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Republican AGs Ask Biden to Cancel Pollution Protection for Black Neighborhoods

Last week, Attorney General Lynn Fitch joined 23 Republican attorneys general in filing a petition that critics say will keep pollution disproportionately hurting low-income communities of color. The petition, driven by Florida GOP AG Ashley Moody, seeks to use conservative courts’ recent crusade against civil rights policies to compel the Biden administration to weaken rules requiring states to alleviate unequal environmental impacts on minority communities. Moody is asking Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan to tweak Title VI under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits recipients of federal money from discriminating against residents based on race. The law also gives residents more power to report state agencies that allegedly discriminate or disparately impact certain communities through bad decisions.


Florida GOP AG Ashley Moody hopes conservative courts’ war on affirmative action will give polluting companies a boost.

Black and brown communities are some of the most polluted communities in the nation, thanks to longstanding U.S. policy and practices. For decades, developers and government administrators worked to deliberately steer polluting industries to low-income and minority communities. Almost a century of polluting strategies still makes it cheaper for corporations to pollute communities of color than white communities, according to Dorceta Taylor, professor at the Yale School of the Environment.


“Corporations, they’re not idiots—they can see this difference,” Taylor told Teen Vogue. “One factor that might be playing into this is whether or not the communities are able to organize and mobilize to push for the cleanup that they should be getting, or even know when these [cleanup] cases are going to court.”


Black and brown neighborhoods do not have the finances to organize against polluting industries moving into their area or lobby politicians against such endeavors. In many cases, their local government is thrilled to have any addition to the tax base, even one carrying health risks. But this creates a cycle of Black-owned land losing value because of the resulting pollution, which makes it easier for even more polluting industries to move into the area. Such is the case for Louisiana’s infamous Cancer Alley, where pollution-friendly politics and affordable pricing allowed a string of petrochemical plants to move in. Studies suggest the factories have likely caused a disproportionate number of cancer cases, miscarriages, respiratory ailments, and other ailments plaguing the predominantly Black and moderate-income population. Title VI, currently under attack by Moody and Republican AGs, is behind hundreds of suits involving the 85-mile stretch of land and wetland comprising Cancer Alley.


Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan, the first Black man to lead the EPA, made environmental justice a top priority of his administration and visited a number of poor and minority communities in the South, Appalachia, and Alaska in a years-long “Journey to Justice” tour in 2021. Biden has also emphasized his commitment to environmental justice, including an executive order in April to create a White House Office of Environmental Justice.


However, Fitch, Moody, and others want the Biden administration to stop using the civil rights law to investigate the behavior of agencies and companies that disproportionately injure Black people more than white residents. The group ignores the reality of decades of intentionally targeting Black neighborhoods with pollution but accuses the Biden administration of “racial engineering.”


“In practice, ‘environmental justice’ asks the States to engage in racial engineering in deciding whether to, for example, issue environmental permits, rather than relying on the effect on the environment and other appropriate factors.”


Removing race as a consideration in denying pollution permits will inevitably add weight to “other appropriate factors” such as company misinformation downplaying the volume of the pollution they spew (as Drax Biomass did before building a wood-pellet plant in Gloster, Miss.). Other “appropriate factors” will also likely include company-sourced propaganda supporting short-term economic boosts and the promise of jobs to win over local politicians, as well as insincere company promises not to do as much environmental damage as critics say they will.


The AGs, many of whom accept campaign contributions from energy and natural resources-related donors, according to VoteSmart, are relying upon the Trump-dominated conservative Supreme Court’s ongoing war on affirmative action in college admissions as basis for amending Title VI. Affirmative action and race, say courts, should not apply to efforts to reverse decades of racial exclusion at U.S. universities. The AGs argue it should also not be considered when government agencies determine how much deadly PFAs a new plastic factory can dump in a Black neighborhood.


“The U.S. Supreme Court has called into question whether the EPA's regulations are lawful,” Moody’s request claims, and she added that Trump’s new Supreme Court would likely argue against considering race in terms of school admission policy and pollution.



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