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Blog Post | February 22, 2024

Trump Judge And Louisiana AG Fight To Maintain Environmental Racism

ClimateIndependent AgenciesState Attorneys General
Trump Judge And Louisiana AG Fight To Maintain Environmental Racism

In 2022, Biden’s EPA opened an investigation into Louisiana’s Departments of Health (LDH) and Environmental Quality (LDQ) for failing to sufficiently protect residents of “Cancer Alley”—a strip of predominantly poor, Black communities suffering the dire effects of pollutants spewed from nearby petrochemical plants. To their credit, LDH and LDQ cooperated with the investigation and worked to craft more stringent standards and oversight protocols. Former Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, however, had other ideas. His office filed a lawsuit challenging the EPA’s (clear) authority to pursue its investigation under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which allows the government to terminate federal funding for an agency found to have engaged in discrimination. Liz Murrill, Landry’s successor, is picking up the torch to carry on his malevolent agenda. 

For decades, communities between New Orleans and Baton Rouge have been exposed to noxious air pollution from the high concentration of petrochemical plants in the region. This has caused high cancer rates—hence the moniker—with disproportionate impacts on poor Black communities. Yet, in an abdication of their duty to protect communities from pollution, the EPA suddenly dropped its investigation in 2023 out of (apparent) fear that corrupted courts would rule in favor of the AG and limit the executive branch’s ability to pursue Title VI investigations. This was a useless acquiescence to far-right pressure. Despite the concession, Landry and Murrill maintained their suit, and a judge has now ruled in their favor. 

Judge James Cain, a Trump-appointed district judge, issued a preliminary injunction against both the EPA and DOJ prohibiting the agencies from conducting investigations based on disparate racial impacts. Thankfully, Cain’s ruling is not yet binding precedent, and even this terrible iteration of the Supreme Court has declined to uphold radical decisions from 5th circuit district courts. Though not yet final, if upheld—or not challenged by the EPA—this ruling would deal a catastrophic blow to the federal government’s legal standing to address environmental racism. 

Judge Cain, it should be noted, is quickly becoming a thorn in the side of executive agencies and environmentally conscious Louisianans. Last September, Cain forced the Bureau Of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to finalize the leasing of 6 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas interests. BOEM had pulled the sale, citing concerns about endangered rice whales—fewer than 100 remain. But, as he did with environmental racism (“pollution does not discriminate”), Cain waved away these misgivings, accusing BOEM of “weaponizing the Endangered Species Act.” On the contrary, BOEM’s fears were well founded—just two months after Cain’s ruling, 1.1 million gallons of crude oil leaked across the Gulf near Louisiana’s Plaquemines Parish, including areas  the whales inhabit.

With such amenable friends in the judiciary, AG Murrill is not content with merely decimating the investigative authority of environmental regulators. Louisiana’s newest AG is also testing her hand in a related lawsuit targeting the activists and journalists who spoke with the EPA during the Cancer Alley investigation. Murrill is suing the EPA, claiming the agency failed to abide by the Freedom of Information Act after her office requested records of communications between the agency and reporters from various news outlets. This is obviously nothing more than a brazen attempt to suppress local journalism, but also an indication that Murrill will operate the office in a manner consistent with her predecessor—wielding it as a lever of power to attack political opponents with frivolous lawsuits paid for by the Louisiana public. Rather than protect the state’s most vulnerable populations, Murrill is continuing Landry’s pernicious legacy of wasting time and resources in service of the oil and gas interests that have ravaged Louisiana’s access to clean air and waterways.


Image Credit: “AGLizMurrillBio2” From Louisiana Attorney General’s Office

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