am, February 4, 2016

John Brecher/NBC News

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights plans to continue its probe Friday into the Obama administration's work on environmental justice, including efforts to enforce civil rights law, the subject of a Center for Public Integrity investigation last year. An all-day hearing in Washington, D.C., will spotlight minority communities near landfills, ponds and pits where coal ash gets dumped, and also is expected to examine the Environmental Protection Agency's record of handling discrimination complaints.

A byproduct of coal-fired electricity, coal ash contains harmful metals such as arsenic, chromium, lead, mercury and many others. One of the nation’s largest industrial waste streams, it has fouled water supplies and endangered public health across the country, spurring the EPA to regulate its disposal for the first time last year. Disadvantaged communities are often located near ash ponds, according to the EPA.

“Too often our nation’s communities of color bear the brunt of toxic substances generated by nearby plants and processes,” the commission’s Martin Castro said in a prepared statement. The bipartisan commission advises the president and Congress on civil-rights issues.

A Center investigation in August found that the EPA’s Office of Civil Rights has routinely failed to enforce Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits racial discrimination by those receiving federal financial assistance. The office has dismissed nine out of every 10 community claims alleging environmental discrimination, the Center found, and has never once issued a formal finding of a Title VI violation.

EPA officials say they have begun the work of turning the office around. They have announced plans to do more frequent compliance reviews and publish an annual report to chart the office’s progress. In December, they issued a notice of proposed rulemaking removing certain deadlines, and put out a case manual for investigators examining civil-rights claims.

Esther Calhoun, who lives in Uniontown, Alabama, and whose Title VI complaint over a sprawling landfill that accepts coal ash was detailed by the Center, is scheduled to be among the first panelists at Friday’s hearing. “I’ll go to the commission and hope that [members] hear me because I speak for the people,” she said.

Those living near the Arrowhead Landfill must contend with pungent smells that seem to wash over their neighborhood, and nagging ailments that never seem to fade. Some no longer sit on their porches, grow gardens or let children play in their yards. Almost everyone claims to have suffered ill effects, from headaches to earaches and neuropathy.

“It feels like an endless situation, but we don’t have to live this way,” said Calhoun, who will testify about what she calls a lack of response from local, state and federal officials, including at the EPA.

The agency’s civil-rights office launched an investigation into the Uniontown complaint in 2013 but has yet to make a decision.

Addressing the commission last month, the EPA’s director of civil rights, Velveta Golightly Howell, outlined recent steps her office has taken to improve its Title VI program. “There is still much more work for us to do to create the program that we both want and the public deserves,” she said in prepared remarks.

Asked about the Center’s investigation, Golightly Howell said the office has made “preliminary” findings of Title VI violations before. One case involving pesticide spraying near California schools attended by mostly Latino students was detailed by the Center.


Other panelists at Friday’s hearing are to include community advocates; industry representatives; and experts on civil rights and coal ash.

“The commission is a voice of moral authority for civil rights in this country,” said Marianne Engelman Lado, of the environmental law firm Earthjustice, who is handling the Uniontown complaint.

Also a panelist, Engelman Lado intends to remind the commission about the last time it examined the EPA and Title VI, in 2003. At the time, the agency was embroiled in controversy over policy guidelines, such as its legal standard for determining environmental discrimination.

While the EPA has stepped toward reform recently, she said, “We haven’t seen meaningful change since that 2003 report.”

Last month, the agency’s civil-rights office held five public meetings on a proposed rule meant to improve the way it responds to Title VI complaints. Billed as a “wholesale attempt” to reform the office, the proposal would remove several statutory deadlines that require the agency to decide within 20 days whether to accept a complaint for investigation and allow it another 180 days to complete an inquiry.

Golightly Howell has called the proposed rule a “necessary step,” but critics say the change would actually weaken protections for complainants. The Center found that the office took nearly a year, on average, just to determine whether to accept a complaint.

Five community groups sued the EPA in July, seeking to force the agency to finish investigating civil-rights claims that have been pending for at least a decade — some as far back as 1994.

“The idea that the EPA is seeking more discretion, not less, is very problematic,” said Engelman Lado, who represents the groups in the lawsuit. “EPA is not even using authority it has today.”

The civil-rights commission, for its part, may hold additional briefings as part of its annual enforcement report. One of those briefings may be in Uniontown.

“They need to see what we see here,” Calhoun said. “Maybe they’ll see why we feel like we’re being left out.”
Post Fri Jan 20, 2017 2:29 pm 
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untanglingwebs
El Supremo

d
EPA draft plan would perpetuate environmental racism, critics say
'EJ 2020' proposal is heavy on process and light on tangible steps to address discrimination, according to many who submitted public comments
By Kristen LombardiemailTalia Bufordemail 5:00 am, October 9, 2015 Updated: 5:00 am, October 9, 2015



While touting the importance of environmental justice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is pushing a draft “framework” for tackling the problem that lacks substance, residents of polluted communities, advocates and agency employees say.

Last week, the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice released more than 600 public comments filed by environmental groups, trade associations, academics and citizens on what it calls the “EJ 2020 Action Agenda,” a proposed plan for advancing environmental justice over the next five years. The little-noticed release included commentary from activists, industry representatives, state regulators and city officials, among others. They are seeking to influence the EPA as it finalizes the plan next year.

EJ 2020 is meant to build on Plan EJ 2014, which the EPA says “laid a foundation for integrating environmental justice in all [agency] programs.” That plan produced guidelines on public participation in the permitting process, for instance, and prompted EPA officials to create the EJSCREEN — a mapping tool that enables regulators to overlay demographic and environmental data to target low-income and minority communities that may be unduly burdened by pollution.

Under the latest plan, which amounts to a fleshed-out table of contents, EPA officials will focus on three overarching goals: integrating environmental justice into enforcement, rulemaking and permitting efforts; increasing collaboration with communities and states; and producing “outcomes that matter to overburdened communities.”

Residents of such communities and advocates give the EPA credit for soliciting feedback. But they fault the agency for continuing a longstanding pattern of putting process over substance. Rather than confront disparities, they say, the EPA’s plan focuses on symbolic steps — opening more processes, or creating more tools — which do little to change environmental conditions on the ground.

“Environmental justice has got to be real,” said Marianne Engelman Lado, a senior attorney at the public-interest law firm Earthjustice, which submitted 42 pages’ worth of comments on behalf of 47 environmental and community groups. Engelman Lado called the EPA’s goals “admirable,” but said they have translated into “very little” for disadvantaged communities so far.

While admittedly bare bones, the framework gives some sense of what the EPA considers crucial for combating environmental injustice, sources say. Many say the biggest omission is EJ 2020’s divorce from Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The federal law — which prohibits racial discrimination, and serves as the foundation for the EPA’s mandate on environmental justice — is relegated to a single bullet point under the heading, “Related efforts.” The reference notes the EPA’s civil-rights office is currently developing “a long-term, comprehensive” strategic plan.

In August, the Center for Public Integrity published a seven-part series, “Environmental Justice, Denied,” examining how the EPA’s Office of Civil Rights has failed to enforce Title VI and frustrated communities across the country. The agency’s civil-rights office has dismissed nine out of every 10 community claims alleging environmental discrimination, the Center found. In its 23-year history of processing such claims, the office has never once issued a formal finding of a Title VI violation.

After the series ran, the EPA announced that its civil-rights office would begin publishing annual progress reports. Last month, the office released its draft strategic plan, which pledges to conduct more aggressive compliance reviews for recipients of EPA funding — mainly, cities and states — as well as other reforms.

Critics see the Title VI footnote in the EJ 2020 framework as just another sign that EPA officials still do not take the agency’s civil-rights office seriously. When the agency released its Plan EJ 2014, officials overlooked the civil-rights law, sparking similar criticisms. Eventually, the EPA issued a supplement dedicated to civil rights.

‘Same old story’

The EPA told the Center this week it agrees with commenters who are pushing for additional details and measurable goals in the final EJ 2020 plan.

“The draft framework was intended to seek comment on the outline, understanding that much more work will be done to focus attention and assure that we can be held accountable for progress,” an agency spokesman wrote in an email. “Next steps include developing implementation plans that include deadlines, milestones, and measures.”

Beyond demanding more details, commenters offered another suggestion for the framework: incorporate additional ways to collaborate with community groups and local governments to ensure that environmental-justice efforts work as intended on the ground. Still others called for the EPA to expand green infrastructure and access to parks and open space in low-income and minority neighborhoods.

For people like Naeema Muhammad, of the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network, whose members live in predominantly African-American and low-income neighborhoods near hog farms, sewage fields, and dumps, EJ 2020 must contain “something” to show the EPA will achieve environmental justice before citizens believe it. She and fellow residents have long testified before EPA officials, and hosted tours of areas burdened, again and again, by what she calls “dirty industries.” Already, they have heard the agency promise to address environmental discrimination.

“We’re tired of telling the same old story . . . and nothing changes,” she said, echoing the sentiments of residents from Texas, Missouri, California and Oregon, whose comments expressed frustration over the EPA’s environmental justice efforts to date.

“It’s like crying wolf,” Muhammad said, noting that the EPA, in its draft EJ 2020 plan, does not mention the word ‘racism.’ “If they cannot recognize environmental racism for what it is,” she said, “they can’t promote change.”

About a quarter of all commenters called for the EPA to incorporate Title VI compliance and enforcement into the EJ 2020 framework, as well as “all aspects of agency operations.”

Even some inside the agency agree. According to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a whistleblower group for public servants, EPA employees who have worked on issues involving environmental justice and civil rights asked the group to file comments on their behalf, echoing the criticisms surrounding Title VI enforcement. The employees “chose to use PEER as a channel for venting frustrations they have tried unsuccessfully to resolve internally,” the group’s director, Jeff Ruch, told the Center.

In its comments, PEER blasted EJ 2020 for “continu[ing] and, in fact, worsen[ing] core flaws that have weakened and marginalized EPA’s environmental justice program,” including separating the agency’s environmental-justice efforts from civil rights law.

“At EPA civil rights has fallen off the environmental justice table,” the group wrote.

In an email to the Center, Ruch argued that EPA officials have failed to veto or block a single pollution permit of any kind on environmental-justice grounds. Nor has the agency taken any enforcement action because a facility’s permit violations have caused disproportionate impacts on communities of color.

“For EPA to move beyond empty rhetoric, it has to begin taking [such] concrete identifiable actions,” Ruch wrote.

Few industry comments

In response to the criticisms, the EPA spokesman pointed to the civil-rights strategic plan, which, in his words, “chart[s] our course over the next five years and invigorates EPA’s civil rights mission.” He added that the civil-rights plan — “with implementation details, deliverables, deadlines, etc.” — is open for public comment.

Not everyone is urging the EPA to use civil-rights law to achieve environmental justice. Few industry representatives commented on EJ 2020, let alone mentioned the law. The lone industry voice invoking Title VI — the Business Network for Environmental Justice, a coalition of companies and trade groups based at the National Association of Manufacturers — advocated against its enforcement.

In its comments, the BNEJ said the EPA has implemented an “overreaching interpretation” of the civil-rights law over the past 15 years — even though the agency’s own record shows it rarely takes action in Title VI cases.

Other industry representatives, such as the Texas Pipeline Association, offered the standard industry arguments against changes to the status quo — no new regulations, no new permit requirements, no “undue burden on the regulated community.”

“The federal rules that are already in place are more than sufficient to ensure environmental protection for all citizens,” the association wrote.

Some, meanwhile, want the EPA to expand its environmental-justice initiatives beyond traditional definitions. Paul Wright, who heads the Human Rights Defense Council, a national prisoners’ rights group, believes the agency should include the plight of inmates — most of whom are poor and people of color — in its environmental-justice strategy. Prisons are often built on toxic waste dumps or abandoned coal mines, he said.

“This is just another example of a [plan] that has promise,” said Wright, whose comments were co-signed by 91 social justice and prisoners’ rights groups nationwide, adding that prisoners and their surrounding neighbors are “being ignored and viewed as expendable.”

Others, like Virginia Ruiz of Farmworker Justice, want EPA officials to crack down on pesticides — mandating warning labels in Spanish, for instance, or reaching out to farmworkers about exposures. “I’d be pleasantly surprised,” said Ruiz, who directs the group’s health initiatives, if the EPA’s final framework included any recognition of farmworkers as a unique environmental justice community.

“We bring it up year after year,” Ruiz said, “but don’t see a lot of progress.”

The EPA’s public comment period on the draft EJ 2020 plan officially ended on July 14. Agency employees are incorporating the comments into the final plan, expected to be released in early 2016.
Post Fri Jan 20, 2017 2:37 pm 
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untanglingwebs
El Supremo

From the DEQ on January 5, 2017

This letter is in reference to a permit to install application (PTI) and a proposed Draft Consent Order for Universal Coating, Inc. The PTI application is proposing to designate the facility as a major hazardous air pollutant source, change volatile organic compound control equipment, evaluate emission limits, install new equipment, and permit equipment currently operating under an exemption at the existing metal and plastic parts coating facility. The proposed Draft Consent Order is to resolve alleged violations of the current PTI No. 96-03C. The facility is located at 5204 Energy Drive, Flint, Michigan. The PTI application is identified as No PTI-03D.
Post Sat Jan 21, 2017 1:06 am 
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untanglingwebs
El Supremo

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) has announced a public comment period on the draft permit conditions and the Draft Consent Order, as required by state and federal regulations. The public comment period is to solicit written comments prior to making a final decision on both the permit application and Draft Consent Order. Written comments received during the comment period will be considered in the final decision for each. Please mail comments on the draft permit conditions by Februay 9, 2017 to Ms. Annette Switzer, permit Section Supervisor, MDEQ, Air Quality Division, P.O. Box 30260, Lansing, Michigan, 48909-7660.

Comments may also e submitted from the webpage
http://www.deq.state.mi.us/aps/cwep.shtml
Click on "Submit Comment" under the Universal Coating, Inc., PTI No 96-03D listing.

Please mail comments on the Draft Consent Order y February 9, 2017 to Mr. Jason Wolfe, MDEQ, Air Quality Division, P.O. Box 30260, Lansing, Michigan 48909-7660.
Post Sat Jan 21, 2017 1:23 am 
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untanglingwebs
El Supremo

On February 9, 2017, an informal session and pblic hearing have been scheduled at Genesee Township Hall, 7244 North Genesee Road, Genesee Michigan. The informational session will be held from 6:00p.m. until 7:00p.m., at which time staff will be availale to answer questions concerning both the Draft Consent order and the draft PTI. The public hearing will foll at 7:00 p.m. The sole purpose of the hearing will be to take formal testimony on the record. Questions will not be answered during testimony ; however,staff will e available to answer questions outside the hearing room.
Post Sat Jan 21, 2017 1:33 am 
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untanglingwebs
El Supremo

universal coating, inc. - Department of Environmental Quality
www.deq.state.mi.us/aps/downloads/srn/N7256/N7256_RVN_201604...

Apr 14, 2016 ... Lansing, Michigan 48909. RE: Response to Violation Notice dated March 16, 2016. Universal Coating, Incorporated, Flint, Michigan (SRN: ...
Post Sat Jan 21, 2017 4:50 am 
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untanglingwebs
El Supremo

EPA backs Flint residents' 24-year bias fight over dirt-spewing plant
Niraj Warikoo , Detroit Free Press Published 8:19 p.m. ET Jan. 20, 2017 | Updated 10 hours ago


The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has sided with Flint residents in a 24-year legal battle over whether the placement of a wood-fired plant in a neighborhood with many African-American residents was discriminatory.

The agency is urging the State of Michigan to have a Non-Discrimination Coordinator to enforce discrimination law in environmental pollution and to address community concerns about "odor, fugitive dust, lead, or other impacts" from the Genesee Power Station in Flint.



The letter, dated Thursday, was sent by the director of the external civil rights compliance office of the EPA, under the Obama administration, to Rev. Paul Schmitter, of Christ the King Parish, who filed the original complaint in 1992 against the state and local officials on behalf of the St. Francis Prayer Center.

The 35-page letter blasts the state for, it says, ignoring compliance with federal laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, and other categories. It said the state discriminated against African Americans in Flint during the permit process from 1992-94.

The letter said that the EPA had tried to work with the Michigan Department of Environmental Equality (MDEQ), but was unable to get them to make changes. The EPA civil rights compliance director, Lilian Dorka, gave a list of recommendations for the state environmental agency to comply with nondiscrimination requirements under law and to address community concerns about the plant.

A spokesperson for the MDEQ could not immediately comment late Friday, but was working on a response. A man who answered the phone at the power station said no one was available to comment late Friday.

The EPA's recommendations included:

Continue any current investigations and investigate any community concerns
Ensure a complaint and response system that enables residents to file complaints. The letter said in the past, the state didn't often make it clear how people could file discrimination or pollution complaints
"Ensure that all appropriate DEQ staff have been trained on its internal non-discrimination policies and procedures ..."
"Ensure its public involvement process is available to all persons regardless of race, color, national origin ... "

After the initial complaint was filed in 1992, a lawsuit was filed in 1995 in Genesee County Circuit Court by the Flint chapter of the NAACP and others against state and local officials.

In 1992, the plant got permission from the state to operate. It sat next to Carpenter Elementary School near Carpenter and Dort roads in Flint. Lead and other chemicals are emitted during the burning process, harming people in the neighborhood, say residents.

"The facility will be emitting toxic metals, and those children are not there by choice," said Janice O'Neal, at the time an associate professor at C.S. Mott Community College, in a 1995 Free Press article about the lawsuit. "This area is predominantly black, low-income, with a disproportionate number of female-headed households. These people are at greater risk for all kinds of environmental exposures already. This ought to be taken into consideration in the siting process. If it's not, the process is racist."

Thursday's letter doesn't appear to call for the plant to be shut down, but is aimed at persuading the state to make sure it allows minorities to be able to be involved in the public complaint processes.

The EPA's letter comes as the Flint water crisis has also brought charges of environmental racism from some advocates who argue that because Flint is a black-majority and low-income city, it suffered from negligence from government officials.

The Thursday letter came the day before Barack Obama left office, as the incoming Trump administration vows to roll back what they see as overregulation in departments like the EPA.

Contact Niraj Warikoo: 313-223-4792 or nwarikoo@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @nwarikoo
Post Sat Jan 21, 2017 7:36 am 
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untanglingwebs
El Supremo

EPA: Civil rights advocates despair after decades of agency...
www.eenews.net/stories/1060013679

Feb 19, 2015 ... At issue: Would granting a permit to the power plant violate the ... Schmitter and the Flint activists aren't alone in being kept waiting by EPA's Office of ... It lies at the end of an isolated road called Energy Drive that's lined with ...
Post Sun Jan 22, 2017 6:26 am 
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untanglingwebs
El Supremo

E&E News

EPA
Civil rights advocates despair after decades of agency inaction

Robin Bravender, E&E reporter
Greenwire: Thursday, February 19, 2015

FLINT, Mich. -- In 1994, activists opposing the construction of a wood-fired power plant here asked U.S. EPA for help, arguing the project would spew toxic pollutants into their poor, largely African-American neighborhood.

At issue: Would granting a permit to the power plant violate the community's civil rights? Twenty-one years later, the Genesee Power Station's smokestacks are puffing away, and its neighbors are still waiting for an answer.

"It's kind of a race. Is the Second Coming going to happen, or am I going to hear from the EPA?" said the Rev. Phil Schmitter, a 69-year-old Catholic priest who sent the call for help to EPA. "Right now, I'm betting on the Second Coming."

Schmitter and the Flint activists aren't alone in being kept waiting by EPA's Office of Civil Rights. The agency has accepted or partly accepted 17 cases that haven't yet been resolved. Those date back to 1994, according to a log that tracks complaints. The complaint against Genesee has been languishing the longest, but it's one of five filed in the 1990s that were accepted but never finalized.

"It's a travesty," said Vernice Miller-Travis, a longtime environmental justice advocate who serves on EPA's environmental justice advisory council. "It's a clear violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

"If there was a program office at EPA that decided that it didn't understand, it didn't agree with it, didn't want to, it just didn't feel like enforcing some part of an environmental statute, there would be hell to pay," she said. "But there is no such penalty within the agency for not being compliant with civil rights laws and statutes. It's such a glaring inequity."

EPA's press office would not make an official in the civil rights office available for an interview for this story. Spokeswoman Monica Lee said in a statement the office is "working diligently" to resolve the Genesee case "as quickly as possible while ensuring the quality and consistency of its investigation."
Father Phil Schmitter

Father Phil Schmitter still hasn’t heard back from EPA about the civil rights complaint he filed against this power plant more than two decades ago. Photo by Robin Bravender.

"The agency has made improving its civil rights compliance program a priority," including its enforcement of civil rights laws, "and is committed to establishing a model civil rights program," Lee added. "There's still progress that needs to be made to accomplish this goal, and we continue to take significant and strategic steps to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the program to ensure recipients' compliance with the civil rights laws."

Meanwhile, the power plant started running, several of the people who battled its construction have died, and others have largely forgotten about the matter. Even those who were most central to the effort have largely given up hope of ever hearing back from EPA.

Schmitter returned recently to visit the power plant on the outskirts of Flint. It lies at the end of an isolated road called Energy Drive that's lined with evergreen trees and dense green brush.

The small plant -- surrounded by a barbed-wire fence -- is fueled by piles of waste wood from nearby heaps that form a small dirt-colored mountain. White steam billows into the cloudy sky from a tall red-and-white-striped smokestack. There was little odor on the cold winter day, but when scrap piles get wet, Schmitter said, the locals will occasionally get a whiff of an acrid stench.

"You kind of gag on it," he said.

The incinerator is owned by a partnership that includes Jackson, Mich.-based CMS Enterprises and White Plains, N.Y.-based Fortistar. It's a 40-megawatt biomass-fueled plant that burns everything from tree trimmings to construction debris and other industrial wood wastes, according to CMS's website. The company sells the power to Consumers Energy Co. -- enough to power about 40,000 homes. Neither CMS nor Fortistar responded to requests for comment on this story.

The plant started operations while its opponents were waiting to hear back from EPA. It's been up and running since 1995.

"We've done as much as we can do," Schmitter said, looking out at the plant. "It was mostly a lost battle."
'A lot of polluting stuff'

Flint religious leaders and community groups started their war against the plant before it was constructed, arguing it would damage public health and disproportionately harm residents who were already exposed to more than their fair share of pollution.

"In that corner of Flint, there is just a lot of polluting stuff that's either in Genesee Township or the northeast side of Flint, and nothing has ever really been done about that," Schmitter said. The plant is about a mile from an elementary school and a low-income housing complex.
Activists

Activists opposed to the Genesee Power Plant gathered in a courtroom in 1997. Sister Joanne Chiaverini (second from left), Lillian Robinson (center wearing pink) and Schmitter (back right). Photo courtesy of St. Francis Prayer Center.

Schmitter and Sister Joanne Chiaverini, who were co-directors at the St. Francis Prayer Center, about a mile down the road from the Genesee plant, were central to that fight. They teamed up with local environmental and civil rights groups in an unsuccessful bid to halt construction. The prayer center still has scrapbooks full of photos and news clippings documenting their efforts.

Opponents warned the plant would add to elevated levels of lead and other dangerous pollutants in the air by burning demolition wood containing lead-based paint. They argued that the air pollution permits issued to the plant failed to properly account for the racial and environmental impacts the plant would have in a community whose population is predominately African-American.

Flint's population was nearly 53 percent black or African-American in 2000 -- a number that had climbed to nearly 57 percent in 2010, according to the Census Bureau.

Schmitter and Chiaverini drew up a complaint to file in 1994 with EPA's civil rights program. Federal civil rights laws allow people to file administrative complaints to federal agencies if they believe recipients of federal cash (in this case, the state of Michigan) took discriminatory actions.

It's the only document he ever typed on a computer, Schmitter said. "We were in a real time crunch." By then, the plant was already under construction.

"Several people filed it, and Sister Joanne and I just happened to word it right," he added. They got a letter back from EPA saying they had filed the complaint within the appropriate time frame. He remembers getting a visit from EPA staffers from the agency's Washington, D.C., headquarters a few years back, but he never heard back after their visit.

"There was nothing remotely substantial," he said. "They haven't done one thing about it."
'Banging their heads against the wall'

Several of Schmitter's former allies have died in the time it's taken EPA to follow up. And for the most part, people in Flint have stopped paying attention to the power plant that's churning away on the outskirts of the city.

"I think people have given up," Schmitter said. "This is ancient history ... so the EPA, I guess, must have a shelf they put this stuff on where they say, good, they're all dead, so we don't have to mess with that anymore."

Chiaverini died in 2008 after complications from a heart valve replacement, local press reported. She was 68.

Lillian Robinson, a local activist who was central to the fight against the plant, died of cancer in 2007 at age 79, The Flint Journal reported. Janice O'Neal, another opponent of the facility and a college instructor, died in 2002 at age 53.

Schmitter has since left his job at the prayer center; he's been the pastor at Christ the King Church across town since 2009.

The lengthy delay in hearing back from EPA was disappointing to others who were central to the effort. Many of them have since moved on, too.

"It really wore people down and became an area of much frustration. People were just sort of banging their heads against the wall," said Julie Hurwitz, who was executive director of the Sugar Law Center for Economic & Social Justice -- a nonprofit public interest legal center that represented opponents of the power plant -- from 1998 until 2004. She's now a partner at a civil rights law firm in Detroit.

Hurwitz penned an exasperated letter to EPA's civil rights office in 2000. "We write this letter to formally inquire about the status of the [Genesee] case and to convey our ongoing serious concern regarding the delay in resolving this matter," she wrote then. "... [D]uring the pendency of this investigation, the Genesee Power Station has been built, is operating, has assumed a place on EPA's Significant Violators List, has been cited by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, has entered into a Consent Judgment based on these violations, and continues to adversely affect the health and welfare of the surrounding community."

Fifteen years later, she's still frustrated. "My feeling about the EPA is that they have placed very little value on environmental racism, and when people are being hurt and they complain, that counts as zero," she said.
Backlog

But working out civil rights complaints can be complicated, and resolving them gets even tougher as time passes, according to former EPA employees who worked closely with the program.

Complaints to EPA under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act -- which prohibits recipients of federal funding from using the money in a way that has a discriminatory impact based on race, color or national origin -- presented "a novel combination of civil rights and environmental concerns," said a former senior EPA official who worked on civil rights issues.

EPA, the former official said, "initially had no policies or procedures for dealing with them and lacked the analytic tools necessary to address the issue of disparate environmental impact that was at the heart of the complaints."

In the early years of the program, processing complaints "was further complicated by the lack of case law and staff expertise within the Office of Civil Rights to address environmental impact concerns," that person said. On top of those hurdles, "there were always inadequate resources" for funding the office.

The Obama administration has received some credit for tackling long-standing problems in the civil rights program.

Early in Obama's tenure, then-EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson commissioned a broad study of the program.

The sweeping evaluation issued in 2011 by Deloitte Consulting LLP depicted the office as a troubled program that had been plagued by leadership problems and misplaced priorities for years.

The report found that EPA had failed to properly address allegations of discrimination, seemed to lose sight of its mission and priorities, and struggled to effectively resolve equal employment opportunity violations inside the agency (Greenwire, April 4, 2011).

In the wake of the Deloitte findings, Jackson called for a revitalization of the civil rights shop. EPA issued a report in April 2012 touting progress it had made in addressing the backlog of complaints and pointing to the appointment of a special counsel to help address long-standing complaints of discrimination.

EPA hired a new director last April to take the helm of the civil rights office, sparking hope among activists that she'd invigorate efforts to tackle the backlog of complaints (Greenwire, April 1, 2014).
'It's so stale'

Under the Obama administration, the civil rights office "went about taking some of the earliest and probably easiest cases and figuring out if there's something that could be investigated," said Lisa Garcia, who was EPA's environmental justice adviser from 2009 until last year.

"One of the reasons you still have cases in that backlog is that the situations are so old. Complainants may not even be around, may not be interested," she said. "It's so stale."

Garcia suggested that EPA put the older cases "into a new bucket." For cases where communities are still impacted or overburdened, the agency could take steps to try to remedy the general situation.

Meanwhile, long-standing complaints remain unanswered.

"I kind of thought, being somewhat foolish and naive, that when we had a Democratic president we'd get a little more interest and excitement and have a chance," Schmitter said. "But it didn't matter. Whichever party was in there, the EPA was equally ineffective and nonresponsive."

Miller-Travis of EPA's environmental justice advisory council said there's "no question" that the Obama EPA has shown improvement compared to previous administrations on the civil rights front. "You'd have to say that there is much more effort and energy going on to try to fix what has not been working in the Office of Civil Rights," she said.

But while increased dialogue with EPA has been welcome, she said, "in terms of demonstrative examples of progress, there's not a lot to show for it."
Twitter: @rbravender | Email: rbravender@eenews.net
Post Sun Jan 22, 2017 6:29 am 
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untanglingwebs
El Supremo

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Post Sun Jan 22, 2017 6:40 am 
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untanglingwebs
El Supremo




EPA freezes grant programs: reports
By Cyra Master - 01/23/17 10:55 PM EST


EPA freezes grant programs: reports
© Getty

President Donald Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has frozen its grant programs, according to multiple reports.

EPA grants, which fund – among other things – cleanup of toxic sites, air quality monitoring, water quality testing – have been halted and EPA staff has been told not to discuss the order, the Huffington Post reported.

Myron Ebell, who ran the EPA transition for Trump, confirmed the “basics of the freeze” to ProPublica Monday night but said

Monday night, Myron Ebell, who ran the EPA transition for the incoming administration, confirmed the basics of the freeze.

“They’re trying to freeze things to make sure nothing happens they don’t want to have happen, so any regulations going forward, contracts, grants, hires, they want to make sure to look at them first,” Ebell said.

It’s unclear whether the freeze is indefinite or temporary as the agency transitions to new leadership under Trump nominee Scott Pruitt.

“This may be a little wider than some previous administrations, but it’s very similar to what others have done,” Ebell added.

In an email exchange obtained by ProPublica, an EPA contracting officer wrote in a message to a storm water management employee, “Right now we are in a holding pattern. The new EPA administration has asked that all contract and grant awards be temporarily suspended, effective immediately. Until we receive further clarification, this includes task orders and work assignments.”
Post Tue Jan 24, 2017 8:00 am 
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