The Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Civil Rights will more aggressively evaluate recipients of EPA funding to ensure their compliance with federal civil-rights laws, the office said in a draft Strategic Plan released last week. Billed as an effort that “invigorates the EPA’s civil-rights mission,” the five-year plan commits the agency for the first time to conduct targeted compliance reviews.
Beginning October 1, the EPA’s civil-rights office will boost the number of proactive reviews of mostly state and local agencies by investigators on the ground. Targets will be chosen based on “statistical data, prior complaints, reports by other EPA offices” and other factors, the plan states. By fiscal year 2018, the office promises to complete six compliance reviews of recipient agencies per year; the annual tally will rise to 11 reviews by 2021, and 22 by 2024.
The office is responsible for investigating environmental-discrimination claims filed by communities of color under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It also processes discrimination complaints lodged by EPA employees.
Last month, a Center for Public Integrity investigation found that, since the mid-1990s, the EPA has dismissed 95 percent of all community claims alleging environmental discrimination without providing any remedy. In a series of stories entitled “Environmental Justice, Denied,” the Center examined how the EPA’s enforcement of Title VI has frustrated minority communities across the country. The series featured suggestions for how to fix the broken civil-rights office. One was to perform more proactive reviews.