KETTLEMAN CITY, CA, Sept. 7, 2016 – California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. (CRLA) entered into a landmark environmental justice settlement agreement with the State of California on August 10, 2016, representing El Pueblo para el Aire y Agua Limpia de Kettleman City (El Pueblo), a community based environmental justice group. The settlement will provide immediate support to the residents of Kettleman City. Public health programs, asthma intervention activities, clean water and air monitoring and a commitment to providing information in Spanish are some of the immediate remedies.
The first of its kind settlement with the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) and the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) establishes a new state-wide commitment to public participation and language access policies when expansion and renewal permits are sought for hazardous waste sites. The precedent setting agreement provides that the state permitting procedures will take into account the special environmental risks found in vulnerable rural communities and conduct better coordination with other local and state agencies. CRLA won this victory with CRLA’s co-counsel, Golden Gate Environmental Law & Justice Clinic, representing Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice.
This case started when El Pueblo and Greenaction challenged the 2014 Kettleman Hills Facility (KHF) hazardous waste plant permit renewal with DTSC, a regulatory arm of the state. The challenge was denied and a complaint was then filed with the United States EPA Office of Civil Rights against CalEPA and DTSC.
CRLA Northern Regional Director of the Community Equity Initiative (CEI) Marisol F. Aguilar said, “this highlights the perseverance of community residents and the State’s willingness to work directly with them. It is a model settlement, which will help similarly situated communities statewide while at the same time addressing some of the major concerns Kettleman City residents live with daily. We look forward to seeing the terms of the settlement become a reality.”
“This is a very significant settlement agreement for the Kettleman City community and for other vulnerable communities facing toxic waste permitting decisions. We are very impressed with how seriously the state is taking their obligations. The importance of meaningful public participation, language access and protection of civil rights, regardless of race or national origin, cannot be overstated, especially when the impact of these decisions falls so disproportionately on lower income residents in racially and ethnically concentrated areas who have few choices about where to live and work,” said Ilene Jacobs, CRLA’s Director of Litigation, Advocacy and Training.
Kettleman City is located in Kings County, California. A substantial percentage of Kettleman City residents are monolingual Spanish speakers. KHF is a hazardous waste disposal facility owned and operated by Waste Management, Inc. through its subsidiary Chemical Waste Management, Inc. KHF, where Chemical Waste Management, Inc. has a permit to dispose of hazardous waste, is located only three miles from Kettleman City. DTSC approved a modification to the permit in May, 2014, expanding the KHF hazardous landfill over community objections.
El Pueblo, working with CRLA and others, has been attempting to enforce civil rights protections and stricter environmental regulations regarding this hazardous waste dump for over 25 years, and has paved the way for real improvement in the community. This settlement agreement however, represents a new era in civil rights environmental justice enforcement.
CRLA’s CEI Program is designed to address and eliminate social, political and environmental factors that negatively impact disadvantaged, unincorporated communities. CEI was established to focus CRLA resources towards changing patterns of historic inequality in rural regions of California. The program works alongside community leaders to increase investment in community infrastructure, advocate for equitable development, promote environmental justice, guarantee fair representation and build leadership capacity, so that residents can engage meaningfully in decision-making that impacts their neighborhoods and families.
Click here to read the Groundbreaking Settlement Agreement.
Founded in 1966, CRLA’s mission is to fight for justice and individual rights alongside the most exploited communities of our society. Through a network of regional offices and cross-cutting programs, CRLA provides legal services to over 42,000 low-income people annually. Our work impacts farmworkers, individuals with disabilities, immigrant populations, LGBT communities, women, children and families in rural areas. For more information on CRLA, please visit: www.crla.org.