EPA Moves to Curb Harmful Pollution in Vulnerable Louisiana Communities

Mississippi River Petrochemical Industry, near Norco, Louisiana. Photo by Ken Lund, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Following his Journey to Justice Tour, US Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael S. Regan announced on Wednesday that the agency will begin taking action to bring some environmental justice to Louisiana’s more vulnerable communities.

The EPA stated that in direct response to resident concerns, it will begin conducting unannounced inspections of suspected non-compliant chemical plants, refineries, and other industrial sites. It will also install air monitoring equipment across Louisiana’s “chemical corridor” to enhance enforcement at plastics and chemical plants in the area between New Orleans and Baton Rouge – more commonly known as Cancer Alley.

“In every community I visited during the Journey to Justice tour, the message was clear – residents have suffered far too long and local, state, and federal agencies have to do better,” Regan said. “The pollution concerns have been impacting these communities for decades. Our actions will begin to help not only the communities I visited on this tour, but also others across the country who have suffered from environmental injustices.”

The move comes nearly one year after human rights experts at the United Nations called on the US and President Joe Biden to curb environmental racism in the area. Federal environmental regulations went unenforced and failed to protect the people residing in the area, the UN said.

“This form of environmental racism poses serious and disproportionate threats to the enjoyment of several human rights of its largely African American residents, including the right to equality and non-discrimination, the right to life the right to health and an adequate standard of living and cultural rights,” the group said in a statement. “The African American descendants of the enslaved people who once worked the land are today the primary victims of deadly environmental pollution that these petrochemical plants in their neighborhoods have caused.”

Although the move falls short of the UN’s call for the payment of reparations, it is a step in the right direction. President Joe Bident has pledged that at least 40 percent of new spending on environment and climate will go to minority and poor communities.

Previously, inspections on industrial facilities were done with advance notice or on a schedule. The addition of unannounced inspections “are going to keep these facilities on their toes,” Regan said. In addition, a new Pollution Accountability Team will begin working with residents and community leaders in Mossville, St. James Parish, and St. John the Baptist Parish to determine routes to be traveled by a mobile monitoring vehicle.

Earlier this month Denka installed fenceline monitors to identify sources of emissions at its facility in St. John the Baptist Parish following an EPA order. Regan sent them a letter pressing them to continue to cooperate with EPA efforts to monitor and lower pollution in the area.

“I am writing you today to reiterate what I hope are our shared concerns and expectations over the health and wellbeing of the [nearby elementary school] students,” Regan wrote. “EPA expects DuPont and Denka to take other needed action to address community concerns.”

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