EPA Abandons Louisiana Investigations on Cancer Risks for Black Residents

by Joshua Brown
environmental justice

According to a federal court filing on Tuesday, the Biden administration has chosen to discontinue an investigation into whether Louisiana officials subjected Black residents in an industrial region of the state to an elevated risk of cancer. Despite finding initial evidence of racial discrimination, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated that achieving a resolution by the July deadline was deemed “not feasible.” The termination of the inquiry, which had been commended by activists in predominantly Black communities as a potential opportunity to improve public health, has raised concerns among advocates of environmental justice.

The EPA highlighted several significant actions taken against Denka, a polymer plant central to the investigations. These actions included an agreement to reduce emissions and the filing of a lawsuit against the company, alleging an unacceptable cancer risk imposed on nearby residents. Additionally, the agency tightened regulations. However, the investigation failed to prompt any commitments from Louisiana itself, which is typically expected in civil rights investigations.

Louisiana recently argued in a federal court filing that the administration had inappropriately “weaponized” a section of civil rights law in its pursuit of these investigations. The Biden administration had made environmental justice a priority, earning praise from activists for establishing a dedicated office last year to address cases of alleged environmental discrimination. The retreat in Louisiana has disappointed activists, who fear it may signify a broader limitation on civil rights investigations.

Last year, the EPA began investigating Louisiana’s regulation of air emissions in an area known as the Mississippi River Chemical Corridor, colloquially referred to as “cancer alley.” The agency acknowledged the presence of initial evidence of racial discrimination and had engaged in informal discussions with federal and state officials to resolve the allegations. However, the process concluded without a formal finding of discrimination by the EPA.

Sharon Lavigne, a resident and founder of Rise St. James, a group that filed a complaint prompting the EPA investigation, expressed disappointment in the agency’s decision. Lavigne emphasized the significance of EPA Administrator Michael Regan’s visit to the area and had high hopes for the investigations.

The EPA also dismissed a complaint regarding emissions from a proposed chemical plant operated by FG LA, an affiliate of Formosa Plastics, in the same industrial corridor. The agency noted that the permits for the facility had been invalidated and were currently under litigation in state court.

According to the EPA’s preliminary findings, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality had allowed the Denka polymer plant to expose nearby residents and children at an elementary school to sufficient amounts of chloroprene (a chemical used in synthetic rubber production) to raise their cancer risk. The EPA indicated that Black residents along the entire corridor faced a disproportionate health risk due to pollution, including in the vicinity of the proposed Formosa facility.

Denka has reduced its emissions in recent years and criticized the investigation as ill-conceived, urging the EPA to prioritize science over politics.

In May, Louisiana filed a federal lawsuit challenging the investigations, accusing the EPA of exceeding its authority under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The state argued that the EPA had inappropriately pressured Louisiana to implement radical changes to its air permitting regime, including new practices considering the cumulative harm to nearby predominantly Black communities caused by multiple chemical facilities in the area.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibits race or national origin-based discrimination for entities receiving federal funds. While historically applied to housing and transportation matters, the Biden administration’s use of Title VI in environmental cases represents a departure from previous practice.

Louisiana contends that Title VI should target intentional discrimination rather than programs that may incidentally harm one racial group more than another. Recent conservative Supreme Court rulings have displayed skepticism toward the EPA’s regulatory authority concerning greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution. Louisiana argues that the EPA is attempting to utilize civil rights law beyond the scope permitted by Congress, contradicting the Supreme Court’s recent judgments.

Patrice Simms, an attorney with Earthjustice, warned that the Supreme Court’s recent rulings invite challenges from states opposing the EPA’s authority. J. Michael Showalter, an environmental attorney with ArentFox Schiff, suggested that the EPA may have decided against testing its Title VI authority in this particular case. Additionally, a forthcoming major affirmative action case that touches on Title VI’s power may impact the agency’s authority to wield the civil rights law.

The EPA has not provided an immediate comment on the matter.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about environmental justice

Q: What was the outcome of the investigation into alleged cancer risks for Black residents in Louisiana?

A: The Biden administration dropped the investigation despite finding initial evidence of racial discrimination. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated that a resolution was not feasible by the deadline. This has raised concerns among activists and advocates of environmental justice.

More about environmental justice

You may also like


Sarah123 June 28, 2023 - 9:51 am

epa dropd investigashun? datz bad! we need to protekt ppl frm cancer risk n fight against discrimination. EPA shuld keep going!

GreenGal June 28, 2023 - 4:23 pm

Louisiana fightin bak? they sayin EPA goin 2 far. but ppl’s health matter more! EPA shud keep pushin 4 change. #CivilRightsMatter

EcoWarrior87 June 28, 2023 - 7:28 pm

wai did EPA stop? diz aint gud. we need #environmentaljustice 4 all. hope dis aint a sign of mor cutbacks.

Luv2SaveEarth June 28, 2023 - 8:49 pm

so disappointin! EPA found racial discrim but nothin happenin? not fair! we need justice 4 communities sufferin.


Leave a Comment


BNB – Big Big News is a news portal that offers the latest news from around the world. BNB – Big Big News focuses on providing readers with the most up-to-date information from the U.S. and abroad, covering a wide range of topics, including politics, sports, entertainment, business, health, and more.

Editors' Picks

Latest News

© 2023 BBN – Big Big News