Moving Forward Network meets in Houston

This week the Moving Forward Network (MFN) met in Houston for its annual convening. The Moving Forward Network is a nationwide network of 50+ organizations with the shared mission “To transform the global trade system by supporting the organizing, advocacy, education and research efforts of partners around the United States toward improving public health, quality of life, environmental integrity, labor conditions and environmental justice.”

Air Alliance Houston is a founding member of the MFN. This was the first year that the annual convening was not held in the same city as the larger Smart Growth Conference. So this was the first year that the Network itself was able to decide in which city to hold its convening. Houston was chosen because it is at the center of so many of our issues: goods movement, ports, and environmental justice.

Earlier this year, the Healthy Port Communities Coalition joined up with some of our partners in the Moving Forward Network to host a trip to the Long Beach Container Terminal. The Long Beach Container Terminal is the world’s first all-electric, all-automated container terminal. It has been called the greenest terminal in the world.

Generally, in Texas, we do not spend too much time looking to California for guidance. From the perspective of public health and environmental protections, California is many years ahead of Texas. But the philosophies of the states are so different that it is difficult–if not impossible–to convince most Texas power brokers that what works in California will work in Texas as well.

Nevertheless, we think it is important to introduce people in Texas and Houston to the work that is being done on the west coast. During this year’s MFN convening, we were able to introduce communities members and decision makers from Houston to our allies from Los Angeles.

Jesse Marquez is the founder of Communities for a Safe Environment. From his home in Wilmington, CA, an environmental justice community on the Port of Los Angeles, Jesse has made amazing strides in the fight for clean, healthy ports and port communities. Jesse and his allies have filed several successful against projects at the ports of L.A. and Long Beach. One of these lawsuits resulted in the creation of the Harbor Community Benefit Foundation, which collects a per-container fee to fund community improvement projects.

Jesse was also the first proponent of the AMECS system, IMG_2658which he describes as a “vacuum cleaner the size of a house” that is placed on top of the emissions stack of marine vessels of locomotives. Originally just a wild idea, Jesse saw the promise in the AMECS system and helped to make it a reality.

There is nothing inherently different about fighting for environmental justice in one port community versus another. The strategies employed in California aren’t unique. They are simply further along in the struggle than we are. The Moving Forward Network has what it calls The Zero Campaign, which is a vision for a future in which there are no air pollution emissions from the goods movement industry. We believe the day will come when all ports have banned diesel trucks, required marine vessels to use cleaner shore power, and converted all of their equipment to electricity that is fed by clean, renewable energy sources.

By drawing inspiration and energy from our friends in California and in the Moving Forward Network throughout the country, we believe we will achieve this vision sooner in Texas.

Concrete Batch Plant Legislation filed by Rep. Walle

Concrete Batch Plants are increasingly becoming a problem in Houston. We’ve started tracking public comment opportunities for concrete batch plant permits in the Houston region. We’ve also worked with local elected officials who have helped their communities participate in permit challenges and other comment and hearing opportunities.

It seems like nobody wants concrete batch plants in their neighborhoods. Mayor Sylvester Turner has submitted written comments opposing permits for several concrete batch plants in Houston neighborhoods. In the last few months, we’ve also heard comments opposing permits from from Rep. Dr. Alma Allen, Rep. Harold Dutton, Sen. Borris Miles, Rep. Senfronia Thompson, Rep. Armando Walle, and others.

capitol-picIn Austin, several bills have been filed to address this industry, permitting, and public participation. Rep. Armando Walle has filed two bills, HB 2086 and HB 2088, relating to permits for concrete batch plants. Rep. Walle has been heavily involved in a challenge to the permit for Integrity Ready Mix in East Aldine. That challenge now includes a civil suit filed by affected neighbors.

One complaint of neighbors of Integrity Ready Mix is that the company often operates in the middle of the night. HB 2088 would restrict the hours of operation of concrete batch plants in Houston to daylight. This is a commonsense restriction in a city with no zoning.

HB 2086 would require permit applications for concrete batch plants to include a more detailed plot plan. The plot plan is a map of the proposed facility showing the location of equipment, pollution emission points, and property lines. Often in Houston, we see permits with very vague plot plans that make it difficult or impossible to determine whether setback requirements are met. A more detailed plot plan would help to ensure that facilities are built in accordance with their permits, and the law.

These bills are a great move for pubic health and we thank Rep. Walle for filing them. If you agree that we need to regulate the concrete batch plant industry in Houston, please call your representatives and tell them you support these bills.

Trump Proposal Slashes Environmental Protection Agency Budget

The Trump Administration has released a budget outline that guts funding for the Environmental Protection Agency. The proposal would cut almost $2 billion from an $8.1 billion budget and fire 3,000 of 15,000 EPA staff. The news confirms the fears of public health advocates across the nation that President Donald Trump would actively undermine decades of work to keep our air, water, land, and people safe and healthy.

Founded in 1970 by Executive Order of President Richard Nixon, the Environmental Protection Agency has saved countless lives and billions of dollars through such important statutes as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act.

“These laws are not controversial,” said Adrian Shelley, Executive Director of Air Alliance Houston, “We’re talking about the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land we live on. If they’re not healthy, we cannot be healthy.”

President Trump’s move follows the conservative mantra that “regulations” hurt businesses and cost taxpayers money. In most cases, the opposite is true. Although many environmental statutes do have large cost investments, the benefits vastly outweigh those costs. Estimates suggest that while the cost of implementing the Clean Air Act in 2020 will reach $65 billion, the benefits received will be nearly $2 trillion. (See here.)

Closer to home, we know that a single day with high ozone in Houston causes increased ambulance trips to the emergency room for asthma attacks. A single ambulance ride can cost $3,000. Because many Houstonians who live with uncontrolled asthma also lack medical insurance, that cost will be borne by Houston’s taxpayers.

Shelley was disappointed by what he saw in Trump’s outline. “This budget shows no understanding of the need to invest in environmental protection today to save countless lives and public health costs tomorrow. Unfortunately, our President is unable to evaluate long-term strategies and make decisions to ensure a healthy, prosperous future.

“Cutting the budget for clean air and clean water makes about as much sense as promising to bring jobs back to the dying coal industry. This president cannot see the writing on the wall, and we are all going to pay for it.”

Sustainability at H&M

I was shocked when I recently read the fashion industry is using more resources than the planet allows. As much as 95% of clothes thrown away could be re-worn or recycled.

By recycling your clothes you help reduce the amount of natural resources needed to produce new garments. H&M is committed to changing the way they make, use, and dispose of clothes. Far too much fashion ends up in landfills as every year thousands of tons of textiles are thrown away with household waste.

Knowing these facts would make anyone look at fashion and clothing in a new light. We know that no true fashion lover ever likes seeing clothes go to waste. We are happy to share H&M is making it as easy as possible for customers to give their garments a new life and helping closing the loop on fashion. Any clothes or home textiles that are no longer wanted or needed, can be dropped off at any local H&M store – and given a new purpose. You also get 15% discount towards your next purchase!

 

Click here for a previous piece on going green in the fashion industry by Air Alliance Houston intern Yahdashalom Jim-Daniels.