EPA steps up to curb air and water pollution affecting minority communities along Gulf Coast

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday announced a series of enforcement actions to address air pollution, unsafe drinking water and other issues affecting minorities in three states on the Gulf Coast, following a “Journey to Justice” tour by Administrator Michael Regan last fall. .

The agency will conduct unannounced inspections of chemical plants, refineries and other industrial sites suspected of contaminating air and water and causing health problems for local residents, Regan said. And it will install air surveillance equipment in Louisiana’s “chemical corridor” to improve enforcement of chemical and plastic plants between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The region contains several hot spots where cancer risk is well above the national level.
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The EPA also sent a notice to the city of Jackson, Mississippi, stating that the outdated and overburdened drinking water system violates the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. The order instructs the city to develop a plan within 45 days to “correct the significant deficiencies” in an EPA report.

In separate letters, Regan urged city and state officials to use nearly $79 million in funding allocated to Mississippi under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act “to solve some of the most pressing water needs in Jackson and other emergency areas throughout Mississippi.” .”

The moves were among more than a dozen announced moves in response to Regan’s tour last November. Regan visited low-income, primarily minority communities in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas as part of an effort to draw federal attention to communities adversely affected by decades of industrial pollution.

An EPA inventory of toxic substances shows that African Americans and other minority groups make up 56% of people who live near toxic sites, such as refineries, landfills and chemical plants. Negative effects include chronic health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and hypertension.

“In every community I visited on the Journey to Justice tour, the message was clear: Residents have suffered for far too long and local, state and federal agencies need to do better,” said Regan.

The unannounced inspections of chemical plants and other sites “will keep these facilities on their toes,” he told reporters during a conference call.

Inspections are currently on a schedule or with prior notice, Regan said, but that is about to change. “We’re ramping up our aggressiveness to use a tool that’s in our toolbox that … has been around for quite some time,” he said.

When facilities are found to be non-compliant, the EPA will “use all available tools to hold them accountable,” he added.

In three Louisiana parishes, St. John the Baptist, St. James and Calcasieu – which are home to dozens of industrial sites and have long been plagued by water and air pollution.

President Joe Biden has placed tackling racial inequalities, including those related to the environment, at the heart of his agenda. He has pledged that at least 40% of new climate and environmental spending will go to poor communities and minorities. The government’s commitment to the issue has been under renewed scrutiny in recent weeks as two key environmental justice appointees have left. Cecilia Martinez, a top official with the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and David Kieve, who liaised with environmental justice groups, both left the White House and turned the spotlight on promises yet to be fulfilled.

Regan, a former North Carolina environmental regulator, has made environmental justice a top priority since he took over as head of the EPA last year. As the first black man to head the agency, the issue is “for me both personally and professionally,” he told the Associated Press in November.

“I promise to do better for people in communities that have been in pain for far too long,” he said Tuesday.

Historically marginalized communities like St. John and St. James, along with cities like New Orleans, Jackson and Houston, will benefit from the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill signed by Biden, Regan said. The bill includes $55 billion for water and wastewater infrastructure, while a sweeping climate and social policy bill pending in the Senate would pump more than double that amount into EPA programs to clean up the environment and provide water. – and address environmental justice issues.

As part of its enforcement action, the EPA requires a former DuPont petrochemical plant in La Place, Louisiana, to install fence monitors to identify emissions from the site, Regan said. The factory is now owned by the Japanese conglomerate Denka.

The agency also said it will push for more research into a proposed expansion of a Formosa Plastics plant in St. James and has issued a violation notice to a Nucor Steel plant that emits hydrogen sulfide and other harmful chemicals.

Regan said he spoke with New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell about Gordon Plaza, an urban neighborhood built on the site of a former toxic landfill. Gordon Plaza was designated a Superfund site in the 1990s, but dozens of mostly black families still live there.

The EPA will review the site starting in March, Regan said, adding nine homes not included in previous plans to help families move. City officials hope to use money from the infrastructure law to relocate families and build a solar farm on the site.

EPA also said it has completed a review of proposed actions to clean up creosote contamination from a Houston site now owned by Union Pacific Railroad. The site, in the Kashmere Gardens area of ​​the city’s Fifth Ward, has been associated with higher-than-normal cancer rates in the historically black neighborhood.

EPA said it will work with Texas officials to ensure corrective action addresses the concerns of community members.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who traveled with Regan through the area, said on Wednesday it was “very encouraging” that federal officials “share our concerns and know the names and faces of those affected.”

Sharon Lavigne, president of Rise St. James, a grassroots organization that has fought petrochemical plants in Louisiana, said the EPA’s actions were “just the beginning of what needs to be done” to tackle pollution from the petrochemical industry.

“It’s important that EPA recognizes the need to listen to the science showing that the destructive plastics factory in Formosa must be stopped and that no other harmful chemical factory must be causing more damage in our community,” Lavigne said. “I’m hopeful that he actually gets some things done.”

This post EPA steps up to curb air and water pollution affecting minority communities along Gulf Coast

was original published at “https://time.com/6143024/epa-air-water-pollution-gulf-coast/”