EPA targets ‘cancer alley’ discrimination

EPA targets ‘cancer alley’ discrimination

The Environmental Protection Agency has created a new office focused on civil rights and environmental justice, and one of its first targets is a chemical factory in St. John the Baptist Parish. As the AP’s Michael Phillis reports, federal investigators want to know if state regulators discriminated against Black residents when allowing the Denka plant to locate near neighborhoods and schools. 

The U.S. Department of Justice last fall opened its first-ever environmental Title VI investigation into state and local officials in Alabama over chronic wastewater problems in majority-Black Lowndes County. Another is looking into illegal dumping in Houston. The EPA initiated its own investigation into Colorado’s air program, also a first. Activists are taking notice and filing more complaints. Experts say the EPA is addressing them more quickly than in the past. Alexandra Dapolito Dunn, an environment attorney at the law firm Baker Botts, said the approach represents “a seismic shift.”

Phillis chronicles the lengthy battle by activists in St. James Parish against a $9.4 billion Formosa Plastics plant planned for their community. Earlier this month, a state judge vacated state air permits for the Taiwanese company after she found that the state’s Department of Environmental Quality, which has a shoddy record of regulating pollution, should not have granted permits to the facility. 

Americans want paid family and medical leave 
A new survey shows that 80% of American voters want a federal paid family and medical leave policy. Yet the United States is the only industrialized country to not offer these benefits to workers. Kenny Stancil of Common Dreams breaks down the numbers and what they mean for current and future elected officials: 

Voters were compelled by the fact that the U.S. is one of only seven countries in the world without federally guaranteed paid family and medical leave; far outpacing the U.S., the average length of maternity leave worldwide is more than six months. The need for a federal paid family and medical leave program was clear to an overwhelming majority of respondents after they were informed that just 15% of workers in the U.S. — typically high-wage managers — receive such benefits through their employers. Also persuasive were studies showing that paid leave policies increase the likelihood that  women return to the workforce following childbirth and decrease reliance on public assistance programs.

Another shot at the CTC?
The expanded Child Tax Credit brought an historic reduction in child poverty last year. But families lost this crucial support when Congress failed to renew it, and the credit was not included in the Inflation Reduction Act, the Democrats’ signature climate, tax and health care package. But according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ team, there’s another opportunity for lawmakers to include this effective poverty-fighting legislation in year-end bipartisan tax legislation.

Policymakers should not put corporate interests ahead of the interests of children. That means that this corporate tax cut related to R&E expenses — or any other business tax cut — should not move without an expansion of the Child Tax Credit. Some policymakers have already made clear that they do not support moving ahead with a corporate tax break without an expansion in the Child Tax Credit. For example, in response to the Census report, Senators Bennet, Brown, and Booker and Representatives DeLauro, DelBene, and Torres said that Congress should not enact corporate tax provisions in year-end legislation without also expanding the Child Tax Credit.[5]

Does student debt cancellation achieve its goals?
President Joe Biden’s student debt cancellation plan, which eliminates $10,000 for most borrowers and $20,00 for Pell Grants recipients, will cost about $400 billion over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Brookings’ Adam Looney examines whether the plan will accomplish one of its main objectives – to target relief at low- and middle-income borrowers, especially Black borrowers.  

One takeaway from the table is that the aggregate dollar amount of debt relief provided can be a misleading indicator of how much is spent per borrower. The $20,000 of relief afforded to Pell recipients costs about the same amount, on a per-borrower basis, as the $10,000 in relief afforded to the non-Pell group because of differences in how much Pell students owe and their expected ability to repay. A second key takeaway is how effective means testing is at identifying and targeting disadvantaged groups. In fact, 89% of all Black borrowers and 84% of Hispanic borrowers have received a Pell Grant. Pell borrowers represent 90% of borrowers in default. And 79% of all dropouts were Pell Grant recipients. If the goal was to help these specific groups, why not spend all the money on them, rather than spending the same amount on non-Pell borrowers as Pell recipients?

Number of the Day
53% – Percent of exonerations made up by Black defendants. The new data show Black Americans are seven times more likely than their white counterparts to be falsely convicted of serious crimes, and spend longer in prison before exoneration. (Source: National Registry of Exonerations via Axios)