The Department of Justice announced today that it has opened an environmental justice investigation into the City of Houston’s operations, policies and practices related to illegal dumping. The investigation, which will be led by the Civil Rights Division, will examine whether the City responds to requests for municipal services, including in response to illegal dumping, in a manner that discriminates against Black and Latino Houston residents in violation of federal civil rights laws. 

“Illegal dumpsites not only attract rodents, mosquitos and other vermin that pose health risks, but they can also contaminate surface water and impact proper drainage, making areas more susceptible to flooding,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “No one in the United States should be exposed to risk of illness and other serious harm because of ineffective solid waste management or inadequate enforcement programs. We will conduct a fair and thorough investigation of these environmental justice concerns and their impact on Black and Latino communities in the City of Houston.”

“Illegal dumpsites can raise significant concerns regarding public health and safety, property values, and quality of life,” said U.S. Attorney Jennifer B. Lowery for the Southern District of Texas. “We look forward to working with the Civil Rights Division to ensure the City of Houston is in compliance with its federal civil rights obligations.”

The investigation will examine whether the City’s enforcement and solid waste management operations, policies and practices in response to illegal dumping have resulted in discrimination against Black and Latino residents in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI). Title VI prohibits recipients of federal financial assistance from discriminating on the basis of race, color or national origin.

The Civil Rights Division’s Federal Coordination and Compliance Section is conducting this investigation with the support of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas. Prior to the announcement, the department informed the City of Houston’s mayor’s office and legal department of the investigation’s initiation.

Addressing discriminatory environmental and health impacts through enforcement of the nation’s civil rights laws is a top priority of the Department of Justice. In May 2022, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland announced the creation of the first-ever Office of Environmental Justice. He also announced the issuance of the Justice Department’s Comprehensive Environmental Justice Enforcement Strategy, which provides a roadmap for using the department’s civil and criminal enforcement authorities and tools, including civil rights authorities, to achieve environmental justice. In July 2022, the department released its 2022-26 Strategic Plan, which includes protecting civil rights and advancing environmental justice as an area of focus. In November 2021, the Civil Rights Division announced its first Title VI environmental justice investigation of Justice Department recipients, the Alabama Department of Public Health and Lowndes County Health Department.

“The Justice Department’s recent creation of the Office of Environmental Justice and a Comprehensive Environmental Justice Enforcement Strategy affirm our deep commitment to pursuing equal justice under law,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This investigation exemplifies the department’s commitment to alleviating disproportionate environmental burdens borne all too often by communities of color, low-income communities and tribal communities.”

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