Ouachita Riverkeeper and Louisiana Environmental Action Network (“LEAN”) have petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to stop allowing the Georgia-Pacific paper mill in Crossett, Arkansas to release millions of gallons of pollution every day. The residents of West Crossett, a predominantly African-American community, believe that their health and quality of life are being affected by Georgia Pacific’s pollution.
Ouachita Riverkeeper and LEAN allege that the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality’s decision to administratively continue a wastewater discharge permit issued to Georgia-Pacific for its paper and pulp mill complex in Crossett, Arkansas subjects African-Americans to discrimination by failing to apply Clean Water Act requirements. The complaint asks EPA to investigate, require reformation of the permit and mitigation of harmful effects within the community, and withdraw federal funding for Arkansas’s environmental programs if needed to protect the minority community in Crossett.
Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) allows Georgia-Pacific to discharge its wastewater to Coffee Creek prior to treatment. The untreated wastewater flows through a majority African-American area in the community of West Crossett, Arkansas. The untreated discharges subject this community to harmful emissions and also eliminate their use of Coffee Creek as a natural resource. Ouachita Riverkeeper and LEAN contend that ADEQ’s decision to allow these discharges has “the effect of subjecting individuals to discrimination because of their race, color, [or] national origin” and “the effect of defeating or substantially impairing accomplishment of the objectives of the program or activity with respect to individuals of a particular race,” i.e., African-Americans. See 40 C.F.R. § 7.35(b).
ADEQ allows Georgia-Pacific to discharge an average of 45 million gallons a day of untreated wastewater from its paper mill in West Crossett, directly into Coffee Creek. By continuing the permit, ADEQ allows Georgia-Pacific to convert Coffee Creek into a toxic flume to carry its waste miles through a predominantly African-American community. Allowing the use of Coffee Creek to transport and treat Georgia-Pacific’s wastewater interferes with the residents’ quality of life and causes them to worry about health effects.
For years, Complainants and community members have alerted ADEQ to the adverse effects the discharges of wastewater have on their health and the environment. They have asked ADEQ to provide greater protection. Despite these requests, ADEQ has allowed Georgia-Pacific to continue discharging its wastewater into Coffee Creek without meeting Clean Water Act requirements.
Ouachita Riverkeeper and LEAN ask the Office of Civil Rights to enforce Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and EPA’s implementing regulations. We also request that EPA investigate the complaint and, upon finding discrimination, require that ADEQ come into compliance with the law by requiring proper treatment of Georgia-Pacific’s wastewater before discharging into Coffee Creek. We ask the Office of Civil Rights to respond with the full force of law by withdrawing ADEQ’s funding if needed to protect the minority community in Crossett from being forced to live and work near unlawful sources of pollution and allow Coffee Creek to return to its state as a natural waterway that is an asset to the community.
To learn more about this situation see:
- How a Paper Plant in Arkansas is Allegedly Poisoning the People of Crossett, Newsweek (April 12, 2016)
- COMPANY TOWN (Penn Road Productions 2016) a documentary detailing the effects of the Georgia-Pacific facility on the residents of Crossett, Arkansas.