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The Department of Justice is trying to take environmental justice efforts from symbolic to substantial

The EPA, under Mr. Biden’s new push, will relaunch a program that allowed companies to reduce the penalty on certain violations in exchange for grants for initiatives that have a positive environmental impact. The Trump administration had abandoned this program.

But the EPA is fundamentally a regulator and rule-maker. He has addressed racial issues, but lacks the legal and investigative firepower of Mr. Garland’s department.

The Department of Justice has a strong Civil Rights Division responsible for enforcing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, including Title VI, which prohibits states, localities, and universities that receive federal funding from discriminating against people “on the basis of race, color or national origin”.

Activists began lobbying the Justice Department to use Title VI in environmental cases under the Obama administration. But that effort stalled, and the Trump administration quickly abandoned the policy.

That all changed in November, when Ms. Clarke announced, to the surprise of local officials, that she was opening a Title VI investigation into the actions of the Alabama Department of Public Health and the County Health Department of Lowndes.

The Republican-controlled state government has done little to address the problem on its own over the years. But local residents have also complained about the actions of local black officials who have failed to fix a sewage and water management system that regularly results in sewage backing up on streets in towns like Hayneville. .

Catherine Coleman Flowers, a MacArthur fellow whose 2020 book, “Waste,” draws attention to the crisis in Alabama, hailed the creation of the office. But she said the ultimate test would be whether Mr Garland was prepared to withstand the political backlash for toughening up governments, especially in conservative-leaning states.

“Environmental justice should be done like any other investigation conducted by the department,” like a corruption case, said Ms Flowers, who was questioned by investigators. “They can make deals, but people have to be punished when they do something wrong. There must be real sanctions, otherwise there will be no fear of repercussions.


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