Readout of Assistant Attorneys General Kristen Clarke and Todd Kim’s Listening Session with Environmental Justice Stakeholders in Houston, Texas

Yesterday, Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) traveled to Houston, Texas, to hear environmental justice concerns from organizations representing communities that have been historically underserved, overburdened and marginalized regarding environmental issues. They were joined by U.S. Attorney Jennifer B. Lowery for the Southern District of Texas; Acting Director Cynthia Ferguson of the Justice Department’s Office of Environmental Justice; and EPA Region 6 representatives James McGuire and Patricia Welton.

Assistant Attorney General Clarke opened the event by announcing that the listening session is a part of the department’s Comprehensive Environmental Justice Enforcement Strategy, and reaffirming the department’s deep commitment to meaningful engagement with impacted communities. She emphasized the need to conduct this outreach to identify areas of environmental justice concern that communities are facing in Houston, in other areas of the state of Texas and elsewhere in the United States. She also highlighted the department’s recent efforts to advance environmental justice through the enforcement of our nation’s federal civil rights laws.

Assistant Attorney General Kim spoke about ENRD’s efforts to bring enforcement cases against those who violate the country’s environmental, natural resources and workplace safety laws. He stressed the importance of ENRD’s role to ensure that communities of color, low-income communities and Tribal communities receive the services and support needed to address environmental injustices. He highlighted the department’s new Office of Environmental Justice, which will help coordinate environmental justice activities across the department by participating in inter-agency environmental justice efforts with federal, state, local and Tribal partners, and by encouraging and supporting outreach to overburdened and underserved communities. Finally, he highlighted examples of ENRD’s recent work, including judicial settlements addressing improper flaring events that often occur near environmental justice communities and reducing greenhouse gas pollution while improving air quality.

U.S. Attorney Lowery spoke about her office’s commitment to support the work of the Civil Rights Division and ENRD to address environmental justice issues in the Houston area, including the Title VI civil rights investigation into illegal dumping in the Houston area. She noted the critical role the U.S. Attorney’s Office has in the successful implementation of the department’s strategy given the local nature of most environmental justice issues. She echoed the hope that the session was an initial but important step in ensuring meaningful engagement with impacted communities, especially within Houston and the Southern District of Texas.

The listening session featured remarks from a number of local Houston environmental justice leaders on a variety of topics. Themes throughout the 90-minute discussion included how the Justice Department can best help its state and local partners address illegal dumping, air quality and pollution, transportation and infrastructure development, and language access, as well as further engage with the local community to address problems and seek solutions. The leaders emphasized the structural inequities driving these environmental justice concerns, the health risks from environmental burdens and the desire to improve the neighborhoods in which they live.

All of the department officials thanked those in attendance for their participation, including Texas Southern University Professor Robert Bullard and the University of Houston Law Center Professors Victor Flatt and Tracy Hester for hosting the listening session. 

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