Pictured: A hand-painted sign decorates a community garden in the Dutchtown neighborhood in St. Louis, MO. Residents of the community experience elevated health risks such as cancer as a result of increased exposure to air toxics.
Last fall, Great Rivers Environmental Law Center, on behalf of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Missouri State Conference, the NAACP St. Louis City Branch, and the Dutchtown South Community Corporation, filed a complaint with the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) against the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (“MDNR”) claiming that the state agency discriminated against low-income and minority communities in issuing an air pollution permit to Kinder Morgan Transmix LLC located in the Dutchtown neighborhood of St. Louis City. The complaint also alleges that MDNR has failed to comply with federal nondiscrimination laws and regulations in its various environmental programs. EPA accepted the complaint for investigation.
During EPA’s investigation of the complaint, EPA afforded MDNR the opportunity to work with Great Rivers and the community groups they represent through alternative dispute resolution, but MDNR refused to cooperate. EPA also offered MDNR the opportunity to informally resolve the complaint with EPA, but the agency likewise refused this opportunity. Instead, MDNR attempted to rectify the issues raised in the complaint haphazardly by creating insufficient internal policies to cover up that it had over the years fallen woefully short of meeting its obligations regarding federal nondiscrimination laws and regulations.
Despite MDNR’s last minute and disingenuous efforts, on March 31, 2021, EPA issued its preliminary findings that MDNR has failed to comply with its obligations under the federal nondiscrimination laws and EPA’s nondiscrimination regulations to have and implement a nondiscrimination program.
EPA concluded that MDNR ignored concerns raised over the years by Great Rivers about its failure to have in place a nondiscrimination program consistent with its longstanding legal obligations.
“We appreciate EPA’s preliminary findings in response to our complaint. For years, we have raised these issues with MDNR, but the agency has consistently told us we are wrong. It is reassuring to know that the federal agency responsible for ensuring MDNR does not discriminate against low income and minority communities in its environmental programs agrees with our position,” said Bob Menees, Staff Attorney with Great Rivers.
EPA’s preliminary findings set forth a lengthy list of significant steps that MDNR must take to come into compliance with nondiscrimination laws and regulations. When implemented, these procedures will benefit all Missourians.
“We are hopeful that our efforts will result in MDNR being required to establish a robust nondiscrimination program that better protects Missouri’s low-income and minority communities from environmental racism and will set the stage for achieving environmental justice within the state,” said Sarah Rubenstein, Staff Attorney with Great Rivers.
MDNR has 50 days to respond formally to EPA’s preliminary findings. Unless MDNR reverses course and agrees to participate in alternative dispute resolution or informal resolution, EPA will continue its investigation into whether MDNR’s air permitting program is discriminatory and causes a disparate impact on Missouri’s minority and low-income communities.
According to Reverend Elston K. McCowan, 1st Vice President & Environmental Justice Committee Chair of the NAACP St. Louis City Branch, “MDNR has a policy and procedure that ensures public input is kept to a minimum. We believe that these practices are discriminatory against minority participation in the process. We have an absolute right to have a seat at the table, especially when it comes to the environment.”
Great Rivers Environmental Law Center is a Missouri-based public interest law firm that provides free and reduced-fee services to individuals, organizations and citizen groups working to protect the environment and public health. We receive no government funding and rely on donations to sustain our work.