Decades in the petroleum industry taught Tom Gentry the value of certain regulations.
The retired refinery worker and union leader from Pasadena witnessed several energy companies cut corners to save money, at times endangering the environment and their employees with hazardous chemicals and pollutants. Some, he said, seemed to prioritize profits over safety.
“They need environmental oversight,” he said. “In my experience, regulations are put in place to try and cure something bad that has happened.”
Gentry joined hundreds of marchers Saturday on Houston’s East End to demand a greater focus on the environment under a presidential administration that has proposed slashing funding for the Environmental Protection Agency and rolling back recent climate initiatives. On President Donald Trump’s 100th day in office, the protesters called for measures to slow the pace of climate change, regulations on heavy industries and further investments in alternative forms of energy and transportation.
They gathered near the community center in Clinton Park, a community tucked in a wooded enclave just miles from Houston’s port and the row of refineries it supports. Stephanie Thomas, one of the organizers, noted that the residential areas along the ship channel have for years faced air quality issues and other environmental problems exacerbated by the production of fossil fuels.
“You can’t think that they’re not exposed to that, especially since the winds tend to blow from the southeast,” she said.
The event echoed some of the themes heard at the March for Science, a global demonstration that rallied thousands of people in Houston and other cities on Earth Day earlier this month. During that event, marchers called for fact-based approaches to environmental protection and targeted members of the Trump administration who have questioned climate change science.
“Climate change is very much real,” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, addressing the Clinton Park crowd. “You would think in April 2017 that would be an established issue.”
Mary and Keith Thompson, a retired couple who recently moved to the Heights, joined the crowd to protest the Trump administration’s policies and proposals. It was their third consecutive Saturday at a demonstration.
“We never did this kind of stuff before the election,” said Keith, a former Exxon Mobil employee who values the EPA’s role in industry regulations.
Mary, who also worked at Exxon, woke up feeling ill and considered skipping the rally until she turned on the TV. She found motivation in a newscast that reviewed Trump’s first 100 days, marked by promises to undo a range of environmental regulations, repeal clean power initiatives and open more areas to drilling and mining.
“I’m very pro-regulation,” she said. “I think big corporations really focus on profit.”
Carrie Cook, in town from Austin, protested alongside her young niece. News of the administration’s policies and proposals, which she follows with an obsessive fervor, has upset her each day since the inauguration, she said.
“It’s the first thing I look at in the morning and the last thing I look at before bed,” she said. “I need to stop, for my own mental health.”
Gentry, who started his career in 1964, has seen a substantial change in the oil industry. Environmental and worker protection measures have cut down on accidents, he said, but more can be done.
“I like people getting out, it shows they’re engaged,” he said. “I hope they maintain it all the way through the next election.”