Houstonians boarded buses at 4 a.m. to plead with lawmakers for cleaner air in Black neighborhoods
"Environmental racism — I'm not sure what to do with that term," said an official with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
A group of Houston residents awoke at 4 a.m. and boarded buses to travel more than 160 miles to discuss environmental racism — and the issue seemed to confuse an official with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
“Environmental racism,” Jon Niermann said at a hearing at the state Capitol in Austin. “I’m not sure what to do with that term,” the Houston Chronicle reported.
Niermann, the commission’s chairperson, made the remark during a hearing called a Sunset Review. The review happens once every 12 years by the Texas State Advisory Commission. The commission makes recommendations to lawmakers on whether an agency should be improved or disbanded.
Black and Latino residents, in some cases, stayed up all night for a chance to have two minutes to tell the advisory commission about the environmental problems they face in their communities. The Chronicle reported citizens came armed with tales of breathing bad air from vehicles, living with toxic hazards, and alongside chemicals dumped in their neighborhood.
“We will not continue to be silent,” said Carl Davis of Houston, according to the Chronicle. “We want livable communities. We want healthy communities. We want environmental justice.”
The environmental justice issues in Texas mirror what’s happening across the country. TheGrio, in an environmental justice story published in April, noted that Black people, far more than their white counterparts, live not only in poorer and noisier conditions but with higher levels of pollution, leading to a host of maladies and death.
Pollutants, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, lead to health problems that include heart and lung disease. Researchers believe there’s a link between air pollution and Type 2 diabetes — a disease that half of Black people reportedly stand a chance of developing.
State Sen. Borris Miles, during the hearing, detailed the problems poor communities face. He said toxic creosote at a Union Pacific rail yard posed health problems for Black and Latino residents living nearby. He said some have cancer.
Houston residents want clean air to help stem these health issues, which is why they attended the meeting of the advisory commission, made up of 10 lawmakers and two citizens.
“Economic development should never be put before the protection of our state’s public health,” the Chronicle quoted Miles as saying.
The advisory commission, in a 101-page report, has already noted a lack of public trust in the environmental quality agency. The Chronicle reported that the commission could vote on its recommendation his fall.
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