Key findings from Southside Syracuse

Key findings:

  • The EPA’s Office of Civil Rights rarely closes a case with formal action on behalf of minority communities. At the time of the Southside Syracuse’s civil-rights complaint — 12 years after the agency accepted its first claim, in 1993 — the EPA had resolved just five cases, all without findings of violations, and through a mediation process not involving the complainants.
  • Even among the small universe of complaints sparking investigation — 64 such cases over 17 years, including Southside Syracuse — records show the civil-rights office has failed to fulfill its mission of rooting out discrimination at agencies receiving EPA funds.
  • Eighty-four percent of residents living on the south side of Syracuse are African- American. The neighborhood’s per capita income is $8,516; many describe it as a “ghetto,” forgotten by the city’s white, wealthy population.
  • The EPA’s civil-rights office has interpreted compliance with environmental laws as evidence that a complaint target’s actions or decisions would not harm a minority community. Experts note that, unlike Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, environmental laws are not designed to protect historically vulnerable populations, such as communities of color.
  • In 2006, Southside residents produced a 650-page addendum to supplement their civil-rights case, outlining how Onondaga County had repeatedly made decisions about a city-wide sewer plan that would burden their neighborhood over predominantly white ones. The EPA’s civil-rights office has yet to acknowledge receiving the addendum.