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Hello Texas A&M and the World!

Welcome to EJ-Texas, the blog to challenge, prod, question, and expose environmental injustices.  I hope the blog will sustain a dialogue with students at Texas A&M University (as well as the public) about the interconnected fate of environments, ecologies and communities in Texas and beyond. Photo essays, news items, commentary, and artwork are welcome – not only should this blog be a resource but a place for dialogue and engagement.

The new semester has not started yet but I am getting ready for the March field trip to Houston, Port Arthur, and Baytown.  Keep dropping by and hopefully once the semester begins, the comments and items will inspire you, challenge you….

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. April 7, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    Overall I learned a lot from the field trip and gained a new perspective not only on environmental justice, but also on East Houston and Port Arthur. This trip really expanded what I learned in class by making me think about and realize how hard every day people have to work to gain just a little bit of scientific knowledge in their own communities. Mr. Kelley was saying that for a single air sample to be processed it costs them $500 dollars, which is a lot more than I had originally suspected. Another aspect that caught my attention was the lack of grocery stores and restaurants both in Houston and Port Arthur. I had never even thought about this as a problem and always assumed that every neighborhood has an HEB around the corner. During debriefing on the second day I asked about this phenomena and Mrs. Jepson talked a little bit about food deserts and how it is a nation wide problem for low-income areas to lack in grocery stores and restaurants. Now that I think about it, it does make sense because the people living in low-income areas have less money to spend on excess food or expensive delicacies when it comes to food. Still I would think that even if all of the families in an area were just buying the basics in a grocery store that there is still profit to be made just from the high volume of business and no other stores around for competition. Something else that I came to realize on this trip is that some government organizations and laws might be unfair, and everyone is not held to the same standards by the government. When Mr. Kelley was talking in almost all of his experiences the enemy was the governmental organization that was stopping him from creating a change in Port Arthur. However this is not always the case, but a young adult I had assumed the notion that governmental organizations were held to a standard that required fairness; but you know what they say about assuming.

  2. April 7, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    Environmental justice is about distribution of burdens, the process of environmental decision-making (who is participating, who has power to make decisions) but it is also about the disproportionate environmental regulatory enforcement. Remember, Hilton Kelley is placing all his efforts in enforcement of current Clean Air Act regulations. Then one thinks of the time and cost and effort that has to be expended for, in a way, self enforcement of the law. And thus, who also has to pay this price?

  3. Dietz
    April 7, 2011 at 4:28 pm

    Before we arrived in Houston, I was expecting an area that wasn’t anywhere near downtown. I knew we were going to a disadvantaged area, but it was a lot closer to my parent’s house than I had expected. The streets near the TX Environmental Justice Advocacy Services office were covered in trash and the buildings were old and looked like they were falling apart. The area’s infrastructure hasn’t been updated and they don’t get the same services that surrounding areas receive (i.e. the street gutters aren’t updated and the trash isn’t picked up… etc.). This area, known as Houston’s industrial area has the highest concentration of industries in the nation, but the wealth that the industries are making is not filtering down to the community level. I was also surprised at the fact that the school that we went to visit (the Czar Chavez high school) was not only located by a petrochemical factory, but there were three of them in the surrounding area. 300,000 lives are in danger because it is near these three plants, and no one is going to do anything about it until some huge disaster happens. The school has been named an environmental magma school. They study plant life, but they don’t deal with the air quality around them. Being a school that studies the environment, it seems unfair that they are hiding the information they could get after studying the air quality. At the office of the TX Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, we spoke with Juan Parras. This is a non-profit organization that started in 1993, one year before the Clinton Executive Order (1994). Juan’s view is that they need better healthcare in the areas that have a huge impact from the petrochemical companies. The number one advice that he gave us was to educate a community where the disadvantages are happening. When you live in a city for a long time and don’t get much of a chance to branch out into other areas, you think that your city is the way that they all are. If you don’t see the differences between your city and others, then you aren’t aware that your home has environmental impacts that other communities do not.
    Compared to what we have read in class, it seemed like it was more apparent that there is a large struggle, than from what we have read in the case studies. From the book Sacrifice Zones, it told the whole story of how a community member struggled to get recognized and change the lifestyle of the people in their community, and it displayed that after all their work there was either a small recognition or none at all. When Juan was telling us about his struggles with Environmental Justice, we were able to listen to the angst in his voice and see how his facial expressions/ body language that helped us have a more emotional connection to his story. Not only could we enhance our experience by listening to Juan, but on the tour we got to see how their communities are different than ours. There were no sidewalks, people were picking up cans on the ground for money, and the area wasn’t built to be as aesthetically beautiful as areas that have money to beautify their communities. Juan told us that the Cezar Chaves high school was originally built in a tax increasement reinvestment zone. They had decided to build a high school instead of creating a new tax base so people would move into the neighborhood to pay off the debt. They needed people to move in the area to pay off the 395 million dollar tax base that was made in 1998 form petrochemical companies. I was surprised that in this case they were encouraging people to move into the area after the companies were built. This was different, compared to other stories that we have read where typically the citizens were there first and burdened when the companies invaded the space that they have lived in for years. The law states that factories can’t build near plants, but schools can build near factories. Shouldn’t it be the same goes for both ways so nobody is affected?
    On our trip, I had expected to hear about community members that had gathered together to fight the cause, but it seemed like there went many people interested in pushing for environmental justice. (The reason could be that they are too busy with other things in their lives). What impressed me the most was Juan’s enthusiasm in fighting problems that seems to be unfixable. He and other people who are pushing for environmental justice in their area fight so many battles for a very small success. Coming to talk to Juan and listening to his enthusiasm for small success has impressed me. What he has been through by being arrested by simply protesting (which wouldn’t happen in other states) shows effort that he puts in every day being remarkable when there are so many obstacles! The way that the personal experience of talking to Juan and seeing the communities next to the factories and looking at how close dump sites are located to the buffalo bayou and Houston Ship Channel, has opened my eyes to a new way of looking at the same topics that we have been studying in class all semester. I had no idea my backyard, which sits on the buffalo bayou across town, has also been affected by the dumping of car parts into the water. it is hardly a surprise that money was the main drive in neglecting the disparities of the communities surrounding petrochemical factories, but the amount of impact that we saw first-hand in the community has made the experience much more meaningful.

  4. Kieval
    April 7, 2011 at 10:02 pm

    This is my entry for day 2 of our trip

    Day 2: I expected more endless driving, zero interaction with locals, and a bustling urban setting in Port Arthur given our experiences in Houston. To my surprise, Port Arthur was a barren urban landscape. Most of the buildings around us were dilapidated and abandoned. These buildings were mere carcasses of a once living neighborhood. I would not have been surprised if I had learned that these buildings attracted drug addicts and fostered crime. Amid the surrounding desolate buildings, a vibrant structure appeared. Kelley’s restaurant stood out like an oasis in the desert. The interior resembled something out of the James Bond movie Live and Let Die. While Mr. Kelley answered the class’ questions, I was surprised to hear that Mr. Kelley placed a heavy value on recreation. He explained the gradual decline of the city’s west side and cited diminished recreation opportunities as a factor in the increase of crime in the community.

    Once more, I was surprised to learn that the Port Arthur area contained much wealth in terms of industrial income, yet the majority of residents in the community were destitute. The plants in Port Arthur generated billions of dollars in revenue but only invested a small fraction of their wealth into the Port Arthur community. While we toured the city of Port Arthur, I was pleased with the fact that at most sites we visited, we stopped, got out of our vehicles, and discussed the significance of the site. One significant stop occurred near Lincoln Middle School. Through a fence, we could see smokestacks emitting gray clouds with the middle school behind us and the projects in the foreground. I thought that this was a great symbolic representation of a “fenceline community”. We could actually peer through the fence and witness the majestic smokestacks. The hallmark of our journey was touring the projects, a park across the street from the projects, and actually interacting with residents.

    As a class, we set the precedent for the reporters from ABC 13. Ted Oberg began interviewing residents only after members of our class began to interview residents. Most importantly, I had the opportunity and privilege to play basketball in the park with several residents and a couple of my classmates. Since my main leisure pursuit when I go home is playing basketball at parks in my neighborhood in west Houston, this was a great way for me to compare my experiences in a different setting. I noticed that my lungs burned when I became out of breath. I have played in many parks near busy highways, but had never played near heavy industry. This was the first time that my lungs had burned while playing basketball. The Motiva plant sprawled a vast expanse. I could not believe that the plant was about to expand further since it was already dominating much of the landscape and discharging many carcinogens.

    After our tour, we enjoyed Kelley’s home cooking and met a local councilman. We have learned about different types of knowledge in class so listening to councilman Chatman was very informative. Chatman explained how he provided knowledge and assistance to Kelley within the local regulatory realm. On the other hand, Kelley provided helped culminate experiential knowledge from the community. Kelley also garnered expert knowledge by networking among NGOs and sympathetic experts. Kelley also educated community members about how to help in the struggle for a better environment. For example, he instructed residents to contact government officials, led bucket brigade programs, and encouraged residents to keep pollution logs. Our day ended ironically with a class reflection opportunity along a seemingly pristine stretch of park bordering a strait into Port Arthur. However, the smokestacks and industry were still visible when I climbed a bluff that separated the park from the parking lot. Upon further observation, however, I noticed a crème colored foam accumulating in streaks through the channel’s water. It seemed that we could not avoid signs of man’s environmental abuse even in the visually pleasing park.

    During our class debriefing that night, it was interesting to hear what my classmates had learned from their interviews with local residents. Residents seemed reluctant to talk to us. They scattered as our convoy dismounted to explore the projects and park. Furthermore, the basketball players mentioned fears of not receiving checks from the industries if they condemned their living conditions. Also, the nearby plants hired many of their workers from other areas of the “Golden Triangle” but did not hire many residents from the poor areas of Port Arthur.

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