The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on Tuesday it is investigating whether or not the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) engaged in racial discrimination when distributing funding for sanitation infrastructure.

According to a letter from the EPA to ADEM director Lance LeFleur, the investigation is in response to an administrative complaint filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Natural Resources Defense Council in March. 

The SPLC is a far-left litigation organization in Montgomery. It has faced criticism and accusations of hypocrisy, fostering a toxic work environment and using its influence to promote progressive ideological goals, particularly through its "hate map," which purports to list "hate and antigovernment groups" in the United States. 

Conservatives accuse the SPLC of including groups with standard conservative agendas on the same list as violent organizations like the Ku Klux Klan. In 2020, the Republican National Committee even approved a resolution to condemn the law center's standards for identifying hate groups.

"The Complaint alleges that ADEM discriminates against the Black residents of Alabama, particularly residents of the Black Belt region of Alabama, on the basis of race, through its implementation of the Alabama Clean Water State Revolving Fund (SRF)," the EPA wrote LeFleur. "Specifically, the complaint alleges that ADEM prevents Black residents from accessing federal SRF support to improve onsite sanitation access, in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964."

The letter claims the EPA will specifically investigate whether ADEM's implementation of Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) money "excludes from participation, denies benefits to, or subjects to discrimination, residents in the Black Belt region of Alabama, on the basis of race."

The CWSRF is a financial assistance program for water infrastructure projects. It is funded by both the EPA and state governments.  

The EPA will also investigate whether ADEM is implementing "grievance procedures" to respond to discrimination complaints. 

ADEM chief of external affairs Lynn Battle told 1819 News that the state agency disputes the advocacy groups' allegations and has "made addressing the wastewater and drinking water needs of disadvantaged communities a priority in the awarding of funding made available by ARPA, BIL and the State Revolving Fund programs."

Lynn said that in 2022, 34% of the $463 million wastewater and drinking water funding awarded by ADEM went to counties in the Black Belt, where only 10.6% of Alabama's population resides. 

"The focus on the Black Belt continued this year with the available wastewater and drinking water funding," Lynn explained. "In addition, federal audits have consistently found ADEM to be in compliance with all federal requirements, including laws against discrimination and those related to loan and principal forgiveness eligibility."

"ADEM recognizes the challenges faced by poor, disadvantaged and minority communities due to inadequate resources, and the Department takes seriously its commitment to serving all residents of this state in a fair and equitable manner," she continued. "We, therefore, welcome the opportunity to provide information to EPA to counter the allegations in the complaints and to answer any questions the federal agency might have concerning the funding of wastewater and drinking water projects in the state."

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