Friday, January 8, 2016

Milwaukee lawyers want tougher EPA civil rights work

The US Environmental Protection Agency is holding a public comment and listening session Monday in Chicago on its plan to change the way it handles civil rights complaints, but critics are saying the agency's proposed changes can lessen the likelihood for timely and strong equal rights outcomes and needs an overhaul.

There hasn't been a lot of publicity about the EPA's public session or the issues involved - - much of which involves investigative deadlines - - though I did find this account online:

Environmental and community groups from five states that sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in July over the agency’s failure to take action on civil rights complaints are calling for the agency to significantly strengthen a rule it proposed last month to revise the way the agency handles civil rights complaints. 
On Dec. 14, the federal register published the proposed rule that was intended to improve the way the EPA’s Office of Civil Rights responds to civil rights complaints it receives. The proposed revision, however, actually weakens existing protections by removing deadlines for the agency to respond and investigate complaints, according to the groups that filed suit.
Two Milwaukee civil rights attorneys - - Dennis Grzezinski, and Karyn Rotker from the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin - - will attend the hearing and are pointing interested parties to the Chicago session's registration attendance and comment website.

The session begins at 3 p.m Monday afternoon in the Ralph H. Metcalfe Federal Building, Room 311, 77 W. Jackson Blvd, Chicago, IL 60604.

Grzezinski is also offering to bring comments from others to the Chicago hearing if they call his office at 414-455-0739 by noon on Monday. 

He also offered this background:
In addition to EPA's history of failing to enforce Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, concerns include:

  • Removing deadlines for responding to complaints is a step backward.  These deadlines have provided the only clear legal basis on which to hold EPA accountable for its failure to move forward.
  • While we understand that some complaints are more complex than others, EPA should retain the 180 day deadline for making a preliminary finding of discrimination.  This is a “preliminary” finding, and rather than rejecting the deadline, EPA should modify its approach in order to meet the deadline.  Communities have no other recourse when faced with new or expanded facilities in their communities, a lack of language access or other procedural violations of their rights, or other Title VI violations.  Unreasonable delay takes a toll on the communities and undermines EPA’s credibility.
  • EPA argues that some of the cases at EPA are scientifically complex and thus can’t be evaluated in 180 days.  This is a false argument.  EPA has been importing analyses and standards from environmental laws such as the Clean Air Act to evaluate whether a toxic source will have an “impact” under the civil rights law.  EPA should, instead, look to best practices at other agencies, such as the Federal Highway Administration and the Department of Education, and reform how it evaluates disparate impact claims.
  • And EPA is not going to be able to build a “model” civil rights enforcement program until it takes a number of other steps that aren’t addressed in the Case Resolution Manual and the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. These include clarifying the legal standards and getting rid of the presumption that a recipient’s compliance with a standard established under an environmental law (such as the Clean Air Act) is a defense to the civil rights law.  The civil rights law must finally be enforced independent of any violation of other laws.
  • Given that communities have no other recourse if their rights are violated, EPA should not be given additional discretion to reject complaints.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I hope they are successful. I hope people understand that it isn't just the urban poor who have to bear the brunt of environmental policies that lead to public health problems.