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EPA takes action on environmental justice in three Gulf Coast states

WASHINGTON (AP), -- Wednesday's announcement by the Environmental Protection Agency relates to air pollution, unsafe drinking waters, and other issues affecting minority communities along three Gulf Coast states. This follows a "Journey to Justice", which Administrator Michael Regan took last fall.

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EPA takes action on environmental justice in three Gulf Coast states

Regan stated that the agency will unannounced inspect chemical plants, refineries, and other industrial sites that are suspected of polluting water and causing health problems for nearby residents. It will also install air monitoring equipment along Louisiana's "chemical corridor", to improve enforcement at plastics and chemical plants located between New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans. There are many hotspots in the region where the cancer risk is far higher than national.

The EPA sent a notice to Jackson, Mississippi, stating that its aging and overloaded drinking water system is in violation of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. The order requires the city to present a plan to "correct significant deficiencies" identified in an EPA report within 45-days.

Separately, Regan asked city and state officials to make use of nearly $79 million of funding that Mississippi received under the bipartisan infrastructure bill "to solve some the most urgent water needs in Jackson" and in other areas across Mississippi.

These actions were just a few of the many that Regan announced as part of his November tour. Regan visited communities of low income, mostly minorities, in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas to help focus federal attention on those communities that have been adversely affected by decades worth of industrial pollution.

The EPA has prepared a Toxics Release Inventory that shows that 56% of people living near toxic sites like refineries, landfills, chemical plants and chemical factories are African Americans. Chronic health issues such as hypertension, diabetes, asthma and diabetes are all possible negative effects.

Regan stated that he visited every community during the Journey to Justice tour and the message was clear: the residents have suffered too long, and that local, state, and federal agencies must do better.

He said that unannounced inspections at chemical plants and other locations "are going to keep them on their toes," he told reporters during a conference call.

Regan stated that inspections are currently done according to a schedule or with advance warning. But, this is about changing. Regan stated that they are increasing their aggressiveness to use a tool in their toolbox that has been around for a while.

He added that EPA will use all its tools to hold facilities accountable if they are found not to be complying with the law.

Three parishes in Louisiana will be the first to start a pilot project that combines high-tech monitoring of air pollution with additional inspectors. These parishes, which are home to numerous industrial sites, have been plagued for many years by water and pollution.

President Joe Biden made it a central part of his agenda to address racial disparities and environmental issues. Biden has committed to ensuring that at least 40% of all new climate and environment spending will be spent on poor and minority communities. Two key environmental justice officials have resigned, putting the administration's commitment to this issue under greater scrutiny. Cecilia Martinez (a top White House Council for Environmental Quality official) and David Kieve (who conducted outreach with environmental justice organizations), both left the White House, shining a light on the promises still to be fulfilled.

Regan, a former North Carolina environmental regulator, has made environmental justice a priority since he assumed the helm of the EPA. Regan said that the issue was both personal and professional for him as the first Black head of the agency.

He said Tuesday, "I promise to do better for people in communities that have been suffering for far too long,"

Regan stated that the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill signed by Biden will be of benefit to historically marginalized communities such as St. John and St. James and cities like New Orleans, Jackson, and Houston. The law provides $55 billion for water infrastructure and wastewater infrastructure. A Senate climate and social policy bill would provide more than twice as much funding to EPA programs that clean up the environment and address environmental justice issues.

Regan stated that the EPA has ordered a former DuPont petrochemical facility in La Place, Louisiana to install fence-line monitors as part of its enforcement action. This will allow it to detect emissions from the site. Denka, a Japanese conglomerate, now owns the plant.

It also stated that it would push for more scrutiny of the proposed expansion of a Formosa Plastics facility in St. James. The agency also issued a violation notice to a Nucor Steel plant, which emits hydrogen sulfuride and other dangerous chemicals.

Regan stated that he spoke with LaToya Cantrell, the New Orleans Mayor, about Gordon Plaza. It is a neighborhood constructed on the former site of a toxic landfill. Gordon Plaza was declared a Superfund site by the 1990s but many families, mainly Black, still reside there.

Regan stated that the EPA will begin reviewing the site in March and will add nine new homes to families who have not been included in previous plans. Officials hope to use money from infrastructure law to move families and to build a solar farm.

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