Civil rights

In the absence of municipal sewer service, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 could help Lowndes County, Alabama


Lowndes County, Alabama has such outdated sanitation conditions that most residents have their own septic systems. Now, the Biden administration is using the situation as a test case for environmental justice.

The administration enforces Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which has never been used before. Advocates say it could lay the groundwork for how the federal government is tackling some of the worst environmental issues plaguing communities of color across the country.

“This could set a fairly important precedent”, Jon Greenbaum, the chief lawyer of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, told MarketWatch.

Lowndes County, located in the center of the state, has never had a sewerage system. But in a city where the median income was $ 30,036 in 2019 and where 27% of residents live in poverty, it hardly gets any attention.

In 2017, a United Nations representative commented on the situation in Lowndes County.

“In Alabama, I saw several homes in rural areas that were surrounded by sewage sumps that flowed from broken or non-existent septic tanks. The state health department had no idea how many households were living in these conditions, despite the severe health consequences. They also didn’t have a plan to find out or come up with a plan to do something about it, ”the professor said. Philippe alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights.

The representative also pointed out that the racial makeup of the county could explain why the issue was never resolved.

“Since the vast majority of whites live in cities, which are well served by government-built and maintained sewage systems, and most rural people in areas like Lowndes County are black, the problem is does not appear politically. or government radar screen.

Residents tried to remedy the situation on their own but ran into a wall. Local activists worked with Sherry Bradley, director of the State’s Office of Environmental Services, to raise more than $ 690,000 from local businesses and individuals to secure a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture. United (USDA).

However, in July a dispute erupted between the group that raised funds and the Lowndes County commission over who sat on the sewer board. The situation led Bradley to return the money to the donors and the grant to the USDA.

Earlier this month, the Justice Department announced that it would conduct an environmental justice investigation into the “water elimination program and the program to combat infectious diseases and epidemics in a way discriminatory against black residents of Lowndes County “.

Since the Justice Department announced the investigation, depending on the outcome, Lowndes County could lose funds for law enforcement rather than public health or environmental concerns.