FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Socially Responsible Agriculture Project
January 10, 2023
Washington, D.C.—Socially Responsible Agriculture Project (SRAP) and its partners Sussex Health and Environmental Network (SHEN), American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware (ACLU-DE), Delaware Poor People’s Campaign (DE-PPC), and Delaware State Conference of Branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP-DE) have filed, on behalf of communities of color and limited English proficiency persons, an environmental justice complaint against Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) and Sussex County, Delaware, for violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Title VI Complaint alleges that DNREC and Sussex County, Delaware, violated the public’s rights to information and public participation when reviewing permits for Bioenergy Devco’s factory farm gas and composting facility in Seaford, resulting in discrimination against the local community.
“Our democracy and its principles of justice, fairness, and rule of law require the opportunity for meaningful public participation in permitting decisions,” said Maria Payan, SRAP senior regional representative. “That did not happen in Seaford. We stand with our sisters and brothers to make sure those rights are upheld.”
The facility is proposed to be built in the heart of residential-agricultural neighborhoods that are home to low-income communities of color and residents with limited English proficiency. Spanish and/or Haitian Creole are the languages used by many of the residents in the area.
By failing to provide the public with adequate information, notices, and access to public participation processes, DNREC and Sussex County Delaware ignored the needs and socioeconomic distinctions of the predominantly Latinx, Haitian, and Black community.
“Like every immigrant who came to this country, these immigrants who live in Seaford deserve America’s best, not its worst,” said Charito Calvachi-Mateyko, steering committee member, DE-PPC.
If approved, the factory farm gas project would truck 250,000 tons of poultry waste into Seaford each year, further polluting the state’s natural resources. It would negatively impact those who live, work, and play in the area, many of whom already suffer the effects of existing pollution.
“Sussex County and DNREC have failed in their responsibility to examine and prioritize issues of discrimination when considering applications like these,” said Mike Brickner, ACLU-DE executive director. “The disproportionate impact this has on our state’s most marginalized communities is a textbook case of environmental racism, and we demand accountability on behalf of all Delawareans.”
“Overburdened communities must have a seat at the table in decisionmaking for their neighborhoods, and the chance to meaningfully participate as required by law,” said Michael Payan, SHEN co-founder. “Environmental justice can only be achieved when we grant every community a chance to speak out.”
The Complaint suggests 16 actions DNREC and Sussex County could take to rectify their Title VI deficiencies, including conducting environmental and health analyses, assessing disparate impacts of the project on the community and mitigating these impacts, assessing how limited English proficiency persons can participate in permitting decisions, and sharing information with the public.
The Complaint also seeks to involve the community in the analysis, development, and implementation of the proposed solutions, in order to ensure that the path forward actually protects and mitigates harm to the community.
EPA has 20 calendar days to determine whether it will investigate DNREC and Sussex County Delaware’s actions, refer the complaint to another federal agency, or reject the complaint.
“Civil rights compliance cannot be window-dressed with marketing materials and unfulfilled promises,” said Elisabeth Holmes, SRAP senior counsel. “This Title VI Complaint seeks to enforce pillars of democratic rights—the access to vital information and to meaningful public participation—for members of a community this project tried to leave behind.”
Just hours after SRAP and partners filed the Complaint, EPA released interim principles on environmental justice and air permitting. All of the issues raised in the Complaint in connection with the Bioenergy Devco project fit squarely within EPA’s new framework. Therefore, we anticipate EPA will evaluate the Complaint in light of the interim guidance, as well as other applicable policies.
For more than 20 years, SRAP has served as a mobilizing force to help communities protect themselves from the damages caused by industrial livestock operations and to advocate for a food system built on regenerative practices, justice, democracy, and resilience. Learn more at sraproject.org
SHEN is a coalition of stakeholders in Sussex County working to ensure a clean, healthy environment for current and future generations. Learn more at shen-network.net
ACLU-DE preserves and advances civil liberties and civil rights in the State of Delaware as enshrined in the United States and Delaware Constitutions through education and advocacy without consideration of political association. ACLU-DE is committed to advancing equity in our communities and ensuring the government is responsive, accountable, and transparent to the people of Delaware. Learn more at aclu-de.org
DE-PPC is a chapter of the National Poor People’s Campaign: A national Call for Moral Revival, which was founded by Martin Luther King Jr. in 1958. The mission of the DE-PPC is rooted in a moral analysis based on our deepest religious and constitutional values that demand justice for all in Delaware. Learn more at poorpeoplescampaign.org/committee/delaware/
The mission of NAACP-DE is to secure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights in order to eliminate race-based discrimination and ensure the health and well-being of all persons. Our vision is to ensure a society in which all individuals have equal rights without discrimination based on race. Learn more at dscbnaacp.wixsite.com/de-state-conf-naacp