This week, Houston honored a long time environmental advocate, Dr. Matthew Tejada, who will be leaving the Houston non-profit Air Alliance Houston for a new post at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as director of the Office of Environmental Justice. At a celebration this week hosted by Houston environmental attorney Jim Blackburn, Dr. Tejada was awarded with plaques from both the City of Houston (declaring February 18 as “Matthew Tejada Day”) and from the Texas state legislature, recognizing Dr. Tejada’s efforts in improving air quality in the Houston region.
The new post should come as no surprise to those who know him well. For the last five years, Dr. Tejada has been a documented champion of air quality, helping especially to address the air pollution concerns of low-income and minority communities in Houston and across Texas. In his new role, he will continue work he started in Texas, expanding the mission nationally from his base in Washington D.C.
Dr. Tejada told Environmental Health News that living and working with air quality issues in Houston has provided a good foundation for his new role: “Whether it's big national ambient air quality standards or toxics or health, the Gulf Coast—particularly the Texas and Louisiana Gulf areas—is really the crucible of a lot of these issues. We have the largest challenges, the most diverse challenges, the largest number of people that are suffering negative health impacts for the longest period of time, going back to the beginning of the 20th century.”
Air Alliance Houston Board President Bob Levy also believes Dr. Tejada is well-suited for the role ahead. “Matthew was a young, unknown quantity when Air Alliance (then known as GHASP) hired him as Executive Director over five years ago,” Levy said. “We soon discovered that he is very bright, quickly masters complex issues, and communicates effectively, both in written and oral communications.
“He has proven himself to be an outstanding leader who is liked and admired by co-workers, colleagues, acquaintances and even adversaries. During his tenure, Air Alliance Houston has roughly doubled its capabilities, vastly increased its impact, and now has a strong reputation as a leader in air quality advocacy statewide, even nationally.”
Former Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Commissioner Larry Soward will succeed Dr. Tejada as Interim Director of Air Alliance Houston, and echoed Levy’s high regard. “As the Executive Director of Air Alliance Houston and its predecessor, Galveston-Houston Association for Smog Prevention (GHASP), for the past five years, Matthew has led the organization to its current well-respected and strong leadership role in furtherance of air pollution reduction, especially in fence-line communities, and protection of public health and environmental integrity in the Houston region.”
“His strong commitment to and solid reputation in advocating for communities and his effective, diplomatic skills in working with citizens, peer organizations, governmental agencies and businesses has not only led to significant contributions to reduce air pollution in the Houston region, but also earned him well-deserved recognition as an air quality expert and environmental leader in the Texas Gulf Coast region and indeed, statewide.”
Readers may already be familiar with some of the significant air quality achievements made under Dr. Tejada’s tenure, since his posts have also appeared here since we started publishing nearly three years ago. Having worked with Dr. Tejada on numerous Texas air quality issues, I know well the long list of achievements his hard work and skilled efforts have produced. The following highlights just a few of these achievements:
- Dr. Tejada’s air monitoring and advocacy efforts resulted in local political demands for placement of an ozone monitor in Ft. Bend County, one of the Houston region’s highest ozone areas, which before now had been without a single ozone monitor.
- He advocated for and facilitated the award of a multi-million dollar stimulus project to repave and reconstruct a critical stretch of Clinton Drive in the Galena Park area, greatly enhancing transportation safety and partially alleviating particulate matter pollution in the area.
- He achieved fundamental reforms to the state’s Air Pollutant Watch List, the TCEQ’s key program for identifying and reducing toxic hot spots across the State of Texas.
- He was instrumental in achieving fundamental positive changes to the TCEQ by leading a diverse state-wide coalition of organizations, producing an Eco Town Hall focused on needed reforms to our state’s environmental regulations and publishing a 118-page report outlining reform recommendations.
- He assisted in the development of a revolutionary ozone mapping tool that will assist Houston residents in getting real-time information on air quality.
On a personal note, I first met Matt five and a half years ago as we both started new posts at our respective organizations, working to improve air quality in Houston. As we both realized very early on, our jobs were a lot harder than we had imagined. I distinctly remember the belly rolls of laughter after telling my best friend’s father that I had a new job cleaning up the Houston Ship Channel! Energized by youth and ideals, Matt and I have worked hard over the years, sharing many belly rolls of laughter ourselves. Matt is one of the most inspiring and charismatic individuals that I know, always knowing exactly how to frame a particular issue.
Matt, I wish you well and couldn’t be more excited for you. The world (and especially Houston) is a better place because you are in it. We will miss you terribly but look forward to sharing your talent with the rest of the nation.