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Civil rights complaint against EGLE alleges discrimination against communities of color

US Ecology exterior
Jennifer Fassbender

Some Detroit residents and environmental justice groups have filed a civil rights complaint against the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy. The complaint alleges the environment agency discriminates against people of color by approving requests for hazardous wastes sites near their communities.

“EGLE, and specifically their procedures for approving hazardous waste licenses in Michigan must do a better job protecting these communities from the discriminatory location of commercial hazardous waste facilities in communities of color,” said Nick Leonard with the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, one of the groups behind the civil rights complaint.

The complaint was filed after EGLE approved a large expansion of hazardous waste storage at a U.S. Ecology site in a mostly Black neighborhood on Detroit’s east side. 

“Overall, across the state, commercial hazardous waste facilities are overwhelmingly located in communities of color. Sixty five percent of the people living in three miles of all of these facilities across the state are people of color. Despite being only 25 percent of the state's population,” Leonard said.

The groups say the agency might not be intentionally discriminatory, but the actions still harm communities of color in Michigan.

In an emailed statement, the state agency responded in part: 

“EGLE has initiated our review process in regard to the complaint…A determination on whether the complaint warrants a formal investigation or if other informal resolution options can be deployed will be made on or before Monday, Aug. 10.

We take all allegations of discrimination seriously, and this is evident in the steps EGLE has taken over the past 18 months to ensure that all Michigan residents – particularly those who have been historically left out of decision-making processes – have a voice in their government’s actions.”

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.