Announcing a Series of Actions to Strengthen EPA’s Civil Rights Program

By A. Stanley Meiburg, Acting Deputy Administrator

Today, EPA is taking both regulatory and management actions to move its civil rights program forward and prevent discrimination.

EPA takes seriously its responsibilities under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other federal nondiscrimination laws. Today we are proposing a rule change to both improve how our Office of Civil Rights (OCR) operates and enhance our ability to help our partners comply with these laws.  In addition to the rule change, we are developing tools to help resolve cases more promptly and consistently across the country.

Over the last year and a half, we have been reevaluating our regulations to identify what data and information we currently obtain from grant recipients and how we can make our processes more effective and transparent. We have benchmarked our rules against those of twenty other federal agencies and are proposing changes to conform more closely to the best practices used by others.

One change is to remove inflexible, non-statutory deadlines from our internal rules that fail to respect the individual circumstances of each complaint. We support clear management milestones, but we also recognize that determining how pollution can impact populations is a scientifically complex process that can take longer than our previous deadlines allowed. We have also found that numerous discrimination allegations and legal theories may be asserted in a single complaint under Title VI or other nondiscrimination statutes, and we need the ability to treat each case individually.

This rule change will enable EPA to use new tools to resolve cases and protect communities, including informal resolution and Alternative Dispute Resolution, better positioning EPA to strategically manage its complaint docket and produce better case resolution outcomes.

On the management side, earlier this fall OCR released an External Compliance and Complaints Program Draft Strategic Plan 2015-2020 that set forth specific accountability measures to manage the docket of external complaints more promptly. Today we are also releasing an internal Case Resolution Manual, which we will post on line.  This manual will align OCR’s procedures with those already in place at many other federal agencies.

OCR is also strengthening its proactive compliance efforts through targeted compliance reviews, strategic policy development, and engagement with internal and external stakeholders—including recipients and communities. Proactive engagement and partnerships with recipients will let OCR address potential discrimination before it becomes a challenge for communities. This winter, we will release a Civil Rights Toolkit to help educate states, other recipients of EPA financial assistance, and communities on their rights and obligations under federal laws prohibiting discrimination in providing and utilizing federal assistance grants.

Finally, OCR will work more closely with communities to make sure they understand their nondiscrimination rights and how to work more effectively with recipients of federal financial assistance to secure those rights. For example, in the past some communities filed complaints with OCR against private companies that were not recipients of federal funds and thus were not subject to Title VI requirements. By working with communities from the beginning, we can help direct their concerns to where they can best be resolved, and strengthen transparency and accountability. Starting in 2016, OCR will publish an annual report to keep the public apprised of the office’s progress.

OCR is committed to systematically changing the way it approaches complaints, and EPA is committed to building a model civil rights program. I am confident that through the dedicated, proactive work of our staff and the efforts of recipients and communities, we will make that vision a reality.

Thank you for your interest and for sharing our commitment to both protect the environment and our civil rights as provided in federal law.  If you would like to learn more information, the website here can help.

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