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Advocates say locating waste processing plant in Gary violates residents’ civil rights

By Rebecca Thiele, IPB News | Published on in Community, Environment, Law
The waste processing plant hasn’t been built yet, but last month IDEM renewed the company’s permit in Gary for a decade. (Rebecca Thiele/IPB News)

Gary advocates have filed a federal civil rights complaint against the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

They said the agency’s decision to renew a permit for a waste processing facility disproportionately harms Black and Brown residents in Gary — a community that’s already overburdened by pollution.

The land for the Maya Energy plant sits right across the street from the Steel City Academy charter school. Members of Gary Advocates for Responsible Development (GARD) worry the Maya Energy plant will increase air pollution and truck traffic as well as contaminate a rare artesian well — where water naturally bubbles up from the ground.

The plant hasn’t been built yet, but last month IDEM renewed the company’s permit for a decade.

“Not having to go through the process of being accountable for ten years is absurd — because in ten years so many things can change, so many violations can happen,” said GARD co-founder Kimmie Gordon.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibits states — and other entities that get federal funding — from discriminating based on race, color or national origin. A data analysis by the Environmental Law and Policy Center shows most of the industrial plants in Lake County are located in mostly Black and Brown census tracts.

READ MORE: BP to pay record high penalty for air pollution at its northwest Indiana refinery

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Gordon said residents in Gary — and cities like it — are tired of being sacrifice zones.

“Why is our city plagued with history and decades of industrial establishments? Why aren’t they moving to Chesterton? Because we allow it,” she said. “Our administrations allow it, our legislators allow it.”

Among other things, GARD wants the Environmental Protection Agency to investigate IDEM’s permitting practices, require the agency to consider environmental justice when issuing permits, and temporarily revoke Maya Energy’s permit.

Gordon said GARD hopes that the complaint will lead to justice for not only Gary and other Lake County residents, but other communities across the country as well.

IDEM declined to comment.

Rebecca is our energy and environment reporter. Contact her at rthiele@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.