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Is Air Pollution a Matter of Civil Rights in Illinois?

Posted by A. Lou Benassi | Apr 01, 2016 | 0 Comments

Most people consider the top civil rights issues in this country to include employment discrimination, educational opportunities, and police violence. However, civil rights violations can come in many forms, affecting not only our freedom and our finances, but also our health and well-being. A recent civil rights hearing is looking at whether an Illinois coal plant is violating the civil rights of people in minority communities through air pollution.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has held a public hearing in Chicago for testimony on the issue of civil rights and environmental justice. On March 9th, Martin Castro, chairman of the U.S. commission, and the Illinois Advisory Committee heard from community members, energy industry representatives, and government officials on enforcement of the coal ash and hydraulic fracturing industry.

Dulce Ortiz, a local resident, and leader of Clean Power Lake County said the civil rights of the local, mostly Latino population, are being violated. Waukegan, Illinois is home to a generating station and coal ash dump. Critics claim the continued operation of a coal-fired power plant is polluting the air, and disproportionately affecting the minority communities. “They're profiting from other people's pain, we're the ones who are stuck with the health issues,” said Ortiz. “When a child is sick the parent can't work, they'll miss a day of pay, it has a big impact.”

The coal-powered plant has been operating for decades, even though it was never issued, a final operating permit has been required since 1990. During the hearing, state EPA environmental justice officer Ken Page was asked why a final permit was never issued. Page responded, “I'm not exactly sure.”

Naomi Davis, leader of the economic development organization Blacks in Green, spoke about the history of segregation in polluted neighborhoods. “If you realize a disproportionate number of communities of color have now percolated up around those industries, you are duty-bound as a moral human being and as a municipal steward to ask why people would live in a location like that,” said Davis.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is required by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to make sure programs do not have a discriminatory impact on individuals or communities based on race or color. In North Carolina, the environmental and community justice groups filed a complaint against the state's Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. The state's hog farms are allowed to flush animal waste, which leads to water contamination and air pollution. The complaint alleges the pollution and contamination disproportionately affects the minority communities. Now, negotiations have broken down over charges that the DEQ is trying to bring the pork industry into confidential mediation proceedings.

In Michigan, reports are claiming that air and water pollution have a disproportionate impact on the health of minorities. Detroit residents are almost 30% more likely than the rest of the state to have asthma. Fresno, California has been called the most polluted city in the state, where most residents are immigrant farm workers or other minorities.

If a company's actions have denied you of your civil rights, you should consider speaking with an Illinois civil rights attorney as soon as possible. There may be a time limit for you to act to seek justice and make sure your rights are protected. Civil rights violations affect you, your family, and even your community. Our attorneys have successfully represented our clients in civil rights claims throughout the state of Illinois. If you have suffered physical, financial or emotional injury, contact your experienced Illinois civil rights attorneys at Benassi & Benassi. 

About the Author

A. Lou Benassi

A. Lou Benassi was born and raised in Taylor Springs, Illinois, a small mining and farming community located near Hillsboro, the county seat of Montgomery County, Illinois...


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