Central and Southern California community groups filed a federal lawsuit to force action on a 17-year-old complaint to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about toxic waste dumps. The groups filed a complaint about toxic waste dumps with EPA 17 years ago and never received a response. Tired of waiting, they have filed a federal lawsuit.
Kettleman City, Buttonwillow and rural areas of Imperial County are home to the only toxic waste dumps in the state. Grassroots community groups say that locating the dumps only in low-income and predominantly Latino areas violates Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits any recipient of federal money from discriminating on the basis of race or national origin.
El Pueblo, along with Padres Hacia una Vida Mejor of Buttonwillow, are asking a judge to order the EPA to act on the complaint, which was filed in 1994 against the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, which issues permits for toxic waste dumps. The community groups say the department, which receives federal funding, must stop the "pattern and practice of racially discriminatory permitting and enforcement of toxic waste laws."
The discriminatory practices began in 1985, after the California Waste Management Board (now CalRecycle) hired a Los Angeles consulting firm, Cerrell Associates, to help identify potential sites for toxic waste facilities. Communities least likely to mount opposition to such sites, according to Cerrell's study, were rural; were made up of poor residents who work in farming or ranching; had little education or involvement in social issues; and were receptive to promises of economic benefits. Since it was written, the Cerrell report has been at the center of controversy over alleged "targeting" based on race and class.
Under the Civil Rights Act, the federally funded Department of Toxic Substances Control should issue permits more equitably. Waste Management Inc., which owns the Kettleman City dump, holds the position that allegations of discrimination are "entirely untrue."
The California complaint is one of 32 pending since the 1990s. Over the years, only one complaint has been resolved, and nearly 100 others were dismissed. (L.A. Times, 7/7/2011)