People over profits and polluters

Crystal Ngo

Crystal Ngo

Environmental Justice Outreach Coordinator

On March 23, 2023 I spoke at the hearing of House Bill 1505 relating to the continuation and functions of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). This bill will be a ‘charter’ for the TCEQ for the next 12 years.

During the bus ride to Austin, I was still contemplating whether or not to testify at all. 

In Houston there is a pattern of facilities being built near low income, black, brown, and indigenous people of color – marginalized communities.

Moving as one through the Capitol building, our 19 community members signed their names to testify, for their own struggles with environmental pollution and injustice that had been handed to them, and for those who were not able to attend.

Seeing them, I decided to add my name to that list.

All of our agendas were the same; HB 1505 could go further to create a TCEQ that works for the people, to name a few, by:

  • Including an office of environmental justice
  • Removing “economic development” from the agency’s mission statement, which has led the agency to protect industry interests over public health
    • The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality strives to protect our state’s public health and natural resources consistent with sustainable economic development. Our goal is clean air, clean water, and the safe management of waste.
  • Allowing commissioners to deny a permit based on considerations of equity and justice

Where are we in the Sunset Review Process of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality?

Step 1: The Staff of the Sunset Advisory Commission researches and analyzes the necessity and performance of and possible improvements to the agency being reviewed.

  • The Agency puts forward a self-evaluation report
  • Interested parties may send comments and/or input
  • Sunset Commission staff evaluates, and identifies problems then develops recommendations to be put in a staff report

Step 2: The Commission conducts a public hearing to take testimony on the staff report and the agency overall.

  • Staff presents their report and recommendations to the Commission
  • The agency – TCEQ – responds
  • The Commission hears public testimony and receives written comments
  • The Commission meets again to consider and vote on the recommendations received

▶️ Step 3: The Texas Legislature considers Sunset’s recommendations and makes final decisions in the form of a bill

The Sunset bill of the agency – TCEQ – is drafted and filed (House Bill 1505 and Senate Bill 1397). These will go through a normal legislative process to be passed by the House, Senate and Governor.

We asked the legislators on the Committee to look into their hearts to remember the children, the future generations. There should not be people who suffer exacerbated health issues such as asthma, cancer, and heart disease.

Hearing community members earnestly share their stories, I clenched my jaw to hold back tears from listening to their stories of what once was a happy adventure in nature to a glooming fear of access to clean water, air, and soil. They used to be able to swim in the bayou, drink clean water. Now they share the list of people they know that have chronic diseases due to these unregulated industry polluters. They ask that people come to the communities to understand the severity of what their communities face daily. To have regulators be in their shoes for a day; maybe then they would not be so reluctant to regulate when their own family and their own health is affected. 

This should not be the reality for these BIPOC, low-income communities that are already facing economic and social barriers. This is why incorporating environmental justice and equity into the equation is necessary, to ensure public health. There needs to be advocates for these marginalized communities.

That day we reminded the legislature that there is no economic value on life; We reminded agencies that we are watching, we have movement, we have community, and we will hold you accountable.

Unsure of the changes that will be made, unsure if people truly listened and could resonate with looking into their humanity to fight for these communities. I left the Capitol that day exhilarated that I was, myself, surrounded by community activists, that I hold such reverence for, that seek a better future for generations to come.

There was camaraderie in knowing that we will not stop the good fight.

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