Thank you, Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim, for inviting me to this Earth Day event. It is an honor to work in partnership with you to advance the cause of environmental justice. As you noted, every person should have access to clean water and clean air, for themselves and their children. And access to healthier natural resources and spaces should not be selectively available to only the most privileged people in our nation.
We know well that this is a critically important environmental issue. It is also a civil rights issue. Today, communities of color disproportionately bear the brunt of health problems and other types of harm caused by pollution and inadequate infrastructure. Nationally, Black Americans are 75% more likely than other Americans to live in a fence-line community near hazardous waste. They are exposed to 1.5 times as much air pollution. This is why advancing environmental justice through enforcement of our nation’s civil rights laws is a top priority for the Justice Department.
When it comes to environmental justice, we know that disparities exist from communities that stretch between California and New York, and from Washington, D.C. down to Alabama. That’s why we are putting laws like Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to work. Title VI prohibits recipients of federal funds from discriminating on the basis of race, color or national origin, and from administering programs in any manner that results in a discriminatory impact or in discriminatory treatment. Last year, we launched an investigation into whether the Public Health Departments of Alabama and Lowndes County, Alabama, have engaged in unlawful racial discrimination.
Lowndes County lies between Selma and Montgomery in an area that has historically been called the “Black Belt.” Lowndes County residents are predominantly Black and low-income, with a median household income of roughly $30,000. Many of these residents do not have access to the municipal sewer system or septic systems, and we are investigating the state and county’s operations, policies and practices related to wastewater disposal and sanitation. This investigation marked the Department of Justice’s first Title VI environmental justice investigation.
The Civil Rights Division is committed to standing in partnership with the Environmental and Natural Resources Division to use our federal laws to confront our country’s legacy of environmental injustice. I thank you all for the work that you do every day to advance the ideals of environmental justice, and look forward to continuing the fight for justice and equity in all communities across this county.