State and Federal Agencies Fail to Protect South River Communities

South River | Photo by Alan Cressler

Hundreds of thousands of residents living along and near the South River in DeKalb County, Georgia, waited four decades for federal regulatory and law enforcement agencies to notice the sewage pollution degrading their water quality and quality of life and start to initiate a process to address the problem. However, the legal action taken by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Justice (DOJ) was neither effective at eliminating the pollution nor equitable in the treatment of impacted citizens. A federal consent decree to clean up the sewage, implemented in 2010, does not contain a deadline for the elimination of sanitary sewage spills in the two-thirds of the county predominantly inhabited by Black residents— an area where the majority of sewage spills continue to occur. These deliberate oversights raise serious environmental justice concerns over unequal protection under the law that must be addressed.

The EPA must act now to exercise its existing regulatory authority that prohibits intentional discrimination and unintended discriminatory effects. The EPA should also actively explore opportunities through the National Environment Policy Act and the Civil Rights Act to further bolster actions to achieve compliance with the Clean Water Act. In addition, the DOJ should review the 2010 consent decree to determine the justification for the inexcusable two-thirds exclusion and remedy this gross inequity.

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Acting U. S. Attorney
Department of Justice