Under the Biden Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (the “EPA” or the “Agency”) has announced the advancement of environmental justice and civil rights as an Agency goal. For fiscal years 2022–2026, the Agency has included in its FY 2022 – FY 2026 EPA Strategic Plan (“Strategic Plan”) the objective to promote environmental justice and civil rights at the federal, tribal, state, and local levels. Within that plan, the EPA noted that the Agency “ha[s] already seen an increase in external civil rights cases being referred to the EPA, and…are investigating them to ensure that recipients of EPA dollars do not discriminate based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, age, or retaliation.” Acting on that plan, on April 6, 2022, the EPA announced that the Agency’s External Civil Rights Compliance Office will investigate two administrative complaints filed against the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (“LDEQ”), under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the EPA’s implementing regulations. The EPA will investigate: (1) whether LDEQ uses criteria or methods of administering its air pollution control program that have the intent and/or effect of subjecting persons to discrimination on the basis of race and (2) whether LDEQ has and is implementing the procedural safeguards required under EPA regulations that all recipients of federal assistance must have in place to comply with general nondiscrimination obligations, including specific policies and procedures to ensure meaningful access to LDEQ services, programs, and activities, for individuals with limited English proficiency and individuals with disabilities. These actions reflect the EPA’s intent to aggressively use its Title VI authority, unlike in any previous administrations.
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