The 85-mile stretch of land along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans that contains over 200 oil refineries, plastics plants, chemical plants, and other petrochemical factories that emit significant amounts of harmful air pollution is officially called the Mississippi River Chemical Corridor. But it is more commonly known as Cancer Alley because the people living there are almost 50 times more likely than the average American to develop cancer. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there is strong evidence that state regulators allowed those cancer risks to fall disproportionately on the area’s Black residents.

In a letter to two Louisiana agencies, EPA describes its fact-finding results from an investigation into a potentially discriminatory air pollution permitting program in the state. The preliminary conclusion appears damning: EPA found “significant evidence” that Louisiana regulators’ “actions or inactions have resulted and continue to result in disparate adverse impacts on Black residents” in Cancer Alley.

The letter posted on EPA’s website said it appears that for decades, the state Department of Environmental Quality has let a Denka polymer plant expose people who live nearby and children at an elementary school to enough chloroprene to increase their cancer risk.

As reported on the website RealClear Investigations, now the Biden administration is opening a new front in the war — against a proposed expansion of the sector in St. John the Baptist and St. James parishes known to Louisianians as the River Parishes. Under its stated aims of “equity” and “environmental justice,” the Environmental Protection Agency is trying to block state-issued permits for two new complexes – while renewing objections to an existing plant – all on grounds of a negative “disparate impact” on minority populations in the area.  

In a novel application of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – which allows the federal government to defund entities found to discriminate based on race, creed or national origin – the EPA is threatening to withhold millions of dollars in general federal grants to Louisiana unless it enters into an “informal resolution agreement.” This would give federal regulators wide latitude to control a process currently run by Louisiana agencies.