Remarks as Delivered
Good morning. I am Kristen Clarke, the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. Today is a good day. I am here with U.S. Attorney Alamdar Hamdani for the Southern District of Texas, who you’ll hear from shortly as well.
We are here this morning to announce that the Justice Department has secured a settlement agreement in our environmental justice investigation involving the City of Houston. The City of Houston, as you have heard, has agreed to take a number of critical actions to address illegal dumping here in the city, an issue that has long plagued the predominately Black and Latino residents of Houston’s Trinity/Houston Gardens Super Neighborhood 48 and other similar communities in the city. The agreement memorializes the City of Houston’s – and Mayor Turner’s – efforts to ensure racially equitable responses to the environmental hazard and improve the quality of life of members of the Houston community.
Illegal dumping is a long-standing environmental justice issue, which, in many cities across the country, disproportionately burdens Black and Latino communities. Illegal dumping can contaminate surface water, groundwater and soil. It decreases property values and discourages economic development, often in communities that cannot afford to withstand these impacts. Illegal dumping contributes to increased flooding, when contaminated waste blocks the flow of water to appropriate outlets. And illegal dumping contributes to increases in rodents and mosquitoes, which can carry diseases.
Last summer, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas launched an investigation into whether the City of Houston complied with the nondiscrimination requirements of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, regarding the city’s response to illegal dumping. This investigation was in response to a complaint we received, which alleged that Houston engaged in racial discrimination in its response to illegal dumping in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Over the course of our 10-month investigation, we conducted an extensive review of the City of Houston’s efforts to address illegal dumping. We heard from residents and other impacted stakeholders about the effects of illegal dumping, and the impact on their lives and communities. We also worked cooperatively with the City of Houston at every step of the way. The city provided documents and information and made relevant officials available for interviews.
In March, as you heard, the City of Houston announced the One Clean Houston initiative, a truly comprehensive plan to address pervasive illegal dumping and its negative impacts on the health, safety and quality of life of Houston residents. One Clean Houston focuses on rapid cleanup, better enforcement and prevention and education. It increases funding for heavy trash, dumping and litter abatement; establishes efforts to better facilitate reporting of illegal dumping, targeting major repeat offenders and improved access to neighborhood depositories. Many of the aspects of the One Clean Houston initiative are responsive to the government’s concerns that were set forth in the Title VI complaint that we received, and we heard from residents and others during the course of our investigation. No doubt, this initiative is an important step in addressing illegal dumping here in Houston.
Today’s agreement builds upon the One Clean Houston initiative. In addition, to confirming the city’s ongoing commitment to One Clean Houston, the agreement outlines a series of additional actions that the city will take to address illegal dumping. As set forth in the agreement, the city has agreed to additional community outreach and engagement with neighborhood groups, community leaders and other residents. The city has agreed to monitoring and to providing additional data and information about its efforts to address illegal dumping. The city has also committed to exploring whether additional actions can be taken against commercial sources of illegal dumping.
In crafting this agreement, we made sure to center the experiences of impacted people and communities. This agreement is also built on principles of racial justice and racial equity. And I fully expect this agreement will bring about lasting and enduring change and transformation for communities that for far too long have been beleaguered by illegal dumping. In a few minutes, U.S. Attorney Hamdani will provide more details on the settlement agreement.
This agreement marks the second time that the U.S. Justice Department has reached a settlement in an environmental justice investigation under our federal civil rights laws. Advancing environmental justice is a top priority for the U.S. Department of Justice. We know the dire consequences that environmental injustice had on communities of color across this country. It has impacted the health outcomes of people who have been forced to endure unsafe and unsanitary conditions. It can also lower property values and impact the quality of life for residents and communities. And it is directly contrary to the fundamental principles that all people are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect. Because of these harms, last year, the Justice Department announced a Comprehensive Environmental Justice Enforcement Strategy, where we vowed to use all of our enforcement tools and authorities to confront systemic barriers that deny Black and Brown communities access to clean air, clean water and equitable infrastructure. The agreement we are announcing today makes clear our commitment.
This agreement should also send a strong message to jurisdictions across the country regarding our commitment to promoting environmental justice. We will remain steadfast on these issues. And we will do this work in communities across the country: big or small, North or South, East or West, urban or rural. We will leave no community behind.
I want to acknowledge again the City of Houston, under the leadership of Mayor Turner. The City of Houston, through the initiation of its One Clean Houston initiative, has committed significant money, time and other resources towards addressing illegal dumping, especially in its most underserved communities. The comprehensive nature of the One Clean Houston program reflects the city’s thoughtfulness and intentionality regarding this environmental hazard. Importantly, the City of Houston and the Justice Department are committed to engaging with Houston residents in affected communities to explore and implement strategies to address illegal dumping. The Justice Department is also committed to working with the city to monitor the implementation of the program and this agreement to improve the health, welfare and safety of impacted communities.
In closing, I also want to acknowledge the people, the residents of the City of Houston, and especially those in Trinity/Houston Gardens Super Neighborhood 48, as well as those in Kashmere Gardens, Sunnyside, 3rd Ward, 5th Ward and so many others who reached out to us. You – you – provided the vital information about your day-to-day experiences and efforts in this area, and you remained patient yet vigilant while we carried out this investigation. You shared with us your love for your city, your hope in the city’s and federal government’s efforts to work collaboratively to address these issues and your ideas and strategies that were targeted to your individual communities. It is through your energy and efforts that we have reached this historic agreement today, and we appreciate all that you’ve contributed to this moment.
I’ll now turn the floor over to my colleague, United States Attorney Hamdani who will discuss the resolution agreement in further detail.
Speaker: Assistant Attorney General Kristen ClarkeTopic(s): Environmental JusticeCivil RightsComponent(s): Civil Rights DivisionCivil Rights – Federal Coordination and Compliance SectionUSAO – Texas, Southern
Updated June 6, 2023Original Article