Groups Ask Judge to Force EPA to Probe Discrimination

Advocates are asking a federal judge to force the Environmental Protection Agency to investigate environmental justice complaints, including one on the permits for the Delta Energy Center in Pittsburg, Calif. Photo Credit: Calpine

Suzanne Potter
California News Service

OAKLAND, Calif. – Five nonprofits, including one in California, filed a motion in federal court Monday March 13th to force the EPA to follow up on environmental justice-related civil rights complaints. The groups accuse the EPA of dragging its feet, in some cases for decades.

Michael Boyd, a plaintiff in the legal action and director of the nonprofit Californians for Renewable Energy, filed a complaint in 2000 after state authorities gave permits for two power plants in the predominantly non-white low-income Bay Area community of Pittsburg. But he says the EPA just ignored it, then dismissed it altogether in 2016.

“Specifically it was impacting the children at the Pittsburgh Unified School District,” he said. “And they were suffering elevated levels of respiratory problems due to exposure to what’s called particulate matter. And these new plants were going to put out a bunch of it.”

The EPA is supposed to respond to valid complaints within 180 days. The four other plaintiffs are alleging discrimination against low-income minority communities during the permitting of a power station in Michigan, an oil-refinery expansion in Texas and waste-disposal facilities in Alabama and New Mexico.

In January, the EPA filed a motion to dismiss the case against it, arguing that the California venue was improper and that the case was moot because some of the complaints recently had been decided.

Suzanne Novak, the lead attorney on the case with Earthjustice, thinks the agency put off the complaints until the lawsuit forced its hand.

“They dismissed the complaint but they still did not do what they were supposed to, which was rule upon the issues raised in the complaint about the disparate environmental impacts it would have on this community of color,” she said.

The federal court is expected to hold a hearing on this matter in June. Meanwhile, Boyd says both of the power plants he was complaining about repeatedly have been cited for air quality violations.