Civil Rights Victory in Texas is a Mannequin for Environmental Progress Nationwide

To promote civil rights and environmental protection in Texas, the state has agreed to provide access to information and opportunities for Spanish-speaking and other non-English-speaking communities to participate in decisions that affect their environment and health, including where to locate Pollution facilities and infrastructure.

“This is an important first step in removing language barriers in Texas,” said Juan Parras, executive director of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Service (tejas), a customer of Earthjustice.

Fair language access is critical to public health and the environment in Texas.

  • As the bastion of the country’s oil and gas industry, Texas frequently issues permits to build and develop oil refineries and chemical plants alongside predominantly Latin American communities.
  • Manchester, Texas, an area where tejas frequently work, is surrounded by 30 chemical plants and landfills.
  • The country’s fourth largest city, Houston, Texas is littered with oil refineries and is one of the most polluted cities in the country.
  • Both Manchester and Houston have large Latinx and immigrant communities who are forced to gather scarce resources to defend themselves against deteriorating environmental conditions.
  • As the quality of the environment declines, so do the public health costs. For example, a 2019 study found that in Texas alone, excessive emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides cost an estimated $ 150 million in health damage each year.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibits agencies receiving federal funding from discriminating based on race, color, or national origin.

  • The EPA and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) reached a binding agreement in response to a 2019 civil rights complaint that Earthjustice filed on behalf of Tejas and the Sierra Club.
  • The complaint alleged that TCEQ violated federal law by not requiring translation and interpreting services that would encourage the full and equal participation of non-English-speaking residents in environmental-friendly decisions.
  • Many Texans in the past have faced major obstacles in filing environmental complaints, notifying public gatherings, and refusing government permits that allow petrochemical plants and other polluting facilities to fill their communities with toxic air pollution.
  • More than 9 million Texans speak a language other than English at home, and a significant proportion of Texans have limited knowledge of English.
  • With this agreement, Texas stands ready to overcome hurdles that have hampered participation in the citizen process while addressing racial and economic injustices made worse by constant toxic exposure.

Among other things, the state must now comply with the Civil Rights Act through binding measures, including:

  • Develop a public participation plan to ensure meaningful and non-discriminatory public participation in the Agency’s decision-making process;
  • Translation of “important documents” and provision of real-time oral interpretation at public meetings if required;
  • Implementation of a policy to ensure meaningful access for people with disabilities, including free tools and services and the right to request and receive accommodation; and
  • Train staff on non-discrimination policies and submit to EPA supervision while performing the steps it has agreed upon.

While this agreement marks an important milestone for civil rights and environmental protection in Texas, such advances are critical in many other parts of the country.

In states such as California, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, and New Jersey, language barriers block immigrant and Native American communities from civil litigation and perpetuate environmental injustices.

Parras believes these efforts can serve as a model for raising environmental awareness and unlocking civic power in communities. “This agreement will improve opportunities for different communities to participate,” he says. “People will be better informed and able to better understand and address the myriad environmental problems that affect their daily lives.”

Earthjustice will continue to work with tejas and groups facing similar challenges across the country to expand access to justice and defend communities’ right to protect their health and the environment.

Residents who live near refineries provide toxic tours to elected officials, regulators and community members to alert them to harmful pollution. However, more national pressure is needed to prevent multi-billion dollar companies from freely polluting their communities.


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