Growth at the Port of Houston. Aftermath of the BP oil spill. Resiliency in the era of climate change. These are but three of the critical environmental justice issues facing communities in Texas and the South. Thriving in light of these challenges will require innovative partnerships and creative solutions – all of which were showcased at last week’s “Encuentro.” We first highlighted this influential event last week and a few members of EDF’s Texas office had the opportunity to attend. Organized by the Houston Peace and Justice Center and hosted by Texas Southern University’s Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs, Encuentro brought together community leaders, environmental advocates, and energy and sustainability experts with a goal of advancing the environmental justice movement in the region.
In the face of grave challenges, there was a tremendous spirit of optimism as a panel of TSU graduate students kicked off the day with their insights on sustainable communities and the power of participatory research. Renowned experts, such as Dr. Robert Bullard and Dr. Al Armendariz, deepened the resolve of Encuentro participants with their eye-opening analysis of some of society’s most entrenched and complex challenges. For example, a zip code is still the most accurate predictor of health. Where you grew up and where you live are closely associated with environmental quality and health outcomes. This means that fence-line communities, like Manchester, TX which neighbors a large rail yard, major highways, chemical plants, manufacturing facilities, and a car crushing facility, are in a precarious and often dire situation. This stark reality is what drives Encuentro and all of the efforts to improve environmental and public health.
Taking a cue from the name of the event, which means meeting or awareness in Spanish, Encuentro is about coming together and participating. The first day wrapped up with a lively and enlightening community discussion that included commitments for new partnerships and renewed actions.
EDF has made some commitments as well. Improving air quality in Houston is a top priority, as well as understanding and mitigating the impacts from oil and gas development. Protecting public health and communities through environmental stewardship is no easy task in Texas, but EDF shares the optimism that there is a path forward and that the environmental justice movement grows stronger each day.