County Candidate Questionnaire Regarding Environmental and Safety Concerns

2022-02-14T16:20:21-06:00News|

In the interest of educating the public about key air quality, environment, and transportation concerns Air Alliance Houston and partners Bike Houston, Coalition for Environment, Equity, and Resilience (CEER) and LINK Houston have created this 6-question questionnaire to be shared with you, the public.

This questionnaire was sent to all Harris County Judge and Commissioner Candidates with one final call for those whom contact information was available. All 8 answers are shown as received with no editing for length, content, or grammar. If a candidate is not shown, this means they did not respond to the questionnaire.

Candidate answers are organized by position then alphabetically with the incumbent at the top.

Harris County Judge – Lina Hidalgo, Incumbent

Campaign website: linahidalgo.com

1. If you are elected, what will you do to address the impacts of poor environmental quality (air, land, and water quality) on health? What does environmental justice mean to you?

In the past, Harris County focused on roads and bridges, but with a $5 billion budget, I knew we had the potential to build bridges of opportunity for our residents, to tackle the greatest challenges facing our generation and the ones to follow, and to shine a bright light on this previously opaque entity that has so much potential. I’m proud to say we’ve done that. From tackling misdemeanor bail reform and changing the narrative on juvenile justice, to transforming the way we approach flooding, to taking on climate change and improving environmental equality in the energy capital of the world; we’ve made inroads on the biggest issues facing our residents.

When I was first elected at 27 years old, I got a lot of flak about being too young, especially in regards to my role as Director of Emergency Management. I think that in these years since, I’ve shown voters that I’m not only capable of leading our country of 4.7 million people through crisis after crisis, but that my fresh perspective is an asset. Whether it be flood, fire, freeze, or pandemic, I’ve approached every emergency with open and transparent communication and level-setting with residents, providing robust access to information such as air monitoring data, while prioritizing the health and safety of residents.

However, the work is far from over, which is why I’m running for re-election. Despite juggling all these emergencies, I’ve never stopped fighting for a better quality of life for our residents. Some of the environmental justice work that we will continue to build on to address the impacts of poor environmental quality on health include:

  • Creating an Office of Sustainability (OS) to combat the underlying causes and disproportionate impact of climate change on marginalized communities by making community-driven improvements to air, water, and soil quality, committing to the use of clean energy, improving flood resilience with natural infrastructure practices, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and providing every resident access to quality green space.
  • Committed over $11 million to build a state-of-the-art air monitoring network through the Rapid Ambient Air Monitoring Unit (RAAM) – a mobile pollution monitoring unit and the latest addition to Harris County’s environmental tools to monitor, detect, and report threats to air quality in Harris County. The RAAM can detect a wide array of pollutants, monitor weather, and even launch drones to find leaks using thermal imaging. In addition, we increased the size of the pollution control department by over 50%, and added resources for HazMat First Responders. The actions taken thus far represent the most significant enhancement of County environmental protections in at least 30 years.
  • Holding polluters accountable. We’ve hired four dedicated environmental prosecutors to hold large industrial firms accountable in criminal court, and have dedicated pollution control investigators to inspect facilities that are not up to snuff.
  • Launched the successful Concrete Batch Facility Initiative, in which Pollution Control Services inspected every concrete batch facility inside Harris County, ensuring that facilities are following appropriate air and water standards and issuing citations to facilities that were in violation of those standards.
  • Allocated over $1 million to create additional HCPH positions to assist with environmental health and emergency response, including physicians, a chemical response planner, public health hygienist, an environmental toxicologist, and environmental epidemiologists.

2. What do you think are the most effective strategies to decrease transportation-related air pollution in Harris County? What is your position on the North Houston Highway Improvement Project (NHHIP)?

The current approach to transportation in Harris County leads not only to nearly 700 car accidents a day, but is a major contributor to air pollution. Shifting the paradigm to focus on transit is one of the ways I hope to address this. As a county, we are also transitioning to a green fleet and incorporating the reduction and monitoring of air pollution into our operations.

I have consistently advocated for the fact that we need an I-45 project. It just needs to be and can be a project that the community can get behind.

We listened to the input of the community on what they would like to see, and the community has overwhelmingly supported a version of the highway that remains within the current right-of-way as much as possible in Segments 1 and 2 and provides for improved local connectivity and transit access. In order for I-45 to truly help our region, we need a paradigm shift in how we think about building highways, one that reframes the highway in terms of its impact on people, rather than just on the cars it carries

Fundamentally, the vision is for this highway to be the first step in our region moving away from Eisenhower-era transportation policies, to modern, transit-focused design that keeps communities in mind.

3. If elected, what policies and initiatives do you plan to support to advance access to affordable transportation options (public transit, walk, bike, etc.)?

I am proud to have fought for better transit options and paved the way for future development of hike and bike trails, as well as green spaces. I have advocated for reforming the way the County allocates transportation dollars by replacing the outmoded ad hoc precinct-by-precinct system with a comprehensive county-wide approach intended to ensure better regional planning, effectiveness and transparency. We have performed the first-ever countywide mobility needs assessment to ensure that future transportation development is more coordinated and multimodal while serving the needs of all Harris County residents. Further, we secured the rights to construct 10-foot wide hike and bike trails within utility corridors and easements to expand access to trails and green spaces.

In addition, we are currently exploring green alternatives such as pedestrian, bikeway, and green space options for the Hardy Toll Downtown Connector corridor that fully take into consideration the local community and the region’s existing and future transportation network. Moreover, we are conducting planning studies and developing detailed plans for trails along the toll road system and for construction of the historical Emancipation Trail. Further, my advocacy regarding the I-45 redesign project (a.k.a. the North Houston Highway Improvement Project) has focused on — among other issues — dedicated transit lanes as part of the changes.

4. How would you work to protect public health and safety considering our history of (1) industrial disasters; and (2) roadway injuries and fatalities? How will you ensure implementation of a Vision Zero Action Plan for the County?

I’ve ensured we’re setting ourselves up to come back stronger from these crises. After multiple chemical fires – including the ITC Deer Park incident where we set up the County’s first-ever real-time air monitoring website – we’ve made the largest investment in protecting our environment in decades, and we’re now better equipped to respond to incidents than ever before. We shifted from a reactive to a proactive posture in responding to disasters including industrial accidents. That approach led us to create ongoing community air monitoring tools to track real-time data. Early in my term, I ordered an independent review of the county’s emergency response systems in order to identify and fill gaps in our protocols. We’ve also taken steps to ensure residents know the risks of pollution in their communities, for example by informing local communities when a polluter seeks a waiver of state regulators. People deserve to be aware of any potential dangers in their communities.

In August 2020, Commissioners Court passed a resolution in support of Vision Zero to eliminate all roadway injuries and fatalities by 2030. This resolution demonstrates the County’s commitment to Vision Zero and was taken with community input. Updates from the Vision Zero Working Groups are periodically presented at Commissioners Court to ensure its timely implementation. I will continue to advocate for this important initiative, but the most impactful work we can do is to advocate for more transit and safer highways.

5. What is your opinion of climate change and how will you advance actions to address climate concerns, especially for those on the frontlines? Do you support the development of a Harris County Climate Action Plan?

Climate change is real and one of the biggest challenges we face as a community. I’ve shifted from a reactive to a proactive stance in responding to climate change while enhancing disaster preparedness, response, and recovery. We acknowledged the reality of climate change and the County began using the latest science from “Atlas-14,” a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration rain model that ensures decisions we make on flood control measures are based on more accurate estimates of future flooding rather than what has happened in the past. For example, despite the devastation brought by Tropical Storm Imelda, the county saved 1,178 homes because of previous work to buy out homes in flood-prone areas before the storm hit. We will continue to invest in environmental protections for the most vulnerable. Additionally, we are already taking steps to develop a climate action plan for Harris County and are studying nationwide best practices to use in developing our own County Climate Action Plan (CAP).

6. How do you ensure that impacted community members have a voice and influence in County decision-making related to environmental issues? Would you support the appointment of community members to formal positions, including the Port Commission?

From day one, I have focused on opening Harris County government to the public by initiating the County’s first-ever open transition process and prioritizing making government more accessible to every resident. I’m proud to have ensured community voices are included in the decision-making process.Standing with working people on issues like just treatment in the workplace and a living wage, we created the Harris County Essential Workers Board. We have also engaged in co-governance when designing our environmental investment package, and our Community Flood Resilience Task Force, among others. Not only have we brought the community to the table, we have taken their input directly into making policy.

During my first few months in office, I hosted Talking Transition, in which I held 7 town hall meetings across Harris County and conducted a survey that brought together over 200 community organizations — from community-based coalitions, to county agencies, to university research centers — and received over 11,000 responses. This initiative provided a platform to elevate the ideas of thousands of Harris County residents and community advocates to inform our new administration’s policy priorities in its first year, and to build new “civic infrastructure” to carry forward those priorities in collaboration with newly-forming networks of experts, activists, and community leaders throughout the county.

Going forward, it is an absolute priority for my office to continue engaging in co-governance opportunities with district residents and community advocates, and to re-shift priorities as necessary based on the feedback we receive.

I support diversifying the voices of our Boards and Commissions to reflect the composition of the County and to bring in voices of those who have been directly affected by environmental problems and disasters.

Harris County Commissioner Precinct 2 – Adrian Garcia, Incumbent

Campaign website: adriangarcia.com

1. If you are elected, what will you do to address the impacts of poor environmental quality (air, land, and water quality) on health? What does environmental justice mean to you?

I am working with my colleagues to protect the public from potentially deadly leaks from chemical plants by deploying real-time air quality monitors and working with HARC, our area’s leading research hub, to use that data to improve emergency response. We’re working to put the county on a path to 100% renewable energy for our facilities. We’re working with industries along the ship channel to reduce toxic emissions during shutdowns associated with extreme weather events. We are continuing to advocate for more funding for and better enforcement by TCEQ. We need to work with local industry to help these businesses transition to cleaner energy while keeping jobs in the community. Environmental justice is one of my priorities. It means treating all fair all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income and involving them in implementing the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.

2. What do you think are the most effective strategies to decrease transportation-related air pollution in Harris County? What is your position on the North Houston Highway Improvement Project (NHHIP)?

We need to find more ways to encourage people to use public transportation and/or biking. That is the only way to reduce transportation-related air pollution. It is incumbent on us as elected officials to do what we can to improve these modes of transportation and then create incentives and use our bully pulpit to get people to use them. NHHIP has been an incredibly frustrating process. We need to improve I-45 without doubt. But TXDOT has consistently disregarded (and disrespected) the concerns of the community who will be most impacted. I will use my voice to continue to press for changes and to encourage TXDOT to hire locally for the jobs that will be created. I will continue to use the leverage of county government, including our lawsuit, to hold TXDOT’s feet to the fire.

3. If elected, what policies and initiatives do you plan to support to advance access to affordable transportation options (public transit, walk, bike, etc.)?

Harris County Transit Services provides transportation to those who live outside the Metro service area, including a curb-to-curb subsidized service at allows eligible residents and agencies to purchase transportation services at a discount and ADA Paratransit services. I would, however, like to see METRO extend its service area to all of Precinct 2 and have initiated exploratory discussions. Precinct 2 is adding hike and bike trails in many communities.

4. How would you work to protect public health and safety considering our history of (1) industrial disasters; and (2) roadway injuries and fatalities? How will you ensure implementation of a Vision Zero Action Plan for the County?

We work pro-actively with local industry to reduce toxic emissions during shutdowns associated with extreme weather events or other disasters. We are deploying real-time air quality monitors and working with HARC, our area’s leading research hub, to use that data to improve emergency response. We are encouraging local industry to transition to clean energy, which will not only improve our environment but also add new jobs to our community. Precinct 2 has a number of street and traffic projects underway that will improve roadway injuries and fatalities. I will work diligently to support Harris County’s Vision Zero Action Plan, which is working to achieve zero traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. We encourage our residents to fill out the Vision Zero Equity Survey to help us achieve a better program.

5. What is your opinion of climate change and how will you advance actions to address climate concerns, especially for those on the frontlines? Do you support the development of a Harris County Climate Action Plan?

Climate change is, of course, real and we must deal with it sooner rather than later. Harris County is working toward 100% renewable energy for our facilities. We plan to transition all county vehicles to electric vehicles.  We are requiring all new County buildings to incorporate LEED energy efficiency standards and transitioning current buildings to LED lighting. We have increased county personnel so we can inspect businesses that pollute and hold polluters accountable. We are studying best practices in other communities so we can develop our own Climate Action Plan.

6. How do you ensure that impacted community members have a voice and influence in County decision-making related to environmental issues? Would you support the appointment of community members to formal positions, including the Port Commission?

Precinct 2 has active community planning projects in our communities. Local residents are the ones who know what their community needs; their opinion matters to us! We work with stakeholders in Precinct 2’s ten unincorporated areas to create short-term and long-term projects that may include mobility & transportation, housing, land use, economic development, historic and cultural resources, public health/services/safety, and sustainability. Members of the community should be appointed to formal positions and I am working to achieve that.

Harris County Commissioner Precinct 2 – George Risner, Challenger

Campaign website: georgerisner.com

1. If you are elected, what will you do to address the impacts of poor environmental quality (air, land, and water quality) on health? What does environmental justice mean to you?

Precinct 2 is a major industrial area with oil and gas refineries, chemical manufacturing, shipping, and heavy truck traffic.  Its workers and residents have come to expect the unhealthy environments in which they live and work.  

As Commissioner of Precinct 2, I would encourage business and industry to enhance its efforts to reduce the release of toxic pollutants, to properly monitor pollutants, and to improve warning systems for industrial accidents.

 I would demand that state and local agencies timely and properly monitor air, chemical, and water pollutants and report findings to the public.  

Because pollutants have serious health consequences, I would increase the availability of health care in the Precinct.

I would work to increase funding to decrease the impact of environmental pollution for the citizens of Precinct 2, so that they may the advocacy, protection, and care they deserve for their support of our local economy.

2. What do you think are the most effective strategies to decrease transportation-related air pollution in Harris County? What is your position on the North Houston Highway Improvement Project (NHHIP)?

In Harris County, heavy truck and vehicle traffic congestion is the norm.  

• Police response to accidents on freeways and local roads should include warning and rerouting of traffic well before the incident site to avoid closures and slowdowns;

• traffic engineers could time traffic lights to keep traffic moving on main roadways; 

• school districts could prohibit idling of cars in pickup lines well before release time;

• local governments could expand accessible high speed transportation to airports, medical center, and universities; and

• vehicles with excessive emissions could be taken off of the roads;

As long as I have been a resident of Precinct 2, some portion of Interstate 45 has been under construction.  Reducing idling time on freeways is an important goal.  However, there are concerns about the displacement of over 1,000 homes, as well as air quality and flooding that would impact communities and schools under the proposed design. 

3. If elected, what policies and initiatives do you plan to support to advance access to affordable transportation options (public transit, walk, bike, etc.)?

I support the County’s programs for non-emergency transportation services and transit services in East Harris County provided by Precinct 2 and METRO

I would encourage redesigning major bus routes to be joined by feeder routes connecting neighborhoods and local business areas.  I would encourage employers to reimburse public transportation costs.  I would build and maintain sidewalks for accessibility and safety.

Bicycling can impact the environment and provide health benefits.  Some neighborhoods in Precinct 2 are suitable for bike lanes to access local workplaces, businesses, and services.  It is difficult to safely design bike access in areas with no zoning, where industry impacts air quality, and where roadways are narrow.  Traffic congestion and driver road rage must also be a factor which impacts the safety of any bike lanes.

Precinct 2 offers an extensive park system suitable for biking and providing a healthy and scenic experience.

4. How would you work to protect public health and safety considering our history of (1) industrial disasters; and (2) roadway injuries and fatalities? How will you ensure implementation of a Vision Zero Action Plan for the County?

The County’s Vision Zero Action Plan is included in the 2040 Transportation Plan, and with Houston, is working to see that all of Harris County eliminates traffic fatalities and traffic related serious injuries.  As Precinct 2 Commissioner I will participate in the Vision Zero Steering Committee and work to assure a continued political commitment and cooperation with the City and stakeholders to accomplish this safety goal.

The Precinct 2 Commissioner can engage local refiners, manufacturers, chemical companies, shippers, and trucking companies in reviewing their policies to enhance safety practices to prevent industrial disasters.  Immediate responses to a disaster, including warning systems and communications to the community are imperative, as well as remediation efforts to reduce the impact on the environment.  I would strengthen agency oversight to assure the use of latest technological advancements and equipment to reduce a disaster’s negative impact on infrastructure, air quality, land, water, and health.

5. What is your opinion of climate change and how will you advance actions to address climate concerns, especially for those on the frontlines? Do you support the development of a Harris County Climate Action Plan?

Climate change and global warming have produced dangerous weather conditions and droughts and extreme temperatures caused by carbon dioxide and methane.  We experience wildfires, crop destruction, melting ice, rising water levels, and species extinction.

Houston has a climate change action plan that suggests actions related to transportation, energy transition, energy efficient buildings, and waste management.  As Precinct 2 Commissioner, I would urge the County to develop a similar plan, and to participate with the City to assure a reduction in emissions County-wide.  Moving to electric vehicles, expanding public transportation, using renewable energy, increasing recycling, reducing landfill waste, and planting more trees are goals everyone can achieve.  Development and implementation of new technologies, like carbon capture, should be encouraged.  I would require that refineries, shipping, and transportation industries in Precinct 2 be in full compliance with environmental, hazardous material, equipment, and safety regulations to protect the environment and the community.

6. How do you ensure that impacted community members have a voice and influence in County decision-making related to environmental issues? Would you support the appointment of community members to formal positions, including the Port Commission?

As Precinct 2 Commissioner, I would enhance the Commissioner’s website for real-time information about Precinct issues, including the environment.  I would establish a Public Service Unit like the City’s 311, with employees trained to encourage comments, answer questions, and direct citizens to appropriate departments for assistance.  I would also have an outreach liaison to interact with communities, business, and labor to impart information and assure a rapid response to issues.  I would also enjoy personal contact with Precinct 2 residents to meet and hear their needs. 

The Port Commission is the governing body of the Port of Houston Authority, a navigation district.  As such it is governed by a myriad of general and special laws.  The Port Commission once had a Citizens Advisory Council and I would encourage that such a Council be re-established as a permanent voice, and that community input be recognized and considered by the Commissioners.

Harris County Commissioner Precinct 4 – Lesley Briones, Challenger

Campaign website: lesleybriones.com

1. If you are elected, what will you do to address the impacts of poor environmental quality (air, land, and water quality) on health? What does environmental justice mean to you?

We need to make the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) do its job of monitoring our environment and preventing daily pollution and extreme events such as explosions and fires. 

The Harris County Attorney has stepped up to hold businesses accountable for pollution, but the Texas Attorney General continues to keep Harris County out of court. Thus, any fines levied against offenders go to the state, not the area where the pollution occurred and where people are affected. This must change. We also need to ensure the County’s Health Department has the resources it needs to monitor air, land and water quality. 

Environmental justice means that all people, regardless of race, socio-economic class, etc. receive fair and equitable protection from environmental and health hazards. Environmental justice seeks to rectify the injustice that it is often our underserved neighborhoods and communities of color disproportionately bearing the hazards.

2. What do you think are the most effective strategies to decrease transportation-related air pollution in Harris County? What is your position on the North Houston Highway Improvement Project (NHHIP)?

The best way to reduce transportation-related air pollution is to get people out of their cars. That means more and better public transit, sidewalks, and bikeways—solutions that should be prioritized in our County budget. 

The pros of the I-45 expansion are that it will help improve one of Houston’s worst congested and most dangerous stretches of highway. It will improve mobility and safety, reduce congestion, and help address transportation demands of the future. The cons are that hundreds of homes and businesses—disproportionately in underserved communities of color—will be displaced. It will increase pollution and destroy greenspace and heritage.  It will solve a highway problem with more highways rather than investing in green, alternative solutions. My position is that the project needs to be done—yet it must be done right—in a way that prioritizes safety, green solutions, and social and environmental justice, while effectively addressing congestion.

3. If elected, what policies and initiatives do you plan to support to advance access to affordable transportation options (public transit, walk, bike, etc.)?

I support more funding for sidewalks and bikeways. I support a multi-modal transit system that will help get people out of their cars, ease traffic congestion, and improve air quality. My district encompasses both densely populated urban areas and less densely populated suburban areas. Each has its own needs. For example, improving bus service and Bus Rapid Transit make sense in the more urban areas. Commuter rail and park & ride services are needed in the more suburban areas. I am committed to listening to needs of my constituents and enhancing access to affordable transportation options in Precinct 4.

4. How would you work to protect public health and safety considering our history of (1) industrial disasters; and (2) roadway injuries and fatalities? How will you ensure implementation of a Vision Zero Action Plan for the County?

When we have an industrial disaster, we need real-time air quality monitoring. I applaud Commissioner Garcia for deploying real-time air quality monitors to Precinct 2 and for working with HARC, our area’s leading research hub, to use that data to improve emergency response. Harris County needs more monitoring equipment, and needs to know what chemicals are at a site so firefighters are better prepared and protected. We should encourage our local industries to communicate this information to first responders before an incident occurs. 

We need to encourage people to walk, bike, or use public transit to help reduce roadway injuries and fatalities. We also need to educate our residents about how to drive with bikers on the roadway; too many are hurt or killed. More bikeways should help with this danger, an effort I will advocate for. I will actively support implementation of a Harris County Vision Zero Action Plan.

5. What is your opinion of climate change and how will you advance actions to address climate concerns, especially for those on the frontlines? Do you support the development of a Harris County Climate Action Plan?

Climate change is the biggest issue facing our planet.  In Harris County, we have seen repeatedly that we cannot rely on the TCEQ to protect our air and water, our environment generally, and the health of our people. I support expanding our capacity for real-time monitoring and communication of pollution releases during natural extreme weather events and industrial breakdowns. Industry must also improve controlling shutdowns and startups of refineries and petrochemical plants to reduce the release of toxic chemicals. 

We must keep our community safe, and ensure that the law is followed. I support the Harris County Attorney’s efforts to hold businesses responsible for the damage they create. 

We also should encourage green solutions to flooding—such as dual-use parks/small neighborhood detention basins. I support the development of a Harris County Climate Action Plan. The City of Houston has proven that we can implement a plan to address climate change.

6. How do you ensure that impacted community members have a voice and influence in County decision-making related to environmental issues? Would you support the appointment of community members to formal positions, including the Port Commission?

I am a team player who listens. I will actively and authentically listen to the constituents of Precinct 4 with an open mind—a skill I have honed during my service as a civil court judge. No one knows a neighborhood’s issues better than the people who live there. As their representative on Commissioners Court, I will seek their advice and ideas on issues that affect their communities and be a true partner. I will regularly hold town hall meetings, and my team and I will have an open-door policy. I will be accessible and accountable to the community.  I will also be diligent in assuring that the community has representation with appointments Commissioners Court makes.

Harris County Commissioner Precinct 4 – Gina Calanni, Challenger

Campaign website: ginacalanni.com

1. If you are elected, what will you do to address the impacts of poor environmental quality (air, land, and water quality) on health? What does environmental justice mean to you?

Absolutely. I will advocate for more funding for TCEQ form our Legislature and ensure that we are creating clear lines for regulation and systems to enforce them.

2. What do you think are the most effective strategies to decrease transportation-related air pollution in Harris County? What is your position on the North Houston Highway Improvement Project (NHHIP)?

We need better public transportation, bike routes, it is essential that we connect that trails from Mason Park to George Bush and ensure that all parks have easy access without any dangerous crossing and no need for a vehicle to get to the park an enjoy it.

3. If elected, what policies and initiatives do you plan to support to advance access to affordable transportation options (public transit, walk, bike, etc.)?

I will connect all the bike/hike trails in Precinct Four but also ensure that access to our parks is easy and ensure that we can all enjoy our parks without any fear of traffic or other dangers.

4. How would you work to protect public health and safety considering our history of (1) industrial disasters; and (2) roadway injuries and fatalities? How will you ensure implementation of a Vision Zero Action Plan for the County?

I love the Vision Zero Action Plan concept and will create a task force on day one to establish goals that align with this concept.

5. What is your opinion of climate change and how will you advance actions to address climate concerns, especially for those on the frontlines? Do you support the development of a Harris County Climate Action Plan?

Yes, I support the Harris County Climate Action Plan and will work on creating a task  force to address climate change and how e can personally address it neighborhood by neighborhood.

6. How do you ensure that impacted community members have a voice and influence in County decision-making related to environmental issues? Would you support the appointment of community members to formal positions, including the Port Commission?

I will create multiple townhall forums throughout the Precinct on a monthly basis to ensure that I am listening to and addressing eh needs of the community.

Harris County Commissioner Precinct 4 – Ben Chou, Challenger

Campaign website: benchoutx.com

1. If you are elected, what will you do to address the impacts of poor environmental quality (air, land, and water quality) on health? What does environmental justice mean to you?

I will start by building out the newly created Office of Sustainability and requiring all departments to set annual targets to reduce carbon emissions, promote water efficiency, increase renewable energy usage, minimize waste generation, and more. Each department will be held accountable for whether they achieved such goals. As we tackle climate change, we must also hold our biggest polluters accountable by shifting incentives so that it is no longer cheaper to pollute and be hit with a fine than to do the right thing.

Environmental justice means adopting policies with a lens of equity or “worst first” where those who have been negatively impacted the most are at the top of the list. We must continue to empower our County Attorney to pursue environmental litigation against repeat polluters.

2. What do you think are the most effective strategies to decrease transportation-related air pollution in Harris County? What is your position on the North Houston Highway Improvement Project (NHHIP)?

I believe the best place for Harris County to begin decreasing transportation-related air pollution is with the Harris County vehicle fleet. By moving the county fleet to Hybrid/Electric vehicles we can begin our step toward being carbon neutral by 2040. The North Houston Highway Improvement Project is a once-in-a-generation project however in its current state it does not do enough to address flooding, air pollution and mobility for residents. It also displaced people of color, churches and schools. We need more options that improve air quality and long-term mobility beyond expanding highways.

3. If elected, what policies and initiatives do you plan to support to advance access to affordable transportation options (public transit, walk, bike, etc.)?

We need to build on Bayou Greenways 2020 so that all of our Bayous in Harris County are connected beyond those within the City of Houston’s limits. My vision is to partner with the Parks Board and have a large, nationally-acclaimed interconnected network of bike paths and parks across the County so that a person can bike from southeast Harris County to the far northwest corner without fear of a vehicle or pedestrian accident.

I support extending the METRO light rail red line to Missouri City along 90A, extending the Bus Rapid Transit line from the proposed University line west along Westpark Tollway, and extending the Bus Rapid Transit line from the proposed Inner Katy line west along I-10 to Katy. We need more transit and less expansion of highways.

4. How would you work to protect public health and safety considering our history of (1) industrial disasters; and (2) roadway injuries and fatalities? How will you ensure implementation of a Vision Zero Action Plan for the County?

We need to be more prepared. There should be a publicly available playbook for each type of foreseeable disaster (hurricane, flood, oil tanker fire, etc.) so that everyone from the public to the media knows what the government is doing and how to access the resources that are available. Vision Zero Houston is a monumental plan. Harris County has a responsibility to ensure that our roads and streets are safe for everyone. To begin, we must ensure that our more vulnerable communities, those who are disproportionately affected by traffic deaths and serious injury, are being invested in. This would include building dedicated bike lanes, keeping them maintained, repairing our broken or disappearing sidewalks, and focusing on more than  just infrastructure built specifically for motor vehicles.

5. What is your opinion of climate change and how will you advance actions to address climate concerns, especially for those on the frontlines? Do you support the development of a Harris County Climate Action Plan?

Harris County needs to do more to fight climate change. I will champion the creation of a climate justice plan that will lead Harris County to become carbon neutral by 2040. Low income and communities of color are hit hardest by the effects of climate change, so a climate justice plan must prioritize the well-being of the most vulnerable populations by using tools such as the Social Vulnerability Index.

6. How do you ensure that impacted community members have a voice and influence in County decision-making related to environmental issues? Would you support the appointment of community members to formal positions, including the Port Commission?

I support community-led boards such as the Community Flood Resilience Task Force. As Commissioner, I commit to meeting regularly with environmental protection and mobility organizations. I absolutely support appointing community members to formal positions such as the Port Commission. For too long, those positions have been reserved for the biggest campaign donors. As the only candidate who has publicly rejected county vendor dollars, I am the best candidate to nominate regular folks who don’t have thousands of dollars to formal board positions.

Harris County Commissioner Precinct 4 – Clarence Miller, Challenger

Campaign website: millerforcommissioner.com

1. If you are elected, what will you do to address the impacts of poor environmental quality (air, land, and water quality) on health? What does environmental justice mean to you?

As Commissioner my primary goal will be to protect the communities right to clean air, land and water. First, I will be guided by the Clean Air Act. I will collaborate with the EPA,

 state, communities and businesses to develop and implement strategies to reduce air pollution from a variety of sources that contribute to the ground-level ozone or smog problem, automobiles, trucks, buses, factories, power plants, consumer products and paint when used emit volatile organic compounds (VOC) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), which react in the atmosphere on hot summer days to create smog, can reduce lung capacity, cause acute respiratory problems, and aggravate asthma. Second, I will work to educate the public on things to do to reduce pollution example: conserve energy at home, work, everywhere, buy energy star label home and office equipment, Carpool, use public transportation, bike or walk whenever possible, follow gasoline refueling instructions for efficient vapor recovery, consider purchasing portable gasoline containers labeled ‘spill proof, keep car, boat and other engines properly tuned, inflate tires and to consider using gas logs instead of wood. Finally, as commissioner I will work to enforce all environmental laws to protect and assist people of all races, color, national origin or income so all are treated fair, because this is environmental justice.

2. What do you think are the most effective strategies to decrease transportation-related air pollution in Harris County? What is your position on the North Houston Highway Improvement Project (NHHIP)?

There are five things we can do 1. develop cleaner travel options through measures such as expanding public transportation systems, improving public transportation service, and developing or improving bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure.2. reduce the distance between key destinations required to satisfy daily needs, through more efficient land use planning and zoning, making it more attractive and convenient to walk or bicycle instead of using motor vehicles for transportation.3. create or support clean fueling infrastructure, such as electric charging and hydrogen fueling stations. 4.manage the transportation system to increase vehicle and system operation efficiency through measures such as anti- idling policies, improved incident response, real -time travel information for public transportation, and congestion management.5. buy green fleet vehicles and equipment, including equipment with increased fuel efficiency, hybrid electric vehicles, and equipment that runs on clean fuels.

The 1-45 expansion would widen 1-45 to accommodate high occupancy vehicle lanes and will expand the frontage road to reduce flooding. The cost today would be about 7 billion however just waiting two years the cost will increase to about 9 billion. With the expansion we can accommodate more high occupancy vehicle lanes and if planed correctly we could have bike lanes. It will help reduce the air pollution by decreasing the number of small vehicles on the road by using more public transportation.

3. If elected, what policies and initiatives do you plan to support to advance access to affordable transportation options (public transit, walk, bike, etc.)?

As Commissioner I would increase the funding for public transportation, but also help change how we fund it. To create a truly equitable system, funding for public transportation cannot rely on taxes disproportionately borne by low-income people. Nearly all public transportation systems are funded at least in part through sales taxes, which are regressive because they take a larger share of income from low- income taxpayers than from high- income taxpayers. More progressive taxes, such as income taxes, may be better sources of funding. I would support a regional transportation authority, which would shift power from the state to the region. This would give metropolitan areas more autonomy in decision-making and fundraising for residents, which would likely result in more equitable outcomes. Most in important I would engage community leaders and residents from the start to create a more equitable, and better policy outcomes.

4. How would you work to protect public health and safety considering our history of (1) industrial disasters; and (2) roadway injuries and fatalities? How will you ensure implementation of a Vision Zero Action Plan for the County?

I will work to improve policies for advancing public health and safety in Harris County to help eliminate industrial disasters.  While making protective equipment widely available, establishing and enforcing workplace standards that would keep both workers and the broader public healthier, giving workers a voice in determining appropriate standards and ensuring that they have recourse when standards are not met. This approach would focus on empowering and appropriately compensating workers, creating and economic recovery that supports better – paying jobs as opposed to taking a low – road approach out of a crisis.

To protect the public from industrial disasters and roadway injuries/fatalities the Vision Zero Action Plan nine components will be followed which are: political commitment, mult- disciplinary leadership, action plan, equity, cooperation and collaboration, systems – based approach, data- driven, community engagement and transparency.

5. What is your opinion of climate change and how will you advance actions to address climate concerns, especially for those on the frontlines? Do you support the development of a Harris County Climate Action Plan?

I believe that climate change is real, and I do support the development of a Harris County Climate Action Plan by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preventive measures to address the negative outcomes of climate change. We will help to adapt and improve our resilience to climate hazards that impact the county today as well as risks that may increase in the coming years for those on the frontlines. We will follow science-based criteria that will cap the temperature increase associated with climate change to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Scientists believe that preventing global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius will avert the worst consequences of climate change. This plan will create ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and establish a pathway to meet the Paris Agreement goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050 and protecting those on the frontlines for years to come.

6. How do you ensure that impacted community members have a voice and influence in County decision-making related to environmental issues? Would you support the appointment of community members to formal positions, including the Port Commission?

The power of the commissioner and the capacity to bring about change is given to him by the community. Power in a community is the ability to affect the decision-making process and the use of resources, both public and private, within a community. Therefore, the community should always have a voice and influence in county decision, because the commissioner work for the people. I would support the appointment of a community members to a formal position including the Port Commission.

Harris County Commissioner Precinct 4 – Jeffrey Stauber, Challenger

Campaign website: none found

1. If you are elected, what will you do to address the impacts of poor environmental quality (air, land, and water quality) on health? What does environmental justice mean to you?

One of the issues on my platform happens to be the environment. Why is it when you travel to Austin Texas you do not see trash and debris on the roads and ditches. When you drive around Houston and more especially Pct#4 of which I am seeking the office for you see trash and debris everywhere. It is embarrassing to me as a Pct#4 resident, but angers me that nothing is being done to correct the problem. If elected I will have an environmental team that will be in charge of all aspects of the environment in Pct#4 to include air quality.

2. What do you think are the most effective strategies to decrease transportation-related air pollution in Harris County? What is your position on the North Houston Highway Improvement Project (NHHIP)?

I am an advocate for the use of electric powered county vehicles. As the Harris County Sheriff’s Office Commander over our transportation division I am currently exploring electric vehicles and also possible grants available for going green type projects. Also I think more environmental impact studies need to be done on the NHHIP project and all pro’s and con’s should be weighed.

3. If elected, what policies and initiatives do you plan to support to advance access to affordable transportation options (public transit, walk, bike, etc.)?

There should be safe walking and bike trails for all in the county. I live in Kingwood and the walking and bike trails are heavily used by the residence to include myself. This should not be fragmented throughout the county it should be the standard. As Commissioner I will be studying the access to these amenities in all neighborhoods especially the under served neighborhoods. As I identify neighborhoods that are not being equally served in the same capacity as more affluent neighborhoods I will take action to provide the same access to these under served neighborhoods.

4. How would you work to protect public health and safety considering our history of (1) industrial disasters; and (2) roadway injuries and fatalities? How will you ensure implementation of a Vision Zero Action Plan for the County?

As a Harris County Sheriff’s law enforcement Commander for the past 35 years I have been doing my part for public safety. However, in Pct#4 it happens to be the highest crime and fatality part of the county. As commissioner I will be advocating and demanding more investigators and law enforcement to Pct#4. There is no room to barter on this important aspect of public safety and health.

5. What is your opinion of climate change and how will you advance actions to address climate concerns, especially for those on the frontlines? Do you support the development of a Harris County Climate Action Plan?

Climate change is real and people need to get their head out of the sand. I believe we must strengthen our regional flood plan. I would support a Harris County Climate Action Plan. Anything we can do to plan for the future is just sound decision making.

6. How do you ensure that impacted community members have a voice and influence in County decision-making related to environmental issues? Would you support the appointment of community members to formal positions, including the Port Commission?

I support inclusion not exclusion in county government. People that are affected by decisions made by Commissioners should always have a voice. What happens way to often when people run for these elected offices they forget that they are only there because of the will of the people. I guess because I have been a public servant for 35 plus years I have never lost focus on whom I am there to serve. I believe it is imperative to have community members that have a voice and actually be heard.

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