NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Environmentalists' Racial Strategy

March 25, 1998

Environmental activists are playing a race card, critics charge. In an effort to block the Environmental Protection Agency from issuing pollution permits for new plants, the environmentalist are filing civil rights charges claiming emissions from the plants unfairly burden adjacent black communities.

  • Forty-nine such complaints have been filed with the EPA, although some have already been thrown out.
  • The complaints are being filed under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars recipients of federal funds from discrimination based on race, sex or national origin.
  • The target is state environmental agencies, which get millions of federal dollars each year for running permit programs under laws like the Clean Air Act.
  • The most notable of the cases so far involves permission for Shintec Inc. to build a plastics plant in St. James Parish, Louisiana -- a decision on which could come as early as April 1998.

The plant's opponents don't have to show that racism motivated Louisiana officials when they granted the permits last summer. Simply determining that a state's permit would unfairly burden a racial group could be grounds for racial bias.

Observers say environmentalists want to introduce race into the permit process so that decision-making will be transferred from the jurisdiction of states to Washington, D.C. -- where the Clinton administration has supported their cause.

  • In 1994, President Clinton signed an executive order requiring agencies to take eco-justice concerns into account in their work.
  • The EPA has been providing money to eco-justice groups -- with $1.3 million budgeted for this year.

The St. James Parish plant, if approved, would create 165 new jobs in an area where unemployment is running at 8 percent.

Source: Laura M. Litvan, "Fighting Racism: EPA's New Role?" Investor's Business Daily, March 25, 1998.


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