A recent article titled “Righting Civil Wrongs” sadly describes how the poor, minority residents of communities throughout the United States have been left with no choice but to sue their government (the US EPA, specifically). Years ago, these residents formally claimed that they were the victims of environmental racism because the government had permitted a local landfill to continue to expand into their neighborhood. By law, the US EPA is required to respond to these serious claims (they are claims of Civil Rights violations, after all) within 180 days, to say whether it agrees that environmental racism is at work. However, some of these residents have been waiting up to 20 years for an answer, and still do not have one.
So they are suing their government just to get an answer. Represented by an extraordinarily dedicated lawyer named Marianne Engelman Lado, they are asking that their government not only obey the law but, more fundamentally, acknowledge their basic humanity.
Of course, to make someone wait decades for the answer to their question is in itself an answer. It says: “We don’t believe you”. Or worse: “We don’t think you’re important enough to get you an answer…..even though the law says that we have to.” The EPA would rather ignore the law than get them an answer. What does this say? Worse, the EPA’s statistics reveal how it is, literally, impossible to get the EPA to take you seriously if you claim to be the victim of environmental racism. In the 22 year history of the EPA’s Office of Civil Rights, while nearly 300 complaints of environmental racism have been filed, not a single one, not a single one, has resulted in a finding of a civil rights violation.