Louisiana challenge shuttered EPA civil rights investigation

Louisiana challenge shuttered EPA civil rights investigation

The Environmental Protection Agency dropped a civil rights investigation of two Louisiana agencies last summer because of a legal challenge from then-Attorney General Jeff Landry. The federal agency was investigating whether state regulators discriminated against Black residents when allowing petrochemical plants to operate – and pollute – near neighborhoods and schools. But as The Intercept’s Delaney Nolan explains, Landry’s challenge to “disparate impact” – a key EPA regulation that focuses on whether pollution disproportionately affects people of a certain race – is having a chilling effect on environmental justice in Louisiana and the rest of the country. 

Experts say that the EPA appears to be shying away from certain Civil Rights Act investigations in states that are hostile to environmental justice, due to fears that Landry’s suit or similar efforts could make their way to the conservative Supreme Court. If that happened, the court appears ready to rule against the EPA — a verdict that could not only undermine the agency’s authority, but also significantly limit the ability of all federal agencies to enforce civil rights law.

Nolan notes how the EPA’s move will leave behind the most vulnerable citizens:

[Lisa] Jordan, the attorney, told The Intercept she worries the EPA will now only conduct investigations in states that are “relatively friendly” to environmental justice and are unlikely to sue the agency, effectively abandoning the communities that need federal protections the most. 


Special session winners and losers
The Louisiana Legislature last week redrew the state’s congressional boundaries to add a second Black-majority district, and created a closed-primary system for some elected offices starting in 2026. But lawmakers failed to agree on a new map for the state Supreme Court that more accurately reflects the state’s Black population. The Louisiana Illuminator’s Piper Hutchinson tallies up the winners and losers from the special session:  

After two years of litigation, Louisiana’s congressional delegation will reflect its population: one-third of the state is Black and one-third of its congressional districts will be Black. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit to block the legislature’s 2022 map with just one majority-Black district are expected to accept the new version. Their attorneys say data indicate the new boundaries of both districts should produce candidates Black voters prefer, the redistricting objective of a majority-Black seat. 

The Times-Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Tyler Bridges profiles the session’s biggest loser – U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, whose 6th Congressional District was carved into an unrecognizable shape to create the majority-Black district. 

He managed to antagonize both Landry and U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise in 2023, and around the same time, federal courts unexpectedly signaled that Louisiana would have to draw a new congressional map to create a second majority-minority district. As a result, Landry – now the governor – and the Republican-controlled Legislature carved up Graves’ once-safe 6th Congressional District to create a second Black-majority seat in Louisiana, a move that could put him out of Congress next year.


Preventing another insurance collapse
State regulators allowed insurance companies to quickly expand into Louisiana’s risky insurance market in the relatively calm years after Hurricane Katrina, despite signals they wouldn’t be able to pay claims when major storms inevitably hit again. When a dozen property insurers went belly-up after a string of costly hurricanes in 2020 and 2021, the cost of paying claims fell to taxpayers. The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Sam Karlin explains factors that leaders can- and can’t control- to prevent another string of collapses. 

But state officials have made several changes since the cascading collapses, which helped spawn high rates, few carriers and swelling rolls for Citizens. It remains to be seen whether the state’s actions – including beefing up oversight of reinsurance, a key part of the failure – will stave off another crisis. Stewart Guerin, deputy commissioner of financial solvency, said late last year that insolvencies may be inevitable, depending on the weather. “There’s nothing that’s going to prevent insolvencies at the end of the day if there’s another Hurricane Katrina or Hurricane Ida,” Guerin said.


Roe v Wade anniversary
The White House will announce new efforts to ensure access to contraception and abortion medicine and emergency procedures on Monday, the 51st anniversary of Roe v. Wade. The Supreme Court overturned the landmark ruling in 2022, and abortion services in Louisiana immediately became illegal because of previously passed “trigger” laws. Julia Lothrop, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Acting Regional Director for Louisiana, writing in a guest column for The Time Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate, explains how taking away a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion is an economic justice issue.

We now know that women who have access to contraception make about $2,200 more per year than those who do not. Furthermore, access to safe and legal abortion increases a woman’s likelihood of graduating college by 72% and increases the probability that she will secure a professional role by almost 40%. Abortion care is an economic justice issue, and when it’s restricted, we all lose.

Recent polling has shown shifting public opinion on abortion access in Louisiana. Half of Louisiana voters want to see abortion access expanded, according to polling commissioned by The Advocate, the Urban League of Louisiana and others. 


Number of the Day
$240,120 – Total difference in wealth between the median white household and the median Black household during the Covid-19 pandemic. While the median wealth of Black Americans increased from 2019 and 2022, so did the nation’s racial wealth gap. (Source: Federal Reserve via Brookings)