UNIONTOWN, AL – The Environmental Protection Agency has closed two civil rights complaints filed against the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM). The complaints alleged that ADEM acted in a racially discriminatory manner by permitting a massive landfill in an overwhelmingly black community, and further failed to protect Uniontown residents from unlawful intimidation in the wake of their initial civil rights claim.
U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) has been a vocal advocate for the Uniontown residents. He visited the town last summer to meet with residents and stakeholders as part of a months-long fact-finding and grassroots organizing effort that culminated in a landmark environmental justice bill he introduced in the Senate in September.
“This decision is wholly unacceptable,” Senator Booker said. “The EPA has abdicated its responsibility to protect people of color and low-income communities from blatant discrimination. I saw with my own eyes how the residents of Uniontown struggle on a daily basis with a massive industrial garbage dump that’s been planted in their backyards.”
“Access to clean air, clean water, and clean soil shouldn’t be a privilege – it’s a right and the EPA has failed to protect this right for the people of Uniontown,” Senator Booker added. “This issue goes to the core of a larger movement for equal justice in this country that we’re unfortunately still struggling with.”
Background on Uniontown, Alabama:
Uniontown is a predominantly low-income, African-American town – upwards of 90 percent of its residents are African-American and the per capita income is approximately $9,000. It contains a major landfill authorized to accept garbage from more than half the nation, including from as far away as New Jersey and New York. Uniontown residents cite the landfill as the source of noxious odors, noise pollution, pest infestations, and health issues.
In 2009, regulators began trucking millions of tons of coal ash – a toxic byproduct from coal-fired electricity – to the landfill from a spill over 300 miles away in a predominantly white, middle-class town in Tennessee, and did so without requiring adequate protections for the health and safety of the community. The mountains of coal ash deposited at the local Arrowhead Landfill now towers over the surrounding neighborhood.
What stakeholders and residents are saying:
Esther Calhoun, Uniontown resident and President of Black Belt Citizens Fighting for Health and Justice, an advocacy organization formed by Uniontown community members: “The Landfill is enormous. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management allows the Landfill to take waste from more than thirty states and dump it in our community. It comes back to the same thing. Environmental justice. We’re human beings, too, but we’re treated like nothing. Do our state or federal governments give a damn? I don’t think so.”
Ben Eaton, Uniontown resident and Vice President of Black Belt Citizens Fighting for Health and Justice: “If the EPA can’t see that what we experience are civil rights violations, then EPA will never protect people from discrimination. It is disturbing to see this federal agency do nothing.”
Marianne Engelman Lado, Supervising Attorney, Yale Environmental Justice Clinic: “If EPA can’t reach a finding in this case, where there is such extensive evidence of racially disparate impacts to residents’ quality of life, it is hard to imagine that the agency will ever validate a civil rights claim. EPA is effectively ignoring citizens’ firsthand testimony.”