Efforts to achieve “environmental justice” have been a top priority of the Biden Administration and its Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). As stated in the EPA’s FY 2022-2026 Strategic Plan, “EPA will center its mission on the integration of justice, equity, and civil rights across the nation’s environmental protection enterprise,” (27).

Accordingly, the EPA has invoked Title VI of the Civil Rights Act in some of its environmental emissions investigations even where the situation appears compliant with applicable environmental laws. One such investigation recently occurred in Louisiana where the EPA found “significant evidence” of disparate adverse impacts on Black residents of St. John the Baptist Parish, St. James Parish, and an Industrial Corridor in the area. These disparate impacts were alleged to be the result of poor air quality despite the fact that the EPA had deemed the relevant emissions compliant with applicable laws shortly before opening their civil rights investigation.

In May 2023, the Louisiana Attorney General filed suit against the EPA, arguing that EPA lacked authority to impose disparate-impact based mandates under Title VI and that the agency had unconstitutionally delegated power to special interest groups to direct how EPA conducted investigations. Shortly after the State sought a preliminary injunction, the EPA abruptly abandoned its pending investigations, although it continues to adhere to its Title VI disparate-impact regulations generally. Briefing is ongoing and a hearing has been set for January 9, 2024. Click here to view the complaint.

Drew Ensign served as Special Assistant Solicitor General and Counsel to the State of Louisiana during this matter. Please join us as he delivers a Litigation Update on the case.

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