MI Power Plant Part of Legal Battle Over Civil Rights
FLINT, Mich. – Five nonprofit groups, including one from Michigan, filed a motion in federal court this week to force the EPA to follow up on longstanding civil rights complaints about environmental hazards.
Father Phil Schmitter, a longtime activist and pastor of Christ the King Catholic Church in Flint, first filed a complaint in 1994. He believed state authorities treated African-American residents of Flint unfairly during the permitting of the Genesee Power Station, which is down the road from his church and burns wood waste and other debris.
He says this community of color on Flint's north side has lived in the incinerator's toxic shadow for decades, and the complaint was ignored until this year, when the agency finally issued a finding of discrimination on January 19th, the final day of the Obama administration.
"Sadly enough, all the other people who were the main collaborators in this are literally all dead," he said. "It's almost a quarter of a century since we filed this."
The EPA is supposed to respond to valid complaints within 180 days. The four other plaintiffs are alleging discrimination against lower-income, minority communities during the permitting of two California power plants, an oil-refinery expansion in Texas, and waste-disposal facilities in Alabama and New Mexico.
Schmitter believes had timely action been taken on the Flint case, it might have prevented what he calls decades of unchecked discriminatory actions by state environmental regulators. He says the Flint water crisis is a symptom of that much larger problem.
"You name it, if it was bad, it was going to wind up in neighborhoods that were different from all white, affluent neighborhoods," he added. "I mean, in my line of work, I call that sinful."
The federal court is expected to hold a hearing on the motion in June. Even though the Michigan case has been resolved, Schmitter believes a court ruling is important to show the EPA's pattern of missing deadlines on civil-rights complaints, and to force the agency to promptly address all future complaints.