EPA Plans to Remedy Poor Record of Civil Rights Reviews

Thursday, September 17, 2015
EPA Office of Civil Rights Director Velveta Golightly-Howell

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is promising to do a better job of reviewing allegations of civil rights-based environmental discrimination following a series of critical articles.


The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) last month investigated the EPA’s Office of Civil Rights, which is responsible for investigating environmental-discrimination claims filed by communities of color under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


The investigation found the EPA over the past 20 years had dismissed 95% of all community claims alleging environmental discrimination. The stories also suggested how the EPA could fix its civil-rights office, which included performing more proactive reviews.


Guess what?


EPA officials as part of their strategic plan, will do more targeted compliance reviews. The effort will begin next month, and within three years, EPA intends to complete six compliance reviews of state and local agencies per year. The agency intends to do more over time: 11 reviews a year by 2021, and 22 by 2024.


The office will lay out policy guidelines for recipient agencies, including “examples of promising practices” to avoid environmental discrimination, according to CPI.


The new plan will also change rules under which the office has a 20-day deadline to decide whether to investigate Title VI complaints. If it decides to do so, it has another 180 days to issue preliminary findings. Those rules are seen as impractical given the complexity involved in environmental claims. The claims will now be processed “promptly.” The office in the past has taken an average of a year merely to decide whether to pursue a complaint.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

EPA Plans More Aggressive Civil-Rights Reviews (by Kristen Lombardi and Talia Buford, Center for Public Integrity)

External Compliance and Complaints Program Strategic Plan: Fiscal Year 2015 – 2020 (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) (pdf)

EPA Civil Rights Investigations Drag on for Years (by Steve Straehley, AllGov)


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