70 diverse organizations from across the nation sent a letter today to the United States Environmental Protection Agency Office of Civil Rights and California Attorney General Kamala Harris in support of the administrative federal and state civil rights complaints filed March 19th against the California EPA and Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) by  El Pueblo Para El Aire y Agua Limpia/People for Clean Air and Water of Kettleman City and Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice. Read the letter.

The federal complaint was filed pursuant to Title VI of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the state complaint is pursuant to California Government Code 11135 (state’s civil rights law). In a major development, on April 17th the US EPA Office of Civil Rights accepted the federal Title VI Complaint for investigation. On April 29th, OCR’s Director Velveta GoLightly Howell, US EPA Region IX Administrator Jared Blumenfeld, and their top staff met with representatives of El Pueblo, Greenaction and allies from the California Environmental Justice Coalition.

The State Attorney General has not yet responded to the complaint, once again indicating their lack of commitment to environmental justice and civil rights in environmental decision-making.

The organizations joined El Pueblo and Greenaction in calling for enforcement of state and federal civil rights laws, protection of the right of people to participate in government permit decisions without racial discrimination or hostile police intimidation, and a reversal of the illegal approval of permits for the expansion of the notorious Chemical Waste Management Kettleman Hills hazardous waste landfill.

The civil rights complaints document that DTSC and Cal EPA improperly relied on Kings County’s racially discriminatory permit process that excluded Latinos and Spanish-speaking residents from meaningful participation in the process. For example, at the County’s “public hearing” in October 2009 on the proposed dump expansion, Latino Spanish-speakers were allocated only half the time to testify as English speakers. Residents attending Kings County permit hearings were also met with K-9 police squads and heavy police intimidation. Kings County refused to translate any of the permit documents into Spanish, yet DTSC and Cal EPA relied on those documents in their approval of permits for the expansion.

The state’s permit decision acknowledged that Kettleman City residents are highly vulnerable and at risk, and acknowledged that the massive dump expansion would have significant negative impacts that could be not mitigated, but issued the permit anyway – an action with a negative and disproportionate impact on a protected class of persons in violation of state and civil rights laws.