Refineries cast a long shadow along the Texas Gulf Coast: its emissions of cancer-causing compounds leave overburdened communities facing serious health concerns, even as the industry resists implementing commonsense, protective policies. The shadow, however, need not be so dark for much longer. Currently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing to strengthen long-overdue emissions standards for petroleum refineries, which is a critical step toward securing healthier air quality for millions of Americans.
Refineries are a major source of extremely harmful air pollutants including neurotoxins, hazardous metals, and cancer-causing pollutants. Exposure to these compounds can cause lung disease, skin disorders, headaches, and immune system ailment, as well as increase the risk of cancer. Refineries nationwide reported about 22,000 tons of hazardous air pollution in 2010, and many of the largest polluters are right here in Texas. These numbers come to life when you walk the streets of communities like Galena Park or Port Arthur and meet the families who live and work in the shadow of refineries every day. Read More
Thirteen of the 14 hottest years on record have all occurred since 2000. So when it comes to climate justice, are you going to sit on the sidelines or be part of the solution? If you want to act on climate change, join your fellow Texans at the “Shield the People Climate March” in Austin this Sunday, September 21. EDF will be out in force joining together with faith groups, labor unions, community associations, environmental justice organizations, and a broad coalition of people calling for action to reduce climate change pollution.
The Austin event is a local response to the “People’s Climate March” taking place on the same day in New York City, which is being billed as the largest climate march in history. The backdrop for this historic day of action is a special summit at the United Nations that will bring world leaders together to act on the climate crisis. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon even recently announced that he “will link arms with those marching for climate action.” World leaders, including President Obama, need to hear from the public loud and clear that we can’t afford to wait any longer. Read More
Motiva refinery in Port Arthur, TX
On Tuesday, I spoke at a well-attended public hearing on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) vital proposal to reduce toxic emissions at oil refineries. At the hearing, I witnessed industry representatives and backers argue that refineries have already done enough to protect local citizens and that the public knows all there is to know about hazardous refinery pollution. Clean air advocates, including labor unions, public officials, residents, and health practitioners, took the stand and called on EPA to improve the status quo.
The status quo, unfortunately, is pollution loopholes for certain refinery processes, outdated pollution control technologies, and an inadequate health impact assessment. This refinery air toxics proposal, currently open for public comment, will help protect public health in some of the nation’s most toxically overburdened communities. That’s why direct federal attention to oil refineries is needed in states with questionable environmental records like Texas and Louisiana. Read More
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott falls flat in flawed legal challenge against EPA
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the authority to address climate pollution under the Clean Air Act. The Court ruled 7-2 in favor of allowing EPA to require that large industrial sources of greenhouse gas pollution install the best available control technology when building or rebuilding plants that are also sources of other major air pollutants. This means that large cement plants, refineries, power plants, chemical facilities, and other industrial facilities must use modern emissions controls for climate pollution.
This is a big win for Texans who are hard hit by air pollution. Unfortunately, the state leads the nation in energy-related carbon dioxide emissions and is home to several cities and communities with significant air quality challenges.
A 5-4 majority of the Court also held that EPA must narrow its permit program to avoid applying the program to many smaller sources that EPA itself had concluded would pose serious problems yet yield relatively small pollution mitigation benefits. But Justice Scalia recognized that EPA achieved an important victory for public health and clean air. While describing the outcome of the high Court’s decision from the bench, Justice Scalia stated that “EPA is getting almost everything it wanted in this case.” Read More
Last month, Texas Governor Rick Perry penned an open letter to President Barack Obama criticizing the administration’s energy policy and urging the federal government to adopt the “Texas approach” to energy and environmental regulations. The letter stoked its fair share of controversy, prompting Politifact Texas to weigh in on Perry’s claims about Texas air pollution. Unsurprisingly, they found that Perry’s words were only a half-truth, masking the true state of air quality in Texas. With this post, I’ll unpack Perry’s claims, discuss the true state of the air in Texas, and suggest where the state should go from here.
In his letter, Perry claimed that, since 2000, Texas has reduced “harmful pollutants in the air like nitrogen oxide by 62.5 percent, and ozone by 23 percent—a reduction that is 12 percent greater than the national average.” Politifact deemed this statement more spin than substance for good reason; while Texas air quality has improved in recent years, Texas cities ranked among the worst in the nation for ozone and particulate matter in the American Lung Association’s most recent State of the Air report. Both ozone and particulate matter pose a risk to human health, contributing to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, especially in children and the elderly. And because ozone forms more readily on hot, sunny days, Texas ozone season lasts for several months, increasing health risks for Texans exposed to pollution. While Texas air quality has improved, we still fair worse than most of the nation—it’s far too early for Rick Perry to claim victory over air pollution. Read More
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. Read More