Air Alliance Houston Delivers 2014 “State of the Air”

This post was written by Adrian Shelley, Air Alliance Houston Executive Director.

State of the Air keynote speaker Dr. Bob Bullard on environmental justice and air pollution.

State of the Air keynote speaker Dr. Bob Bullard on environmental justice and air pollution.

Earlier this month, Air Alliance Houston held its annual “State of the Air” luncheon. This event is an opportunity for our friends, allies, and supporters—including EDF—to learn about our work and for other groups to highlight how they are also working to improve Houston air quality.

The first guest speaker at this year’s State of the Air was Better Houston’s Peter Brown, known in some circles as Pedestrian Pete. Mr. Brown serves on a committee developing Houston’s first ever General Plan. Although to many “Houston planning” is  an oxymoron, the General Plan provides an opportunity for Houston to intelligently manage the City’s explosive growth, which will see an additional one million people move to Houston in the next twenty years. Air Alliance Houston is participating in the planning process, encouraging the city to adopt strategies that promote increased use of mass transit, walkability, and a reduction in the impact of diesel trucks on residential areas. (If you live in Houston, you too can provide input by clicking here.)

The real highlight of the event came with a presentation by our keynote speaker Dr. Robert Bullard, the Dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University. Dr. Bullard—also the newest board member of Air Alliance Houston—delivered a powerful presentation titled “Environmental Justice Challenges in the 21st Century: The Right to Breathe vs the Right to Pollute.”

Dr. Bullard earned the title of “Father of Environmental Justice” in the 1970s, when he showed that most all of Houston’s landfills were located in African-American communities. Since then, Dr. Bullard has spent his career identifying disparities in health, economic, environmental, and other indicators that fall along racial boundaries in America. With a series of demographic maps of these indicators, Dr. Bullard showed that communities in the South suffer from more illness, more pollution, and more poverty than elsewhere in the nation. It is these very same communities whose political leaders regularly reject assistance from the federal government and ignore the science and other data that identify problems in their communities. By identifying these disparities, we can better advocate for changes to the policies that created them.

I will say that, overall, 2014 was a good year for both Houston and Air Alliance Houston.

2014 marked the best ozone season in decades, with only 14 high ozone days recorded—down from more than 200 in the 1980s. And last year we saw the culmination of a two-year project in the environmental justice (EJ) community of Galena Park, with the release of a report documenting threats to public health posed by air pollution, primarily from diesel trucks, in that community.

We also received a few grants from several marketing firms in Houston that allowed us to undergo a major branding and messaging overhaul. Both of our websites—airalliancehouston.org and earthdayhouston.org—were completely redesigned. Now we are looking forward to the Tenth Anniversary of Earth Day Houston on Saturday, April 11.

Thank you to everyone who made this year’s State of the Air a success. As we celebrate last year’s successes, we are mindful of work yet to be done. Looking forward, we have begun another project in the EJ community of Pasadena. We also started the first of a five year project with the University Of Texas School Of Public Health, Rice University, and the City of Houston to address metal recycling facilities in Houston.

Air Alliance Houston is looking forward to another year of progress on Houston’s air pollution challenges. We couldn’t do it without our strong network of supporters, among whom we are glad to count Environmental Defense Fund.

 

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