EPA acts to reduce air and water pollution in poor communities – NBC Chicago

The Environmental Protection Agency announced a series of enforcement actions on Wednesday to address air pollution, unsafe drinking water and other issues affecting minority communities in three states in the Gulf Coast, following a “Journey to Justice” tour by administrator Michael Regan last fall.

The agency will carry out unannounced inspections of chemical plants, refineries and other industrial sites suspected of polluting the air and water and causing health problems for nearby residents, Regan said. And it will install air monitoring equipment in Louisiana’s “chemical corridor” to bolster enforcement at chemical and plastics plants between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The region contains several hotspots where cancer risks are well above national levels.

The EPA also issued an advisory to the city of Jackson, Mississippi, saying its aging and overflowing drinking water system violates federal drinking water safety law. The order directs the city to set out a plan to “correct identified material deficiencies” in an EPA report within 45 days.

In separate letters, Regan urged city and state officials to use nearly $79 million in funding allocated to Mississippi under the bipartisan Infrastructure Act “to address some of the most pressing water needs.” emergencies in Jackson and other areas of need across Mississippi.”

The actions were among more than a dozen measures announced in response to Regan’s tour last November. Regan visited low-income, mostly minority communities in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas as part of an effort to bring federal attention to communities affected by decades of industrial pollution.

A toxic release inventory prepared by the EPA shows that African Americans and other minority groups make up 56% of those who live near toxic sites such as refineries, landfills and chemical plants. Negative effects include chronic health problems such as asthma, diabetes, and hypertension.

“In every community I visited on the Journey to Justice tour, the message was clear: Residents have suffered too long and local, state and federal agencies need to do better,” Regan said.

Unannounced inspections of chemical plants and other sites “will keep these facilities on their toes”, he told reporters on a conference call.

Inspections are currently done on a schedule or with advance notice, Regan said, but that’s about to change. “We’re amplifying our aggressiveness to use a tool that’s in our toolbox that…has been there for a while,” he said.

When facilities are found to be non-compliant, the EPA “will use every tool available to hold them accountable,” he added.

A pilot project combining high-tech air pollution monitoring with additional inspectors will begin in three Louisiana parishes: St. John the Baptist, St. James and Calcasieu. The parishes are home to dozens of industrial sites and have long been plagued by water and air pollution.

President Joe Biden has placed the fight against racial disparities, including those related to the environment, at the heart of his program. He pledged that at least 40% of new climate and environment spending would go to poor and minority communities. The administration’s commitment to the issue has come under intense scrutiny in recent weeks as two key environmental justice appointees departed. Cecilia Martinez, a senior official with the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and David Kieve, who conducted outreach with environmental justice groups, both left the White House, highlighting pledges not yet held.

Regan, a former environmental regulator from North Carolina, has made environmental justice a top priority since taking over as head of the EPA last year. As the first black man to lead the agency, the issue “is really personal to me, as well as professional,” he told The Associated Press in November.

“I am committed to doing better with people in communities that have suffered for too long,” he said Tuesday.

Historically marginalized communities like St. John and St. James, as well as cities like New Orleans, Jackson and Houston, will benefit from the bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill Biden signed, Regan said. The law includes $55 billion for water and wastewater infrastructure, while a sweeping climate and social policy bill pending in the Senate would inject more than double that amount into communities. EPA programs to clean up the environment and address water and environmental justice issues.

As part of its enforcement action, the EPA is requiring a former DuPont petrochemical plant in La Place, Louisiana, to install fence monitors to identify site emissions, Regan said. The factory is now owned by the Japanese conglomerate Denka.

The agency also said it would push for further review of a proposed expansion of a Formosa Plastics plant in St. James and issued a notice of violation to a Nucor Steel plant that issues hydrogen sulfide and other harmful chemicals.

Regan said he spoke with New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell about Gordon Plaza, an area of ​​the city built on the site of a former toxic dump. Gordon Plaza was designated as a Superfund site in the 1990s, but dozens of mostly black families still live there.

The EPA will review the site beginning in March, Regan said, and add nine homes not included in previous plans to help families move. City officials hope to use infrastructure law money to relocate families and build a solar farm on the site.

The EPA also said it had completed a review of proposed actions to clean up creosote contamination from a site in Houston that is now owned by the Union Pacific Railroad. The site, in the Kashmir Gardens area in the city’s Fifth Ward, has been linked to higher than normal cancer rates in the historically black neighborhood.

The EPA said it would work with Texas officials to ensure the remediation measures address the concerns of community members, “who are disproportionately impacted by the pollution.”

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who visited the area with Regan, said Wednesday it was “very encouraging” that federal officials “share our concerns and know the names and faces of those affected.”

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