Earlier this month, Juan Parras, founder and director of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (Tejas), was recognized as the 2015 recipient of the Robert Bullard Environmental Justice Award by the Sierra Club. Juan has worked for decades in Houston and along the Gulf Coast to improve the health and welfare of communities and is known for his dedication, courage, and optimism. Juan has been committed to improving the lives of those most affected by environmental degradation and is driven by his powerful vision and understanding of socioeconomic, gender, and racial justice issues.
As Environmental Protection Agency is set to release two vitally important standards next week to protect public health – first, updated emissions standards for petroleum refineries and second, a strengthened ground-level ozone standard – the Houston region will benefit tremendously from Juan’s leadership. These are important developments, but more needs to be done to address pressing environmental justice concerns. Environmental Defense Fund congratulates Juan on this deserving recognition and looks forward to even more improvements in air and health for Houston residents.
Photo source: Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services
U.S. EPA Region 6 EJ Workshop, Arkansas LaQuinta Downtown Conference Center, June 16-18, 2015
Environmental justice issues are inextricably linked to broader social justice concerns.
That relationship was clear last month at Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 6’s Environmental Justice Training Workshop, as a discussion on race, class, and environmental health was punctuated by reflections on the tragic massacre at the Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC.
The training workshop, held in Little Rock, Arkansas, was one in a series in each of the five states in EPA Region 6, designed to bring together affected communities, government officials, environmental advocates, social justice champions, faith leaders, and academic researchers. Speakers shared their powerful stories of challenge and success. Environmental justice issues weren’t discussed in isolation. Rather, they were considered as one aspect of social injustice facing many Americans that must be addressed. Protecting civil rights and reducing the burden of air pollution – it is all part of the mission to safeguard lives and health. As I listened, I was able to reflect on how my own life has instilled a deep commitment to working on issues like toxic air pollution and improving air quality in urban areas. Read More
There has been clean air progress at ports, but more leaders are calling for zero-emission strategies
When surveying the clean air progress in freight hubs like ports, community leaders and environmental advocates can see hard work has paid off.
But they also see we must do more as a nation to fully protect the health and environment of communities near goods movement corridors.
And when faced with the expected 45 percent growth in freight transportation from 2012 to 2040 – as well as the sound science linking diesel exhaust to damaging health effects like asthma – many leaders are calling for the next generation milestone for clean air efforts: zero-emission strategies. Read More
Update: Governor Abbott signed SB 709 into law on May 23, 2015.
I overheard a colleague last week say she was impressed a group of elementary school students were learning about the tragedy of the commons, and it reminded me of what's been going on at the Texas Legislature this session. The "tragedy of the commons" is a term coined in the late 60's by ecologist Garret Hardin, described as "a situation where individuals acting independently and rationally according to each's self-interest behave contrary to the best interests of the whole group by depleting some common resource." It’s an unfortunate allegory for Texas politics and specifically the passage of Senate Bill (SB) 709, which is on its way to the governor’s desk as I write this.
In this case, a few individuals (polluting corporations and the lawmakers they fund) are acting in their self-interest, creating legislation that will get more money in their pockets faster. Unfortunately, the best interests of the whole group (all Texans) are virtually forgotten, and common resources like healthy air and water will suffer. The final bill, SB 709 sponsored by Senator Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay), shows Texas' leadership cares more about protecting big polluters at the expense of its citizens.
And while Sen. Fraser’s bill was the one that ultimately passed, the companion measure in the House, House Bill 1865, by Representative Genie Morrison (R-Victoria) included the same agenda and language. Rep. Morrison is from Victoria, Texas. As someone who is supposed to be fighting for the best interests of her constituents, many in Victoria are questioning just whom Morrison and other Texas lawmakers represent. Read More
McCarthy and Parras listen to community members
Juan Parras has been leading the effort to bring environmental justice to Manchester for many decades. As founder and director of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (TEJAS), Juan has galvanized residents, published important studies, informed the media, and organized action campaigns around reducing air pollution and protecting the environment in communities around the Houston Ship Channel. Last week, Juan’s tireless leadership was on display as U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy visited a Manchester neighborhood forum to speak about how EPA is working to make a real impact in environmental justice communities.
The Manchester community, on the eastern side of Houston, is surrounded by heavy industry including an oil refinery, as well as major freight traffic corridors like East Loop 610. Residents, many of whom are Latino and low income, often report health challenges such as asthma, headaches, dizziness, and even cancer. Many of the challenges are profiled in a recent report titled "Who’s in Danger?” that highlights demographic information of communities in industrial vulnerability zones. Administrator McCarthy saw first-hand the proximity of petrochemical facilities to homes, playgrounds, and community centers. She heard directly from concerned residents about the environmental issues they face daily.
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.
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.” Read More