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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said Tuesday that it is closing a probe into allegations of discrimination or civil rights violations by the state of Louisiana after finding no evidence black residents faced high levels of air pollution.
The investigation was initiated in response to complaints from environmental groups, who claimed that black residents in St. John the Baptist Parish were disproportionately exposed to air pollution.
These groups alleged that Denka, a Japanese company that operates at the former DuPont facility in LaPlace, was permitted to release excessive levels of the chemical chloroprene, which the EPA classified as a likely carcinogen in 2010.
Denka produces chloroprene, which is used to make neoprene synthetic rubber used in a wide variety of products such as wetsuits and waterproof gloves, laptop sleeves, electrical insulation, and automotive fan belts and hoses. The company had previously voluntarily agreed to reduce plant emissions, according to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.
Environmental organizations further claimed that Louisiana’s “failures” resulted in residents facing the highest cancer risk from air pollution across the nation. They also raised concerns about residents’ exposure to the carcinogen ethylene oxide from various sources.
St. John the Baptist Parish is located within an industrialized area along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans that activists refer to as “Cancer Alley.” The majority of the parish’s population is black.
However, in a court filing submitted on Tuesday, the EPA said that it “made no finding of discrimination or other violation” by either the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality or the Louisiana Department of Health.
This decision by the EPA effectively concludes the Biden administration’s investigation into the state.
In February, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a complaint under Section 303 of the Clean Air Act against Denka to compel the company “to significantly reduce hazardous chloroprene emissions from its neoprene manufacturing facility in LaPlace.”
The Biden administration’s lawsuit claimed the company’s facility presented “an imminent and substantial endangerment to public health and welfare.”
Louisiana filed a lawsuit in May claiming that the Biden administration had “weaponized” civil rights law in pursuing the probe.
The state accused the EPA in a court filing of overstepping its authority under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by pressuring the state to implement significant changes to its air permitting regime, Nola reported. The lawsuit argued that the EPA’s actions expanded the scope of Title VI beyond its intended purpose of addressing intentional discrimination.
Attorney General Jeff Landry asked a federal judge to stop the EPA’s investigation and declare its attempts both unconstitutional and in violation of the Clean Air Act. He argued that EPA Administrator Michael Regan was being directed by activist groups.
“The agency has weaponized Title VI as a blanket grant of authority to veto any and all permitting decisions that offend its vision of environmental justice and ‘equity,’” the state’s filing reads.
Last year, the Supreme Court issued a ruling stating that the EPA cannot put state-level caps on carbon emissions under the 1970 Clean Air Act.
The EPA expressed concerns about the situation in St. John the Baptist Parish and sent a letter to the state suggesting potential discrimination against black residents.
In the court filing, the EPA revealed that it was closing the probe because it had already taken action against Denka. The agency ordered Denka to lower its emissions and filed a civil rights complaint against the company.
Additionally, the EPA highlighted its proposal for a new rule aimed at reducing emissions of both chloroprene and ethylene oxide throughout the country.
The decision to close the investigation has left environmental advocates disappointed. Earthjustice, an environmental law organization, decried the EPA’s finding.
“[The EPA] is abandoning a Louisiana community plagued by high cancer rates from toxic air pollution in its decision to close a civil rights investigation that would have brought overdue justice to St. John the Baptist Parish residents,” the organization stated on Twitter.
Patrice Simms, vice president of health communities at Earthjustice, said that the EPA’s decision deprived the communities of an important avenue for justice and addressing long-standing toxic exposures, The Hill reported.
“We are deeply disappointed by EPA’s decision to close an investigation that could have brought justice to the community members of St. John the Baptist Parish, who have long borne the brunt of environmental injustice and discrimination,” Simms said in a statement.
The Epoch Times contacted Denka and Concerned Citizens of St. John for comment.