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Shuttered EPA investigation offered ‘meaningful reform’ in Cancer Alley, documents reveal

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lailluminator.com – Halle Parker, WWNO – 2023-08-30 05:00:10

Shuttered EPA investigation offered ‘meaningful reform' in Cancer Alley, documents reveal

by Halle Parker, WWNO, Louisiana Illuminator
August 30, 2023

As industrial plants have overtaken historic Black communities and burdened neighborhoods with toxic air pollution, environmental advocates and residents of Louisiana's chemical corridor have spent decades calling for change.

So when the country's top environmental regulator opened a high-profile civil rights investigation into Louisiana's Department of Environmental Quality last year, it felt like a watershed moment.

For the first time, the Environmental Protection Agency stepped in to exercise its oversight and evaluate whether LDEQ has granted permits for companies to build and pollute in a way that has caused disproportionate harm to Black communities. Ultimately, they found signs that it has.

After pledging to clean up Cancer Alley — the nickname for the heavily industrialized, 85-mile stretch of the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans — the EPA issued a letter in October 2022 detailing preliminary evidence of racial discrimination and noncompliance by the state.

Advocates like Lisa Jordan, who leads the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, and the clients she represents were cautiously optimistic.

“We dared to hope,” said Jordan, who filed one of the complaints that led to EPA's civil rights investigation.

EPA sued over failure to set, update pollution limits

The EPA's findings brought LDEQ to the negotiating table. Documents and emails newly uncovered by WWNO and WRKF show that staff from the two agencies spent months negotiating a 43-page agreement that would have fundamentally changed Louisiana's air pollution permitting program so that state regulators would have no longer allowed toxic emissions to disproportionately impact certain communities. While the EPA's civil rights investigation could potentially have led to a consent decree that forced LDEQ to change, this voluntary agreement offered a path to reform without punishment.

But, in late June, it all came to a grinding halt.

The EPA abruptly closed the case and ended discussions with the LDEQ, stopping its investigation without coming to a resolution or releasing its findings. The decision blindsided the River Parish residents who took part in the complaints.

“We'd been out here fighting so hard for so long, it felt good to have someone shouldering the burden with us, and it felt good to not be gaslit,” said Joy Banner, a St. John the Baptist Parish resident and cofounder of the Descendants Project, in the weeks after. “After all of that fighting, they just abandoned us.”

WWNO/WRKF's reporting reveals for the first time the fullest details of the draft agreement and offers a window into how negotiations between the two agencies unraveled. With Louisiana's attorney general now suing the EPA, environmental justice experts and advocates fear that the breakdown could mark the beginning of a major attack on a core aspect of the Civil Rights Act.

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‘Meaningful reform'

In the month before negotiations ended, LDEQ and EPA staff closed in on an agreement. They exchanged a draft resolution on May 18 that would have ingrained sweeping new procedures for the state to ensure that future permitting decisions included an in-depth analysis into whether the adverse impacts of any new polluting facility would be disproportionately felt by people of a certain race, color or nationality -— an outcome also known as “disparate impact.”

Had the agreement been finalized, Louisiana environmental advocates would also have received another major win: LDEQ would have begun studying how a proposed facility would add to a community's cumulative burdens. For each permit application, the agency would be required to look at the local area's current exposure to air pollutants as well as how different social or health factors could leave the community vulnerable to harmful effects.

Deep South Center for Environmental Justice Director of Law and Policy Monique Harden, who has more than two decades of law experience, reviewed the May 18 draft of the informal resolution agreement, saying it would have led to “meaningful reform” of the state agency. She wasn't involved in any of the complaints the EPA investigated.

A 2022 study conducted by Tulane Environmental Law Clinic researchers, published in Environmental Research Letters, estimated that air pollution causes 85 cancer cases annually, with the greatest risk concentrated in the industrialized areas of river parish region and southwest Louisiana. (Tulane University)

Most significantly, the agreement would have enforced the state's legal obligation to request companies look at alternate sites or even deny a permit to lessen any disparate impacts found during its newly robust analysis.

“You can consider, through mapping and statistical data collection and analysis, environmental justice. You can do that all day long and not have any change on the ground for Black communities,” Harden said. “Consideration is weak sauce. We need permit denials. We need reductions in pollution. We need mitigation of hazards. We need a holistic view of appropriate sites.”

For years, Harden has watched progress on environmental justice issues stall as agencies quibble over meandering technical debates of definitions and procedures. In a break from the past, she felt the proposed agreement showed a commitment to creating real change.

“This agreement between EPA and LDEQ was headed around results and outcomes, which is a tremendous step forward,” Harden said.

Requests for disparity analyses and cumulative impact studies are nothing new. Advocacy groups and environmental lawyers like Harden and Jordan have called for LDEQ to conduct such studies since the 1980s.

A study published in the journal Environmental Challenges in January found that minority communities living in Louisiana's chemical corridor are exposed to levels of toxic air pollution seven to 21 times higher than predominantly white communities.

But time and again, the state agency has maintained that it isn't statutorily required to consider disparate impact under environmental legislation like the Clean Air and Clean Water acts nor under Louisiana law.

“They just never engaged at the level of saying it's not possible or it's too hard, or it would take too long. They just never entertained the idea at all,” Jordan said.

If successful, Landry's EPA suit could be ‘a significant setback' for the Civil Rights Act

In the EPA's letter of concern sent on Oct. 12, 2022, it said LDEQ staff should have conducted cumulative impact analyses in the past. It also brought attention to the lack of any written policies internally that guide when LDEQ staff should do such an analysis to comply with the Civil Rights Act.

According to the EPA, LDEQ went as far as to say it only needs to comply with environmental laws, not the Civil Rights Act — an assertion that EPA Deputy Assistant Administrator for External Civil Rights Lilian Dorka called “erroneous.”

“LDEQ has two obligations: to ensure legal and lawful administration of Clean Air Act programs and to ensure compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. And what this informal resolution agreement focuses on is that LDEQ is not doing either,” said Harden.

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The beginning of the end

The negotiations were on precarious footing from the start. The EPA worked with LDEQ to make voluntary changes to its permitting process to avoid punishment, while simultaneously conducting a civil rights investigation that would potentially result in a compliance order.

Meanwhile, LDEQ moved forward with the voluntary agreement, even as the state's attorney general (whose office was involved in the voluntary agreement negotiations) prepared a lawsuit against the EPA's investigation. Emails exchanged between LDEQ and the EPA show negotiations began to falter after the federal staff sent a version of the draft agreement back to LDEQ on May 18.

Days after the draft was sent, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry sued the EPA, the Department of Justice and the Biden administration over the civil rights investigation on May 24 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana. The Attorney General office didn't respond to a request for comment.

The new lawsuit appeared to cast doubt over whether any parties were willing to proceed with the negotiations in good faith. But, despite the looming lawsuit, a June 1 email shows LDEQ staff reassured Dorka that the litigation wouldn't change the agency's commitment, promising to continue to flesh out the draft agreement.

The emails show, however, that progress slowed in the waning weeks of the investigation. The EPA and LDEQ traded blame and frustration over the state of negotiations as the draft agreement sat in limbo and regular meetings were canceled.

One week before the case was closed, the tension bubbled over in one final exchange. LDEQ lead counsel Courtney Burdette questioned the EPA's commitment to the ongoing talks, citing the frustration of the state staff.

A screenshot of an email sent by Courtney Burdette, LDEQ's executive counsel, to EPA External Civil Rights Compliance Office Director Lilian Dorka on June 20, 2023.

Within hours of receiving the email, Dorka wrote back, pointing to the lack of a fully revised draft of the agreement from LDEQ as the reason for the series of meeting cancellations.

“Given how busy everyone is, I will go ahead and cancel the rest of the meetings that I had scheduled and then reschedule as needed once we receive the rest of LDEQ's draft IRA mark-up,” Dorka replied.

But another meeting wasn't scheduled.

Cattle graze in a pasture next to the Denka Performance Elastomer facility in LaPlace, where U.S. Environmental Protection Agency leader Michael Regan announced proposed regulations Thursday, April 6, 2023, for toxic air emissions. The federal government has sued Denka for failing to reduce levels of chloroprene, a known carcinogen, coming from the plant. (Greg LaRose/)

On June 27, the EPA sent a letter to LDEQ Secretary Roger Gingles stating they had closed the investigation, with little explanation beyond stating the EPA's Office of External Civil Rights Compliance felt an agreement wouldn't be reached by their July 11 deadline.

Yet, EPA's case resolution manual states that deadline requirements for ending an investigation are paused while working toward an informal agreement.

The reason for the investigation's untimely end remains unclear. Jordan and other advocates involved in the case have speculated that the litigation from Landry's office increased pressure on the Biden administration to close the case in an attempt to quash a lawsuit that has the potential to evolve into a broader challenge to a key element of the Civil Rights Act if it moves forward.

The Department of Justice wrote in its notice to the court that the EPA had terminated the complaints at the center of Landry's lawsuit, raising the question of whether it should proceed. A response filed by the attorney general's office made clear that the state planned to continue the lawsuit — which challenges any federal review of disparate impact as a result of environmental permits — regardless of the civil rights investigation's untimely end.

“EPA's and DOJ's entire rationale, we think, for having dismissed this complaint is to poise itself well to succeed in this litigation. So our clients sort of feel that they've been sacrificed,” Jordan said. “It's not looking like EPA made a good trade if that's what they did.”

Title VI precedent under attack

Since the early days of the EPA's investigation, LDEQ and other state officials have maintained that the agency shouldn't be punished for actions and decisions that comply with environmental laws — even if they result in violations of the Civil Rights Act.

The opposition came as the EPA finally pledged to step up its civil rights enforcement to match protocol that has been used by other federal agencies, from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to the Department of Education, for decades.

“The reason we're here is because EPA was late to fulfill its obligations under the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” said Carlton Waterhouse, a former EPA attorney and director of Howard University School of Law's Environmental and Climate Justice Center. “And so now, as the agency is trying to fulfill its obligations, we're finding pushback to say that not only are those not obligations, the agency is acting unlawfully by trying to enforce these regulations.”

In the past, the EPA has only investigated cases of “intentional discrimination,” or instances of blatant racism or differential treatment. But other agencies have historically taken into account the effect policies have. Even if a decision seems neutral on its face, does it disproportionately harm one group more than another? If so, the policy has a disparate impact, which is illegal. Courts across the country have upheld the use of disparate impact in rulings dating back to the 1970s.

In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the use of disparate impact in a housing discrimination case, writing in the decision that a focus on consequences “permits plaintiffs to counteract unconscious prejudices and disguised animus that escape easy classification as disparate treatment.”

Attorney General Jeff Landry speaks to reporters after qualifying for the governor's race Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023, at the Louisiana State Archives building in Baton Rouge. (Wes Muller/Louisiana Illuminator)

But in his May 24 lawsuit, Attorney General Landry, who is now the leading candidate for Louisiana governor, disagreed. He argued the Civil Rights Act only prohibits “intentional discrimination,” and called the EPA's investigation a ploy by “social justice warriors.”

“Activities that would be perfectly lawful under environmental law are thus now threatened because EPA believes those activities occur proximate to the ‘wrong' racial groups,” wrote Landry in the suit.

The logic rings similar to other recent conservative legal attacks, including the argument recently used in overturning precedent on affirmative action, said Waterhouse.

“This is the reverse discrimination argument,” Waterhouse said. “Use of that is very politically astute and even legally astute to the degree that the ears of the court are very open to those concerns.”

As the Supreme Court has grown more conservative, advocates and legal experts have voiced concern over the potential for Landry's case to set back civil rights enforcement if it moves forward — and potentially reverse progress as well, said Waterhouse, by nullifying past wins for agencies like the Department of Education or eliminating the doctrine of disparate impact altogether.

Waterhouse said state agencies should expect to be required to follow more than one law at once, just like the average citizen. He likened it to driving a car.

“Sometimes you get a no speeding and a no passing law. It means that you have to drive 55 (miles per hour) and stay in that right lane, even though somebody is driving slow in it,” he said.

“It's not an either-or, so it's a false dichotomy.”

The future of Louisiana's air program

Even with the EPA's investigation being closed, the draft informal agreement produced in May offers a blueprint for addressing decades-old complaints about LDEQ's permitting process. Research and news investigations have repeatedly demonstrated that Black communities in Louisiana live with more air pollution than white communities.

Legal experts agree that nothing in the law prevents the state agency from implementing the measures developed over the 8-month negotiation to ensure it is in compliance with nondiscrimination laws.

Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Roger Gingles speaks at a news conference held by the EPA about new pollution rules proposed to help lower emissions and cancer risk in Louisiana's chemical corridor in St. John the Baptist Parish on April 6, 2023. (Halle Parker/WWNO)

“States have the authority to go well beyond anything that the federal government has put in place,” said Waterhouse. “So they can be more protective for their citizens. They can be more attentive to preventing disparities in terms of who bears the burden of pollution. They have all kinds of authority to do that.”

The draft agreement offered a step-by-step guide for considering various demographics when permitting, explaining how to analyze for potential disparities and what to do if any are found. It also laid out ways to facilitate a more robust public participation process.

“EPA has given LDEQ all of the tools that it could need to do a better job than what it has done,” said Jordan.

Whether LDEQ will use those tools remains an open question. When WWNO/WRKF asked LDEQ whether it planned to use the draft agreement, agency press secretary Greg Langley said, “We are glad to have the complaint closed. LDEQ has no comment about the communications that occurred between EPA and LDEQ.”

Langley didn't say if the agency planned to make any changes to its permitting program.

The EPA will still pursue other avenues to address the issues that came up in the complaints, including a major lawsuit it launched earlier this year against a neoprene plant in St. John the Baptist Parish and new proposed rules limiting the emission of certain cancer-causing chemicals plaguing Louisiana's chemical corridor. It also plans to conduct its own cumulative impact study in St. John.

But the federal agency hasn't provided any indication that an overhaul of the state's air permit program is in the cards. EPA staff has offered to help LDEQ implement changes if the state decides to strengthen its safeguards against discrimination.

Unless changes are made, Harden said, LDEQ will continue to have the same problems that the EPA identified — and racial disparities will continue to go unchecked.

“Each permit that LDEQ issues in a predominantly Black community in Louisiana is a further violation of civil rights,” she said.

This article was first published by WWNO.org.

Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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Landry removes job requirements, trumps local authority for industrial tax breaks

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lailluminator.com – Greg LaRose – 2024-02-22 05:00:54

Landry removes job requirements, trumps local authority for industrial tax breaks

by Greg LaRose, Louisiana Illuminator
February 22, 2024

Companies that receive major breaks on their local property taxes to invest in large industrial projects in Louisiana will no longer have to set hiring goals to get the incentive, plus they won't need approval from local taxing authorities if the governor is in favor of their proposal.   

Gov. Jeff Landry signed an executive order Wednesday that upends the standards and approval process that's been place for the Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP) since 2016. The signing took place during the governor's appearance at a Louisiana Association of Business and Industry luncheon, according to the Baton Rouge Business Report

“This program is about capital investment. It is not about job creation,” Landry said.

Since 1998, Louisiana has awarded more than $20 billion in local tax breaks to industry through its Industrial Tax Exemption Program, according to an Ohio River Valley Institute analysis. 

Flow from the ITEP spigot slowed significantly in 2016 then-Gov. John Bel Edwards issued an executive order that required local approval of industrial tax exemptions. He also reduced the tax break available from 100% of property taxes to 80% and inserted a job-creation requirement for companies. Landry's order keeps the tax reduction at the same level.

The executive order he signed Wednesday also condenses the process for companies to receive local approval on their tax exemptions. Previously, each local body that collects property taxes had to approve tax breaks independently with a separate public hearing. For example, a parish school board could approve the tax exemption, but a parish council or sheriff could reject it. The business would then receive a partial tax break.  

Landry's new arrangement calls for a single parish industrial board, which would include representatives from the taxing agencies, to consider ITEP applications. Its vote would apply to all local agencies that receive property taxes, meaning companies would get approval a total tax break or none.

The executive order also upends the sequence of approval to award industrial tax exemptions, placing ultimate power in the governor's hands. Local approval has been necessary for an ITEP request to advance for consideration to the state Board of Commerce and Industry, a 24-member panel of appointees from business groups and the governor. 

Now, under Landry's order, companies will first submit their applications to the Board of Commerce and Industry. If their request is approved, the state panel will then notify a parish industrial board that it must hold a public hearing on the application within 45 days.

However, the order says little about what weight the local recommendation has in the ITEP approval process or how it factors into the governor's decision.

“Input from the Local ITEP Committee is important for consideration of an industrial tax exemption; however, it should not unduly delay the ITEP application process,” the order reads.

In an email, the Illuminator asked Landry spokesperson Kate Kelly about the governor's ability to override a local ITEP vote.

“The governor is the final say,” Kelly said.

Together Louisiana, a coalition of church and civic groups, has been highly critical of the state's generous ITEP giveaways. In a statement Wednesday, the group questioned whether Landry's order turned the incentive program into “a gift.”

“If a corporation gets a tax exemption, not to bring in a new plant or create jobs, but just as a public subsidy for its routine capital investments — investments, that is, that would have happened anyway — the result is not economic development. It's the opposite,” the Together Louisiana statement said. 

“In that scenario, local communities don't get new economic activity, but they still lose the millions in tax revenue from their schools, roads and police,” the statement continued. “They lose jobs — the teachers, construction workers, sheriff's deputies and others who would have provided the services that went unfunded. And their property taxes start going up, to fill the holes in the tax base left by each new round of gratuitous giveaway.”

Without any job requirements, companies can now apply for tax exemptions for most any large-scale investment in Louisiana. Landry's order does specify that maintenance expenses, environmental compliance upgrades and replacement parts that are not part of an extensive restoration do not qualify for ITEP awards.

The order goes into effect for all ITEP applications moving forward, effective Feb. 21, but does not apply retroactively to applications or exemptions.

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Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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Criminal justice reform advocates ask court to force Legislature to hear from public

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lailluminator.com – Piper Hutchinson – 2024-02-21 16:51:56

Criminal justice reform advocates ask court to force Legislature to hear from public

by Piper Hutchinson, Louisiana Illuminator
February 21, 2024

Three Louisiana criminal justice reform advocates have asked a state court to prevent the Legislature from discussing several proposals until more public testimony is heard on the bills. 

Their petition was filed Wednesday in 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge by Norris Henderson, executive director of Voice of the Experienced, Ronald Marshall, chief policy analyst with Voice of the Experienced, and Erica Navalance, a staff attorney with the Promise of Justice Initiative. Read the full petition below. 

They contend House Administration of Criminal Justice Chair Rep. Debbie Villio, R-Kenner, has irregularly limited public input over two days of hearings during a special session on crime policy. The agenda for the session features a string of bills, with Gov. Jeff Landry's support, that call for harsher consequences for criminals.   

The committee enacted a rule to limit each public commenter to three minutes and cut off public debate after proponents and opponents of a bill each testified for one hour. The three-minute rule is a common practice at the Capitol, but overall time limits are seldom used. 

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Committee members said they supported these rules to get through testimony more quickly. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the committee had a full schedule of bills that attracted a large number of public comments. The special session doesn't have to end until March 5, but leaders have suspended the rules several times in order to expedite hearings on bills rather than letting them lay over for a day between hearings. 

House Democratic Caucus Chair Rep. Matthew Willard of New Orleans and other Democrats have criticized Republicans for fast-tracking legislation that would almost totally reshape Louisiana's criminal justice system, giving the public limited opportunity for input. 

The court petition seeks to prevent the full House of Representatives from discussing the bill until the House Criminal Justice Committee holds another hearing to allow more public comment. The complainants say they traveled to Baton Rouge to testify, but the committee's time limits prevented them from speaking. 

House Speaker Phillip Devillier, R-Eunice, defended the committee, arguing two hours of discussion per bill is reasonable, and that the Legislature is allowed to suspend the rules to advance bills. 

The complainants want to pause debate on four bills: 

House Bill 4, by Rep. Julie Emerson, R-Carenco, which limits post-conviction relief opportunities. House Bill 6, by Rep. Nicholas Muscarello, R-Hammond, which expands the methods by which Louisiana executes people and shields records related to executions from public viewHouse Bill 9, by Villio, which eliminates parole in almost all circumstances House Bill 10, by Villio, which limits good time credits and credit for time served

 

Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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Biden unveils latest round of student loan cancellation to aid 153,000 borrowers

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lailluminator.com – Jennifer Shutt – 2024-02-21 16:26:30

Biden unveils latest round of student loan cancellation to aid 153,000 borrowers

by Jennifer Shutt, Louisiana Illuminator
February 21, 2024

President Joe Biden expanded his push to eliminate student loan debt Wednesday, saying during a speech the initiative is part of a campaign promise to address the “broken” system.

“While a college degree is still a ticket to a better life, that ticket is too expensive,” Biden said. “And too many Americans are still saddled with unsustainable debt in exchange for a college degree.”

Biden, who made his remarks while on a trip to California that also included fundraising for his 2024 campaign, argued that canceling student loan debt not only helps those who receive the benefit directly, but those in their communities.

“When people's student debt is relieved, they buy homes, they start businesses, they contribute, they engage in the community in ways they weren't able to before and it actually grows the economy,” Biden said.

The latest round of student debt forgiveness includes nearly 153,000 borrowers and a total of $1.2 billion in debt, according to a fact sheet from the White House.

Those receiving loan forgiveness are enrolled in the Saving on a Valuable Education or SAVE repayment plan, have been paying back their loans for at least 10 years and originally took out less than $12,000 in loans.

This week's actions bring total student loan cancellation by the Biden administration to $138 billion for nearly 3.9 million people, according to the fact sheet.

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Repayments tied to income, family size

The so-called SAVE Plan allows borrowers to set their student loan repayments based on their income and family size, not the amount of student loan debt they hold.

“The SAVE plan ensures that if borrowers are making their monthly payments, their balances cannot grow because of unpaid interest,” according to the White House's fact sheet. “And, starting in July, undergraduate loan payments will be cut in half, capping a borrower's loan payment at 5% of their discretionary income.”

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said on a call with reporters Tuesday there are about 7.5 million people enrolled in the SAVE Plan and that 4.3 million don't have a monthly payment.

“Many SAVE forgiveness recipients come from lower- and middle-income backgrounds,” Cardona said. “Many took out loans to attend community colleges. Some were at high risk for delinquency and default. That's why the actions we're announcing today do matter.”

Cardona said those eligible for this round of student debt cancellation would receive an email from Biden telling them about the move.

New FAFSA rollout criticized

Louisiana Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy said in a written statement the latest round of student loan forgiveness is misguided.

“The Biden Department of Education has been unable to fulfill their basic responsibilities mandated by Congress and essential to families, like implementing FAFSA,” Cassidy said, referring to the application college students fill out to access student aid, including grants, scholarships and loans.

The Biden administration's efforts to revamp the form have been marred by delays and errors. 

“Instead, they have spent a considerable amount of time prioritizing their student loan schemes to shift someone else's debt onto taxpayers that chose not to go to college or already paid off their loans,” Cassidy added. “This is unfair, manipulative and a cynical attempt to buy votes.”

Cassidy is the ranking member on the U.S. Senate's Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee, often referred to as the HELP Committee.

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Supreme Court decision

Biden, speaking at the Julian Dixon Library in Culver City, California, criticized the U.S. Supreme Court for blocking his original student loan forgiveness plan. 

“Early in my term, I announced a major plan to provide millions of working families with debt relief for their college student debt,” Biden said. “But my MAGA Republican friends in the Congress, elected officials and special interests stepped in and sued us. And the Supreme Court blocked it. But that didn't stop me.”

Biden said the justices' opinion in that case led him to “pursue alternative paths” for student debt relief, which includes the announcement he made Wednesday.

Canceling some student loan debt, Biden said, is about giving people a chance.

“That's all we're doing … giving people a chance, a fighting chance to make it, because no one who is willing to work hard in America should be denied the opportunity to have that chance.”

Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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