On November 9, 2021, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced its first environmental justice investigation under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits recipients of federal financial assistance from discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin. DOJ announced that the investigation initiated by DOJ’s Civil Rights Division’s Federal Coordination and Compliance Section, with the support of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Alabama, will focus on two issues. First, DOJ will investigate whether the Alabama Department of Public Health and the Lowndes County Health Department operate their onsite wastewater disposal program and infectious diseases and outbreaks program in a manner that discriminates against Black residents of Lowndes County in violation of Title VI; second, whether the health departments’ policies and practices have caused Black residents of Lowndes County to have diminished access to adequate sanitation systems and to disproportionately and unjustifiably bear the risk of adverse health effects associated with inadequate wastewater treatment, such as hookworm infections. The unprecedented investigation reflects the Biden Administration’s all-of-government approach to environmental justice, which is increasingly evident in federal enforcement efforts.
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