The Flint Water Crisis and Civil Rights

 Flint water

President Bill Clinton cited in his 1994 executive order Title VI of the Civil Rights Act as one of the laws that could be harnessed to achieve environmental justice.

Years later, the EPA’s Office of Civil Rights has been widely criticized for not adequately enforcing it.

Title VI is a measure that bars entities that receive federal funds from discriminating or having a discriminatory impact based on race, color or national origin.

As Flint, Mich., hit center stage—the crisis that left a predominantly black city of 100,000 unable to drink its tap water for more than a year, prompting some critics to level claims of environmental racism and injustice—where was the EPA’s civil rights office?

Based on my reporting, it appears that as early as February 2015, the EPA office may have received a complaint about Flint water issues. The office under its regulations has five days to acknowledge receipt of a complaint. The EPA appears to have acknowledged the complaint 378 days later. Read my article to learn why that is not out of the norm for the office at Critics Say Flint Complaint Reflects Systemic EPA Issues.

But the EPA can still act through its civil rights office, and the agency told me it hasn’t ruled out conducting an investigation. Check out my other story, Flint Crisis Warrants EPA Civil Rights Review: Attorneys, where lawyers told me how and why the EPA should investigate the crisis, and how entities involved in the crisis responded to the prospect of an investigation.

It seems fair to say the office will be closely watched for what it does next.

As Marianne Engelman Lado, a senior staff attorney for Earthjustice, told me, “We’re not asking EPA to make an example of anybody. We’re just asking EPA to enforce the law and do its job.”