HOUSTON – The Justice Department and Mayor Sylvester Turner announced Tuesday that it has secured a settlement agreement in its environmental justice investigation into the city’s response to illegal dumping in Black and Latino neighborhoods.
The agreement builds on the city’s recently announced “One Clean Houston” initiative, which is “a comprehensive plan to address pervasive illegal dumping and its negative impacts on the health, safety and quality of life of Houston residents.”
“I’d like to thank the community for saying, ‘Enough is enough’ and for their direct involvement,” Mayor Turner said in a news conference while announcing the agreement. “We are not going to solve this issue without the community stepping up to dispose of trash in the right way.”
The agreement marks the city’s cooperation with the DOJ as it implements new steps to combat illegal dumping and develops improved waste management services for residents across Houston. In March, Turner announced the allocation of $18 million over the next two years to help clean up illegal dumping.
In addition to confirming the city’s commitment to “One Clean Houston,” the agreement establishes a three-year period of the following:
- Federal monitoring
- Data reporting obligations
- Enhanced community outreach with impacted neighborhoods, including engagement with residents with limited English proficiency
- Consideration of additional actions to combat commercial sources of illegal dumping and reduce restrictions for residents seeking to use waste depositories, and
- Federal civil rights training program for specified city employees.
“Houston’s illegal dumpsites have contaminated water and soil, attracted vermin and created blight in historically under-resourced neighborhoods across the city,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “I appreciate Mayor Turner’s leadership in addressing these concerns and his resolve in developing One Clean Houston. This agreement will ensure that Houston fully addresses chronic illegal dumpsites, provides access to adequate waste management services and improves quality of life in communities of color. The Justice Department will continue advancing environmental justice and ensuring that people of color across our nation live in safe, clean and healthy communities.”
In July 2022, the Justice Department launched a 10-month investigation after receiving a complaint filed on behalf of residents alleging that the city discriminated against Black and Latino residents of the Trinity/Houston Gardens neighborhood in northeast Houston, in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“Title VI prohibits recipients of federal funds from discriminating on the basis of race, color or national origin in their federally funded programs and activities,” the release said.
The department’s investigation focused on the city’s efforts to address illegal dumping, a persistent problem that reportedly occurs more in Black and Latino neighborhoods.
“No one should have to live next to discarded tires, bags of trash, rotting carcasses, infected soils and contaminated groundwater, all caused by illegal dumping,” said U.S. Attorney Alamdar S. Hamdani for the Southern District of Texas. “For too long now, Houston’s underserved and low-income communities have had to bear the health burdens of the inaction and misdeeds of others. My hope is that this resolution is an important step in remedying those wrongs.”
The Justice Department Civil Rights Division said that addressing discriminatory environmental and health impacts is a top priority. Tuesday’s announcement marks the second environmental justice settlement under federal civil rights statutes, the DOJ said.
Anyone who believes their civil rights have been violated or has environmental justice concerns can file a complaint at www.civilrights.justice.gov/report/.