Texas Clean Air Matters

Houston teens take their fight for clean air to Washington, D.C.

Houston-area students from EDF’s Environmental Youth Council visited Washington, D.C., to learn about the ways that the policies that affect them and their families are negotiated.

A trip from Houston to Washington, D.C., was the exclamation point at the end of the first year of EDF’s Environmental Youth Council program.

Through the program, students attending Pasadena Memorial High School, Galena Park High School and Raul Yzaguirre School for Success — all located on the east side of Houston near the heavy industry located up and down the busy Houston Ship Channel — have committed to learning about environmental health, air quality and public policy and advocacy.

EDF was excited to take this first cohort of students to the nation’s capital to explore the city, learn more about organizations working on environmental issues and gain a better understanding of how legislative representatives create the policies that impact their lives.

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Houston high school students create videos to tell air pollution stories

Galena Park High School student Evelyn Garcia’s video won first place in the 2019 “Houston Teens Care About Clean Air” Video Contest.

Evelyn Garcia has had asthma for as long as she can remember. And she has always been aware of the effect the problematic air quality near her Pasadena, Texas, home has on her and others who have grown up in the area.

The March 2019 fires at Intercontinental Terminals Company (ITC) in Deer Park caused her school, Galena Park High School, to close for three days. So when Evelyn, 17 and a junior, saw the poster for the third annual “Houston Teens Care About Clean Air” Video Contest at her school, she knew she had to participate.

“Ever since I was young, I have cared about having clean air in my community,” Evelyn said. “The level of contamination affected me health-wise, and I think I had the credibility to talk about it in my video.”

EDF challenged students participating in its Environmental Youth Council program to create three-minute videos using their personal stories to educate others about air pollution and its impact on the body. Out of 23 submissions, Evelyn’s video, “Inhaling Hope,” won first place.

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Here’s how a Houston neighborhood is taking action after decades of environment injustice

Environmental Defense Fund has launched a project with Houston-based nonprofit Achieving Community Tasks Successfully (ACTS) and Texas Southern University to bring community-led air monitoring to a neighborhood surrounded by several pollution sources.

Pleasantville, located on Houston’s east side, was established in 1948 as the first planned community for African-Americans in the city. Today, however, the Houston Ship Channel and one of the busiest stretches of Interstate 610, as well as a sprawling brewery, warehouses, metal recyclers and salvage yards, push hard against the neighborhood, producing significant concerns about environmental justice and human health.

Despite these concerns, Texas regulators have not placed an air monitor in Pleasantville to document the impacts of the pollution sources. In fact, the state’s closest monitor is about two miles away, meaning that the community’s residents are unaware of which pollutants are in the air they are breathing. As we know from our work in Oakland, a monitor this far away may miss important local pollution sources – and likely does not accurately reflect their exposures to harmful chemicals. Read More »

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Houston neighborhood maps decades-old pollution problem, paving way for communities nationwide

Bridgette Murray, a retired nurse, lives in a predominantly black neighborhood on Houston’s east side, where small houses grace tree-shaded streets, all built around two schools and a city park.

Its name is Pleasantville, a postwar version of the American dream. But the reality is something different.

Warehouses, metal recyclers, salvage yards, Anheuser-Busch’s Houston brewery and an interstate push hard against the neighborhood, proof and product of the city’s light-on-regulations approach to land use. Trains and trucks rumble through the area day and night. It can be difficult to breathe.

“Playing victim has never been one of my personality traits,” said Murray, whose family moved to Pleasantville in 1957, years before industry’s arrival. “I am here to work with the residents for solutions.”

As founder of the nonprofit Achieving Community Tasks Successfully, or ACTS, Murray is working with Environmental Defense Fund to fully understand Pleasantville’s air pollution and its associated harmful health effects. She wants to map a fair, just and sustainable path forward for her community. Read More »

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These 3 trends could enable cities across America to reduce air pollution

In recent years – and especially in recent months, cities have emerged as leaders in global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect public health. One of the most effective ways to accomplish both of these goals is to focus on reducing air pollution – and there’s an unexpected frontrunner doing just that, while also providing a roadmap for other city leaders on how to get started: Houston.

The city has a lot working against it when it comes to air quality: as a petrochemical hub, it’s home to more than 450 industrial facilities, and emissions from the marine and transportation sector in this sprawling port city are also major contributors to poor air quality. But Houston is also taking significant steps in the right direction: its mayor, Sylvester Turner, has publicly supported action on climate and clean air, and it’s using innovative mobile sensing technologies to collect unprecedented levels of air pollution data. Mayor Turner has also championed clean transportation policies that cities can implement today to reduce climate emissions from cars and trucks and improve air quality.

As these efforts expand across Houston and beyond, here are three emerging trends that could help other city leaders get started in measuring – and then addressing – pollution in their own backyards. Read More »

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How Texas plans to use the VW settlement

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) recently released its draft plan for the state’s $209 million share of the settlement from Volkswagen’s emissions-cheating scheme. The money is meant to help offset the additional air pollution released by Volkswagen (VW) cars after the German automaker admitted that it had used illegal software to cheat on emissions tests. In Texas, VW sold more than 40,000 vehicles that emitted up to 40 times the federal emissions standard for lung-damaging nitrogen oxides (NOx).

This post provides an initial look at TCEQ’s draft plan. Future posts will explore how effective the proposed projects could be for reducing air pollution and protecting human health. Read More »

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