Community Groups Sue EPA

Agency refused to investigate discrimination claims in East Boston substation project

The waterfront site near the dangerous electric substation proposed by Eversource in the Eagle Hill community in East Boston. The jet fuel tanks and other infrastructure in the background highlight the need for climate justice in this community.

Eversource wants to build a new substation in East Boston's Eagle Hill neighborhood. Local residents – many of whom have limited proficiency in English –oppose the plan, but the State has made it hard for them to take part in the public process by refusing to provide adequate translation services at meetings. Photo: Ed Lyons, CC BY-NA 2.0

January 14, 2021 (BOSTON, MA) – Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), GreenRoots and Lawyers for Civil Rights filed a federal lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today after it failed to investigate discrimination concerns in the ongoing Eversource East Eagle substation project in East Boston, a predominantly low-income and immigrant community in Massachusetts.

The groups previously filed a Title VI civil rights complaint against Massachusetts energy officials after they ignored resident concerns and refused to provide translation services at community meetings in an area home to many non-English speakers, particularly Spanish-speaking residents. The EPA declined to act on that complaint, and today’s lawsuit aims to force a proper investigation.

“As a mother raising three sons who use the playground that is so close to this park, I feel it is outrageous and especially frustrating that in this process, in which I and my neighbors would like to have participated and make our voices and concerns heard, we have been shut out by the lack of interpretation or the poor quality of interpretation when it was provided,” stated Noemy Rodriguez an East Boston resident for the past 8 years and organizer with GreenRoots.

“For years, state energy officials have unlawfully shut out Spanish-speaking East Boston and Chelsea residents from decisions that will impact their communities for generations,” said Amy Laura Cahn, Interim Director of the Healthy Communities and Environmental Justice program at CLF. “We rely on the EPA to enforce civil rights laws, which guarantee residents a say in what happens in their communities. Without action by the agency, the community has no chance to right this egregious wrong.”

“The EPA has ignored its obligations under Title VI for decades,” said Lauren Sampson, Staff Attorney at Lawyers for Civil Rights, where she coordinates a Race and Climate Justice project. “Although the Trump Administration has tried time and time again to destroy these vital civil rights protections, the law is clear: federal funding cannot be used to support race and national origin discrimination in any form.” 

First proposed in 2014, the project would construct two new underground transmission lines through Boston, Everett, and Chelsea connecting with a new substation in East Boston. The line would run through environmental justice communities whose density, pollution, and high rates of poverty have left residents exposed to public health crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic. The proposed project would place them at even greater risk, with the high-voltage electric substation across from a playground,  in a densely packed residential neighborhood, and in an area on the banks of the Chelsea Creek highly susceptible to catastrophic flooding.

Earlier this week, GreenRoots, CLF, and Lawyers for Civil Rights issued an open letter calling attention to persistent language access disparities.  In December, Massachusetts Congressional delegation together with state and local elected officials sent a letter opposing the project to Environmental Secretary Theoharides Civil rights complaints against the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Department of Public Utilities, and Energy Facilities Siting Board are still pending with Departments of Interior and Transportation.

The lawsuit announced today requests that a federal judge order the EPA to conduct the necessary investigation.

Experts are available for further comment.