Pictured: Satellite image of the Kinder Morgan Terminal (via googlemaps)
For nearly nine months, Great Rivers Environmental Law Center has been involved in a Title VI proceeding pending before the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”). The complaint was filed against the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (“MDNR”) and alleges that MDNR’s issuing of an air pollution permit to Kinder Morgan Transmix LLC discriminated against low-income communities of color. It also addresses MDNR’s long-term failure to fulfill expectations outlined by federal nondiscrimination laws. In their latest two part series, Lauren Brown and Jia Lian Yang, hosts of the St. Louis podcast We Live Here, sat down with Great Rivers’ attorneys Sarah Rubenstein and Bob Menees, as well as community organizer Myisha Johnson, to discuss the complaint, the impact of polluters, and what EPA’s findings mean for the future of all Missourians.
Myisha Johnson is a St. Louis local and an advocate for tenants rights. She is featured in We Live Here‘s latest two part series: Part I: Tenant Rights & Resistance and Part II: Civil Rights & Cumulative Impacts. View this photo, episodes, and more on We Live Here‘s page with St. Louis Public Radio. You can listen to the episodes through the links above or wherever you get your podcasts.
Yang introduces Johnson as “a tenant living in South St. Louis City [and] one of the three working members of State Streets Tenants Resistance.” She and her fellow members are usually busy educating tenants and fighting for concrete gains such as a Tenants Bill of Rights. However, lately she finds herself up against not just landlords, but polluters and state agencies. The Kinder Morgan facility in her neighborhood poses major health risks — ones Johnson has experienced firsthand. She lost both of her parents to cancer and was diagnosed with stage two cancer herself. But this was not just a family issue. Myisha “noticed that some of the neighbors would get lumps and bumps all over their body… [and] that a lot of children that were growing up in that community had learning disabilities.” Animals started dying too and although the trend was clear, she couldn’t find an explanation. Johnson then learned that “polluting companies,” such as Kinder Morgan, “were being issued permits in her neighborhood, with little to no community engagement from the state.” Usually, “predominantly Black and brown St. Louis City neighborhoods weren’t informed” about facilities or permits.
“But this time, Great Rivers Environmental Law Center was paying attention and [wasn’t] going to let it slide.”– Jia Lian Yang, We Live Here
Myisha felt excited that there was finally someone to hold polluters and state agencies accountable and to amplify the community’s voice. Within a few months of filing the complaint, EPA made its preliminary finding that MDNR had indeed “violated federal civil rights regulations.” Great Rivers Attorney Sarah Rubenstein felt a similar excitement as she reflected on the community impact of the finding.
“We are providing an important mechanism for members of the public to engage with the state,” she said.
The Great Rivers attorneys hope that this increased engagement leads the state to look at cumulative impacts instead of working on a case-by-case basis. Attorney Bob Menees believes that “MDNR should be doing a lot more in urban areas as it relates to their permitting program to ensure that they’re providing meaningful access to communities that are disproportionately impacted by health impacts.”
“Our hopes would be if EPA compels DNR to make these changes, that it results in first ensuring that there isn’t discrimination and then secondarily, meaningful involvement of all people in environmental processes and programs.”Bob Menees
Maya Mehrotra is a rising sophomore at Washington University in St. Louis studying environmental engineering. She is passionate about social justice and hopes to one day use her degree to tackle both environmental and social issues. When not studying in St. Louis, she can be found in her hometown, Chicago, where she is probably running, reading, or stargazing.
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.