EPA Finishes Civil Rights Investigation Into Louisiana’s Power Plants

EPA Finishes Civil Rights Investigation Into Louisiana’s Power Plants

In a major setback for environmental justice activists, the Biden administration will no longer investigate whether Louisiana officials are placing Black residents living in an industrial area of the state at an increased risk of cancer despite evidence of racial discrimination, AP News reports.

In Louisiana, just between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, a stretch of land along the Mississippi River extends over 80 miles and contains petrochemical plants and refineries. Nicknamed “Cancer Alley,” the region is responsible for the highest cancer rates caused by air pollution in the entire country, according to the Guardian. The perpetrator is a Japanese polymer plant called Denka. Though Denka has been on the receiving end of lawsuits and protests over the years, residents of Louisiana recently called on the Biden administration to finally expel the chemical giant. Following this most recent filing, these hopes have been dashed. 

The Environmental Protection Agency found evidence of racial disparity in the industrial region of Louisiana in October 2022 and formally took action against the company in January 2023. As part of the Biden administration’s initiative to address environmental issues, EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan took a series of steps to aid local communities, which he published in a press release in January 2022. One of these steps was visiting Louisiana and implementing a Pollution Accountability Team in Mossville, St. James Parish, and St. John the Baptist Parish. Responsible for monitoring air contaminants, the project was one of the EPA’s attempts to combat Denka. Additionally, the organization provided $600,000 to provide mobile air pollution monitoring equipment to the region, specifically in Mossville, St. John the Baptist Parish and St. James Parish, and other southern communities. 

In 2022, Regan penned a letter to the CEOs of Denka and DuPont, urging them to consider the health of neighboring residents, saying, “…as a parent, I remain extremely concerned about the over 500 children at the elementary school. I am writing to you today to reiterate what I hope are our shared concerns and expectations over the health and well-being of the students. EPA expects DuPont and Denka to take other needed action to address community concerns.” Additionally, the EPA required the Denka facility to install fence line monitors to determine where onsite emissions were coming from and established a set of new rules to limit air pollution. 

The EPA’s efforts have not been without pushback, however. The Washington Post reports that, in recent weeks, Louisiana’s Attorney General Jeff Landry has opposed the EPA, filing a federal lawsuit in which he alleged that the EPA was overstepping its authorities and fighting to block the organization’s investigation. Landry is a Republican candidate currently vying for the title of Louisiana’s next governor. Following years of fighting, Louisiana residents remain unprotected and without justice. In its filing, the EPA claimed that it had taken the necessary measures to protect Louisiana communities and, as a result, will no longer continue its probe into Denka’s practices. The EPA and Justice Department also declined to pursue civil rights enforcement against Louisiana’s Department of Health and Department of Environmental Quality. 

The decision has left many local environmental justice activists disheartened. “I feel like we were put on the back burner,” the founder of local activist group Rise St. James Sharon Lavigne, told the Washington Post.


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