EPA tries to throw out case for California schools contaminated with pesticides

This summer, Latino families filed suit to force the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to prevent discriminatory pesticide practices that allow children to be exposed to high levels of harmful chemicals. The EPA previously found that Latino schools are affected more than schools made up of other ethnicities.

In other words, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR) exhibited discriminatory behavior in the way it issued permits for pesticide use. This was the EPA's first ever finding of racial discrimination by one of its funding recipients.

The solution to these findings, however, did not involve the families who filed the original complaint. Instead, the EPA entered into a voluntary agreement with the California department that would increase monitoring.

Maria Garcia, one of the parents, filed suit against the EPA in August, with the help of the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, California Rural Legal Assistance Inc., Farmworker Justice and The City Project. Garcia's case argues that the Latino community did not receive due process and that the EPA's agreement did not go far enough to prevent schools from pesticide contamination.

On November 20, the U.S. Department of Justice (which serves as the EPA's legal council) filed a motion to dismiss the case without a trial. Documents filled with the court argue the case should be dismissed in part due to lack of jurisdiction, stating that there is no law requiring the EPA to consult with original complainants and that the EPA acted within its authority.

The EPA's council further argues that the plaintiffs have another avenue to fight improper permits:

"Plaintiffs have another adequate remedy in court, namely, state court suits challenging the issuance of permits to use pesticides near the school (or schools) relevant to plaintiffs."

However, fighting permits one by one would do nothing to stop the pattern of discrimination, said Madeline Stano, a staff attorney at the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment. "The state court option EPA attorneys point to would mean our clients challenging every single permitting action (likely hundreds) that results in discrimination near all Latino public schools in California," said Stano. "Which doesn’t even get to the bad behavior that EPA found CDPR to have violated under Title VI in their preliminary finding of discrimination."

Garcia's legal representatives argue that the exclusion of the Hispanic community by the EPA is unconstitutional under the Civil Rights Act, and are continuing to work to have the case heard. A judge will rule on the motion to dismiss after December 11.

Tags: California | Environmental Justice | Pesticides

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