Louisiana Federal Court Enjoins EPA’s Use of Disparate Impact Requirements in State Permitting Actions

On Tuesday, January 23, 2024, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana granted a preliminary injunction filed by the State of Louisiana seeking to halt the efforts of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in imposing disparate impact-based mandates under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act in permitting decisions. The state contends that Title VI prohibits only intentional discrimination and, as a result, EPA’s disparate-impact regulations in 40 C.F.R. §§ 7.10-180 are an unlawful attempt by EPA to impose its environmental justice policy goals in official permitting decisions. According to Louisiana, EPA’s efforts to advance disparate impact-based mandates without explicit statutory authorization runs afoul of the major questions doctrine, which requires agencies to act in accordance with explicit congressional mandate for matters of major political or economic significance.

Under its disparate impact regulations, EPA has conducted investigations into state agencies seeking to determine whether Louisiana, through state programs funded with federal dollars, is discriminating based on race by failing to protect communities adjacent to pollutant-emitting facilities. While the investigations in Louisiana were closed without action before the state filed suit, EPA has also objected to the state-issued permits under the Clean Air Act based on Title VI disparate-impact concerns. Those objections were sufficient for the court to find that the state’s challenge presented an ongoing and credible threat of federal enforcement. Because of the economic cost on the state to comply with EPA’s disparate-impact based mandates and the likelihood that the state will succeed on the merits of its claims, the court enjoined both EPA and the U.S. Department of Justice from imposing or enforcing any Title VI requirements that are not both 1) ratified by the President as required by 42 U.S.C. § 2000d-1 and 2) based on requirements explicitly found in EPA’s regulations. However, the court dismissed the state’s private party nondelegation doctrine violations on standing grounds, which raised claims related to EPA’s collaboration with private special interest groups in conducting Title VI investigations because those investigations are now closed.

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