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Pittsburg CA: Suit claims EPA failed to investigate

Repost from the Contra Costa Times

Pittsburg: Suit claims EPA failed to investigate complaints of environmental discrimination

By Bay City News Service, 07/21/2015 09:43:40 AM PDT

PITTSBURG – A consortium of environmental groups sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for failing to investigate complaints of discrimination in the placement of power plants or hazardous waste dumps in various locations across the country, including two power plants in Pittsburg.

The EPA has 180 days to respond to the complaints, but according to the suit, which was filed on July 15, the federal regulator has not responded to the complaints in 10 to 20 years in some cases.

The suit includes allegations about facilities in Michigan, Texas, New Mexico, Alabama and California.

In Pittsburg, the suit alleges that the local regulatory agencies — the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the California Air Resources Board, and the California Energy Commission — discriminated against residents by locating two power plants in an already environmentally over-burdened area, according to Marianne Engelman Lado, a lawyer with Earthjustice, which is representing the plaintiffs.

“This is in a community where people have high rates of asthma or cancer and they were concerned that these plants would add to that,” Engelman Lado said.

Californians for Renewable Energy, or CARE, filed a complaint with the EPA’s Office of Civil Rights in April 2000 charging the local agencies discriminated against the predominantly nonwhite and low-income residents by failing to consider the additional environmental burden of the two new plants, the complaint alleges.

Permitting for the plants, the Los Medanos Energy Center LLC and Delta Energy Center, continued and the plants were approved and went online in 2001 and 2002, respectively, according to the complaint. The EPA accepted the complaint in December 2001 but has yet to conduct an investigation into the allegations, despite attempts in 2006 and 2009 by CARE to prompt the federal agency to respond, the complaint alleges.

In June 2002, the EPA classified Los Medanos Energy Center as being in “significant violation” of the Clean Air Act and over the last five years the facility has had to pay over $3,000 in fines for violating the act, according to the complaint.

In the meantime, residents have been suffering the consequences, Engelman Lado said.

“The plants are still standing and they’re polluting,” she said. “They’re emitting toxins and the community is living with that everyday.”

Engelman Lado said it’s clear the EPA has violated the law, and she’s hoping the lawsuit will result in the EPA completing their investigation.

Engelman Lado added she’s confident that when the EPA does complete the investigation, it will make findings of discrimination.

“We would hope, whether through a court order or by sitting down at the table, we could bring resources to bear to say, ‘What can we do to help these communities who are suffering from a lack of infrastructure or resources,'” she said.

That could take the form of more monitoring, infrastructure to mitigate some of the negative impacts of the power plants, or more extensive buffers between the community and the plants.

A representative from the EPA did not return a request for comment.

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