Justice Department Opens Environmental Racism Investigation Of Houston

The city allegedly has a history of ignoring poor environmental conditions in Black and Latino neighborhoods.

Numerous complaints about alleged environmental racism in Houston have prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to launch an investigation on Friday (July 23), The New York Times reports.

Houston-based Lone Star Legal Aid has chronicled hundreds of calls from residents in the city’s Black and Latino neighborhoods about officials ignoring their complaints about illegal garbage dumping.

The federal investigation, led by the DOJ’s civil rights division and the department’s new environmental justice office, will also examine whether Houston systematically discriminated against residents by allowing 11 of 13 incinerators and landfills to be placed in the city’s northeast section over the past several decades.

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, who leads the department’s civil rights division, told reporters Friday that Houston has a history of white local officials ignoring poor environmental conditions in communities of color. The area has become a dumping ground for “household furniture, mattresses, tires, medical waste, trash, dead bodies and vandalized A.T.M. machines,” Clarke stated.

Amy Catherine Dinn, the managing attorney for Lone Star Legal Aid’s environmental justice division, said the problem has gotten worse in recent years, as officials deprive communities of color of the same resources that upscale white neighborhoods receive.

Clarke blamed illegal dumping for possibly contaminating surface water and blocking proper water drainage, which can lead to flooding. Additionally, it also attracts rodents and creates an environment where mosquitoes can thrive.

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Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who is African American himself, rejected the suggestion that his administration has ignored the problems, insisting that he has “prioritized the needs of communities of color that are historically under-resourced and underserved.” The Democrat also said his administration has increased fines for illegal dumping in Black and Latino neighborhoods.

“The City of Houston was stunned and disappointed to learn about the investigation into illegal dumping by third parties launched by the U.S. Department of Justice,” Turner stated. “Despite the D.O.J.’s pronouncements, my office received no advanced notice. This investigation is absurd, baseless and without merit.”

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