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Is DOJ Serious About Fighting Environmental Racism?

The $1.4 million program announced recently by Attorney General Merrick Garland has big ambitions, including prosecuting polluters who cause environmental harm to communities of color, the New York Times reports.

But advocates admit there are a ‘lot of questions about how it will operate.”

The office is tasked with specifically looking at environmental crimes committed against communities of color and low-income cities. Last November, the Justice Department began an investigation into the link between environmental racism and the chronic water, flooding and sanitation woes in Lowndes County, Alabama.

 Veteran environmental lawyer Cynthia Ferguson will coordinate efforts across the department to use the sweeping power under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to initiate investigations, negotiate civil settlements and pursue criminal indictments in the most extreme cases.

The $1.4 million program represents a fraction of the department’s $35 billion budget,  and it’s not clear what it will do, but “its ambitions are vast, and very much a work in progress,” writes the New York Times.

“It was a long time coming — we asked them more than 10 years ago to create a unit that would marry civil rights with environmental enforcement,” said Vernice Miller-Travis, a Maryland-based environmental justice activist who began pushing for the creation of a special office under the Obama administration.

“There are a lot of questions about how it will operate and it doesn’t have a big budget, but it represents a major commitment and it will grow,” Ms. Miller-Travis added.

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