EPA investigation finds Missouri out of compliance with federal civil rights guidelines

Federal officials are investigating whether Missouri environmental officials violated the civil rights of St. Louis residents by granting air pollution control permits to a fuel transport company located near mostly black neighborhoods.

Investigators with the Environmental Protection Agency have already determined that the Missouri Department of Natural Resources is failing to comply with regulations that require agencies that receive money from the EPA to establish non-discrimination programs. This is evident from the preliminary results of the federal agency that The Independent received.

“Next … it appears that MoDNR has ignored concerns expressed over the years that it has not implemented a non-discrimination program that meets its longstanding legal obligations,” the EPA’s finding reads.

It concerns a permit from DNR that was granted to Kinder Morgan Transmix to operate a facility in which fuel products are separated back into usable gasoline and other products after shipment. It is located on the Mississippi River near several predominantly black neighborhoods of South South Louis.

The permit includes statutory emission limits as well as state and federal regulations. The facility must track emissions and report itself if it exceeds allowable standards. Emissions controlled by the permit include volatile organic compounds, hazardous air pollutants, particulates, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide.

The manner in which this permit was obtained drew the attention of the Great Rivers Environmental Law Center, an environmental law firm in St. Louis. The company submitted comments during the approval process saying DNR had failed to comply with federal regulations and called on it to investigate the various effects air pollutants have on heavily minority communities.

However, the DNR said that such an analysis was not required and that the department must “grant” the permit if an applicant complies with the program and their building permit.

Sarah Rubenstein, a lawyer with Great Rivers, said the attorneys were unaware of violations at Kinder Morgan, but usually commented on permits and renewals, and called for closer monitoring of emissions, especially if a facility is near or near a residential area other sources is the pollution.

In recent years, Great Rivers has begun to consider environmental justice concerns when speaking about air permits. She said DNR had largely ignored the agency’s complaints about the lack of non-discrimination programs. Eventually the company decided to file a complaint with the EPA.

As a result of DNR’s failure to comply with federal regulations, Great Rivers complained, minority and low-income residents near the Kinder Morgan facility would be “disproportionately exposed to air pollutants likely to be human health.”

Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, agencies that receive federal funding – in this case, EPA funding that goes to DNR – are excluded from discrimination based on race, color, national origin and, more broadly, English proficiency.

In response to Great Rivers’ initial comment on the permit, the department stated it believed it had complied with Title VI.

In an email to The Independent, DNR said it did not comment on “pending litigation”.

“The Department of Natural Resources does not discriminate against any person or community based on any protected class, including but not limited to race, color, national origin, gender, or any other status such as income level,” Connie Patterson, director of communications for the department, said in an E. -Mail. “We consider non-discrimination to be a duty and an integral part of our mission.”

Melissa Ruiz, a spokeswoman for Kinder Morgan, said in an email that the DNR “carried out a thorough inspection of our facility to comply with applicable air traffic regulations and to grant approval.

“No concerns were identified,” she said.

Rubenstein said enforcement of Title VI has been lax in recent years, so it is telling that the EPA not only opened the investigation but also made a preliminary determination against DNR.

“It’s just very obvious,” she said.


The Kinder Morgan facility is located on 1st Street and Gasconade Street in the Marine Villa neighborhood and is close to Dutchtown, Mount Pleasant and Gravois Park. The larger area is referred to in the complaint as Dutchtown.

More than half of the region’s population are black and another 10% are Latinos. The area is disproportionately affected by potentially hazardous pollution compared to other parts of the city.

And by the time Great Rivers contacted the Dutchtown South Community Corporation, few neighbors knew much about the facility, said Karisa Gilman-Hernandez, a community empowerment organizer at DSCC. By not getting involved, she said the facility must exist in the background.

“I think a lot of people have just lived in the Kinder Morgan facility and put it all in our air and in our soil for so long that it’s just like that – that’s the way to live in this area and that’s it,” She said.

When the group started educating neighbors, she said the parts were starting to bond.

“But when people were shown that this is this facility,” said Gilman-Hernandez, “those are the chemicals, they said,” Oh, you mean that smell? “

Kinder Morgan has denied the notion that his facility is responsible for the smell Gilman-Hernandez referred to as burning tires or oil.

“Whoever gave the initial building permits and allowed them to build where they did it made it clear that the surrounding neighborhood is an area they are ready to be polluted,” said Gilman-Hernandez .

Rev. Elston K. McCowan, first vice president of the NAACP in St. Louis City, said he was always concerned about chemical facilities near where people lived. However, its main concern is the DNR’s limited reach.

“We all want a seat at the table because if you don’t negotiate at the table it means you’re on the menu,” McCowan said.

Rubenstein said most of the information about the impact Kinder Morgan is having on the health of the surrounding community is anecdotal. But she also noticed the high asthma rates.

According to the complaint, Dutchtown shares 600 sources of pollution, including 11 major ones.

“In contrast, industrial pollution sources in suburbs of St. Louis County or even other parts of St. Louis City are much smaller and more distant,” the complaint said.

Great Rivers also cites a study that found that most of the black parts of St. Louis are at increased risk of cancer caused by air pollutants. Parts of Dutchtown, including the zip code where Kinder Morgan is located, have one of the highest rates of asthma in the city, according to a city report.

The EPA’s Environmental Justice Mapping Tool shows Dutchtown has a higher than average risk for respiratory hazards and hazardous waste.

“It’s hard to say what (they) are suffering from, but they’ve definitely noticed a trend in this regard,” said Rubenstetin.

McCowan said, “The problem of environmental injustice, environmental racism that is being imposed on the city of St. Louis – to me it’s epic.”

EPA results

Great Rivers filed its opinion on behalf of the NAACP in November 2019 that the DNR was not complying with Title VI.

However, the DNR granted the permit in March 2020 “without conducting an analysis of the various effects of the permit” or “setting up a program … to ensure that the public is involved in the agency’s permit decision-making processes,” the law firm said.

Federal officials noted that the DNR lacked both a non-discrimination notice telling the public that the agency was not discriminating, and a non-discrimination coordinator, a staff member responsible for overseeing the non-discrimination program.

Both are required by federal regulations.

The agency also did not have acceptable complaint procedures for residents filing civil rights complaints.

Perhaps most significantly, the EPA has determined that the DNR has not done enough to provide opportunities for people who do not speak English. The EPA said the DNR “did not provide any evidence” that it was giving non-English speakers the opportunity to testify during Kinder Morgan’s license renewal.

Whether the more comprehensive guidelines of the DNR on public participation with Title VI are objected to is still being examined.

EPA investigators also found that the DNR did not provide enough information for people with disabilities to access the agency’s programs or file complaints about non-compliance with the Disabled Americans Act.

The second half of the EPA investigation will specifically focus on the DNR’s decision to grant the Kinder Morgan permit and whether it discriminates against residents of Dutchtown, Marine Villa Mount Pleasant, and Gravois Park.

In view of the preliminary determination, the DNR has two options.

It has either 50 days from the time the EPA made the finding to agree or to file a response that denies the finding or its recommendations. If not, the EPA will refer the case to the Deputy Attorney General within 14 days. The DNR did not say which way to go.

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