February 2020 Volume 3, Issue 2
Environmental Justice News
The Environmental Justice Team at Lone Star Legal Aid welcomes you to Environmental Justice News. We’re keeping communities updated on our team’s ongoing environmental law efforts throughout our 72-county service area in Texas.

In our newsletter, you’ll find an overview of the types of legal cases we’re currently handling for eligible individuals and organizations who are living in fence-line communities and other areas where environmental justice is a concern. If you have an environmental legal matter that concerns you, please call 713-652-0077 ext. 8108 for more information.

Our environmental justice team is part of a broader Equitable Development Initiative at LSLA, with additional teams focusing on fair housing and community advocacy. The Equitable Development Initiative’s goal is to provide legal assistance to foster community revitalization in low-income neighborhoods by fighting systemic discrimination and degradation, and by helping residents create safe, decent and equitable living spaces.

Please feel free to share Lone Star Legal Aid’s environmental watchdog newsletter with your friends, family and neighbors! To subscribe to our newsletter and/or receive updates about your neighborhood, click here .

Amy Dinn
Managing Attorney, Environmental Justice Team
Port Arthur Community Action Network (PA-CAN) Settlement with Motiva to Bring Community Benefits
to Port Arthur Residents

Port Arthur Community Action Network (PA-CAN) has secured a brighter future for Port Arthur residents through a recent settlement agreement with Motiva Enterprises LLC on the company's plans to expand its Port Arthur refinery and operations. The resulting agreement was reached on January 21, 2020 after the community group withdrew its permit challenges with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) regarding the company’s expansion plans, which include a Refinery Expansion, Terminal Expansion, Ethane Cracker, and a Polyethylene Plant for producing plastics.

Notably, the agreement will provide for a community planning process to create an Environmental Justice strategy for improving the health and environment of Port Arthur residents. In addition, an existing energy efficiency program will be expanded in order to make homes safer and healthier in this vulnerable city, where many community members are still struggling to restore their homes more than two years after Tropical Storms Harvey and Imelda inundated Port Arthur’s historic West Side.
 
LSLA Environmental Attorney Colin Cox represented PA-CAN in negotiating the agreement, which includes:

  • Development of a long-term Environmental Justice strategic plan for Port Arthur;
  • Implementation of Environmental Justice projects identified through the community-driven strategic planning process;
  • Expansion of the Lighthouse Program, an energy efficiency program of the Southeast Texas Regional Planning Commission funded through the U.S. EPA’s Supplemental Environmental Projects
  • Creation of a student mentoring program for industry-related and environmental jobs; and
  • Business development workshops and a mentoring program for small minority-owned businesses in Port Arthur.

The expansion of the Lighthouse Program will not only engage in sustainable solutions to make residents’ homes safer and healthier, but will also employ Historically Underutilized Businesses in the Port Arthur area to carry out the work on residents’ homes. 

Excited about the agreement, Chairman of PA-CAN, John Beard, said his community group plans to work in coordination with Motiva and community partner organizations to help shape the programs and ensure their success. “We look forward to collaborating with Motiva on these projects, which will work to improve the health and quality of life for community members in Port Arthur and Southeast Texas,” shared Beard.
Acres Homes Community Breathes Easier as Concrete Batch Plant Abandons Plans

In a stunning reversal of plans, a concrete batch plant withdrew its application for a permit to operate next to residents’ homes and across the street from Highland Park and Community Center, a vital and treasured community gathering space in Acres Homes, a historic community of color in Northwest Houston. Hundreds of community members were engaged against the permit over the past two years, attending meetings, signing petitions, and submitting comments through the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). Residents received strong support from state, county, and local elected officials and representatives who advocated against the intentional siting of industrial facilities in communities of color and low-income communities – a growing threat to the health and well-being of Houston-area residents.

“I’m really happy they decided to put our health in consideration,” shared Acres Homes resident and LSLA client, Lillian Simpson. Mrs. Simpson, who lives near Highland Park, began experiencing coughing symptoms soon after the facility started to clear the land and move its concrete trucks into her neighborhood two years ago. “It would have had a really bad effect - not only on our health, but our livelihoods as well.” 

A lifelong resident of Acres Homes, Lillian Simpson’s parents first moved to the community in the 1920’s. Like Simpson, many residents have lived in Acres Homes for generations. “I know just about everyone on my street,” Mrs. Simpson shared. She recalled the early days of Highland Park, which sits on land donated to the community by residents of Acres Homes decades ago. “There were merry go-rounds, see-saws and swings – and a man named Mr. Sampson would bring his dancing mules for these big musical events in the park. The mules would dance around the see-saws for the children. It was so nice," she shared. Highland Park’s Community Center building was the neighborhood health clinic in those days, while dozens of black-owned businesses served the thriving community. “We had our own taxi cab and bus service, our own drive-in theater, our own department stores, library, and cleaners – just everything," Mrs. Simpson added.

Echoing the community’s health concerns about the fine particulate pollution emitted by concrete batch plants, the City of Houston’s Chief Environmental Science Officer, Dr. Loren Hopkins, shared data showing that the Acres Homes community already suffers six times the rate of ambulance-treated asthma attacks and twice the rate of cardiac arrests compared to the rest of Houston. Those health impacts are directly associated with exposure to fine particulate pollution, which is compounded by the multiple concrete batch plants already existing in Acres Homes’ District B.

One day before a contested case hearing on the plant’s proposed permit was scheduled to take place at the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) in Houston on January 23, the company, Soto Ready Mix, submitted a request to remand its permit application to TCEQ’s Executive Director for immediate withdrawal. At a press conference the same day, State Representative Jarvis Johnson noted the significance of the victory: “This is a win, not only for community members in Acres Homes, but for the City of Houston, for Harris County, and for the State of Texas.”

Representing several individual residents from Acres Homes in their fight against the permit, LSLA Environmental Attorney, Colin Cox, agrees. “Not only is Soto abandoning its irresponsible plan to build a concrete plant here, but it has also committed to relocating all of its commercial operations out of the Acres Homes neighborhood. This result was only possible through the sustained effort of dozens of community members and public servants over the past two years.” Cox also provided multiple educational presentations to community members on how to engage in the public participation process with TCEQ.
Above: Highland Park and Community Center / Image: City of Houston Parks Department
Community Group Raises Alarm over
VOC Emissions at
ITC's Pasadena Terminal

Advocating for the health of communities along the Houston Ship Channel, the community group Caring for Pasadena Communities (CPC) first became wary about operations at Intercontinental Terminals Company (ITC) after a leak in the company’s aging Deer Park facility led to a massive chemical fire in March 2019, causing an environmental disaster that threatened the health of thousands of community members who live, work and attend school in the surrounding area.

Deeply concerned about the implications of this recent event, CPC enlisted the EJ Team’s help to take a closer look at ITC’s operations generally - and found troubling issues with the company’s Pasadena Terminal. Located on the Houston Ship Channel, ITC’s Pasadena Terminal has the capacity to store over 6 million barrels of petrochemicals and petroleum products for blending and transport by rail and barge.

On January 6, 2020, CPC requested a public meeting and submitted comments to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) on ITC’s amendment application for the Pasadena Terminal’s air quality permit. Known as an “as-built” amendment, the amendment is intended to reflect any changes or updates to operations since the facility first opened in 2015. 

In the group’s comments to TCEQ, CPC asserted that ITC’s permit for the terminal attempts to bypass state regulations by artificially separating the terminal’s operations, on paper. CPC argued that the permit falsely represents the terminal as multiple “minor” sources of pollution, rather than one “major” source. 

Built in three stages, each stage of ITC’s Pasadena Terminal was permitted as a separate project, with each project represented as a “minor” source of pollution (mainly emitting Volatile Organic Compounds , or VOCs). CPC’s comments point out that the VOC emission limits for each project were set to just below the relevant “major” source threshold (for instance, 24.9 tons per year (TPY) while the major source threshold is nearly the same, at 25 TPY). Citing the U.S. EPA’s aggregation policy, CPC says that the Pasadena Terminal is one project – and that project is a major source which exceeds the major source threshold for VOCs.

In the Houston-Galveston-Brazoria ozone non-attainment area , major source rules require stricter pollution controls and the purchase of pollution credits (known as ‘offsets’), as a way to reduce our ozone, explains LSLA Environmental Attorney, Colin Cox. “Pollution controls and offsets are expensive – so companies try to avoid ‘major’ status if they can. But when these regulations are skirted, Houston’s ozone problem gets worse,” said Cox.

Founder of CPC, Patricia Gonzales, said her group is especially vigilant about VOC emissions - not only because they increase our ozone levels, but also because VOCs like cancer-causing benzene are not safe in any amount. “These are the same chemicals that were released into neighborhoods during ITC’s Deer Park disaster,” said Gonzales.

Harmful to human health, benzene can cause cancer with long-term exposure. VOCs can also harm the liver, kidneys and central nervous system, among other health impacts. With short-term exposure, VOCs can aggravate asthma and cause drowsiness, dizziness, headaches, and respiratory problems.

A recent report by Environmental Integrity Project shows that 10 U.S. oil refineries have been emitting cancer-causing benzene into communities at levels well above the federal action limit – with 6 of those polluters located in Texas, and one, Chevron’s Pasadena Refining Systems, right in Pasadena. 

Gonzales says the report reflects the need for more transparency on VOC and benzene emissions in Pasadena and the surrounding Houston Ship Channel area. “Community members need to know what’s going on – what’s being released in their backyards,” she said. “Without that information, they can’t be safe or make informed decisions."

CPC is awaiting TCEQ’s response to comments on ITC’s Pasadena Terminal.

To submit a public comment or request a public meeting on ITC’s Pasadena Terminal, visit TCEQ’s website at: https://www14.tceq.texas.gov/epic/eComment/  and enter Permit # 95754.
Above: ITC's Pasadena Terminal / Image: Courtesy TCEQ
Group Client Feature:
Old Tamina Water Supply Corporation

Old Tamina Water Supply Corporation, one of Lone Star Legal Aid’s newest group clients, is a nonprofit municipal water supply company for the historic Texas Freedom Colony of Tamina. Located in Montgomery County, Tamina was founded in 1871 by freed slaves after the end of the Civil War. For years, the small unincorporated community of about 520 residents has struggled to secure affordable water and sewer infrastructure, despite enormous economic development and rapid growth of surrounding communities including Shenandoah, The Woodlands, Chateau Woods, and Oak Ridge North.

A lifelong Tamina resident, James Leveston serves as President of the Old Tamina Water Supply Corporation. Deeply devoted to his community, Leveston is also a Deacon at Lone Star Baptist Church, where generations of his family have served. After years of negotiations and agreements for water and sewer services falling through – some of which came with a high price tag of fees passed on to residents in order to cover the cost of the neighboring community’s expansion onto Tamina’s doorsteps with hotels, hospitals, and a brand new sewer infrastructure to go with it - Leveston is frustrated. “Our water company is just about broke trying to fight for this,” he shared.

Longtime resident Shirley Grimes has firsthand knowledge of the kind of difficulties community members are facing. Mrs. Grimes has been director of the Community Center in Tamina for many years, providing essential services with an after-school childcare program, transportation and job assistance services, a food pantry, and a kitchenette for the homeless. Without access to a public water and sewer infrastructure, Grimes says, many residents have struggled to retain their land, which has been passed down for generations. “There are families that want to stay, but may be forced out because they can’t build an affordable home or start a business without access to a public sewer line,” said Grimes. “It would mean so much for them to have this. Some families are now living two families to a house just to be able to stay.”

In 2017, a house fire in Tamina claimed the lives of three children because firefighters lacked sufficient water access to extinguish the blaze. With fire hydrants installed less than 800 yards from the site of the fire in the neighboring town of Shenandoah, Tamina still lacks the infrastructure needed for such emergencies - or even to adequately serve its daily water consumption needs. While the community has been working for nearly a decade to secure funding for a new infrastructure through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), this tragic event has highlighted the longstanding disparities faced by the community.

Working with Old Tamina Water Supply Corporation to assist with the USDA funding process, the nonprofit and LSLA community partner, Communities Unlimited, helps rural communities with as few as 25 residents to obtain access to water and sewer infrastructure and services across seven southern states. Statewide director for Texas, Harold Hunter, recently helped Tamina to successfully maintain its funding commitment from the USDA after the funding was jeopardized when a neighboring community discontinued Tamina’s access to sewer treatment services. “This is one of the most difficult situations I’ve seen in my 37 years of doing this kind of work,” shared Hunter.

On November 5, 2019, Texas voters approved Proposition Two, a state-wide ballot initiative to fund bonds through the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB). A legislatively-referred constitutional amendment, the measure will allow the TWDB to issue bonds on a continuing basis for water supply and sewer services in areas defined as economically distressed. Specifically, the State’s existing Economically Distressed Areas Program (EDAP) will provide financial assistance to projects serving economically distressed areas where no water or sewer services exist, or where current systems do not meet minimum state standards.

With the state’s EDAP now refunded, Old Tamina Water Supply Corporation plans to apply for grant funding through the TWDB to help meet the community’s water and/or sewer infrastructure needs. LSLA’s Equitable Development Initiative (EDI) is currently assisting the group in preparing an application to the Texas Water Development Board for funding. The EDI Team also plans to assist the group with amending its bylaws and updating other filings through the Texas Secretary of State’s office in order to meet certain regulatory requirements for nonprofits.

At 77, James Leveston remains hopeful for the future of his community. “We’d like to leave a legacy of water access for the next generation,” he shared.

Shirley Grimes agreed. “It’s been a long journey. We hope and pray that this new funding for water and sewer infrastructure will go through, so that families can continue to live in Tamina.”
Above: Members of the Old Tamina Water Supply Corporation, along with LSLA EJ Team members and neighboring community members / Photo: Heejin Hwang, Lone Star Legal Aid

Top: Welcome sign for Tamina / Photo: Sal Giovanni Solis, Lone Star Legal Aid
EJ Team to Develop
Client-Based Mobile App for Reporting Environmental Concerns

Lone Star Legal Aid clients will soon be able to report and track their environmental concerns through a new mobile app. LSLA’s Environmental Justice Team, part of the Equitable Development Initiative, proposed this client-based application as a tool that community members will be able to use for reporting and tracking environmental issues that they see and experience in their neighborhoods – problems like dust, smoke, odors, water pollution, air pollutants, noise, and other nuisance conditions that happen in fence-line environmental justice communities in our 72-county service area in Texas.

The EJ Team’s proposal for the app was recently accepted by a team of developers from The Institute for Technology Law & Policy at Georgetown Law, who will work to create the app alongside the team’s members. The new app will assist the team in documenting community concerns, while concurrently reporting community complaints to regulators.

Environmental Justice Team Managing Attorney, Amy Dinn, added that the concept for this app could be scaled up for communities to use state-wide or on a national level in the future. “We are excited about the prospects for this app and what it will mean for our client communities,” shared Dinn. “It will expand their ability to report and document environmental concerns in their neighborhoods.”
Catch our EJ Team at these upcoming events!
Thursday, February 27 - Barrett Economic & Community Development Organization (BECDO) Community Meeting on French LTD Superfund Site, Riley Chambers Community Center, 808 1/2 Magnolia Ave, Crosby, TX 77532, 6:30 pm

Monday, March 9 , Super Neighborhood Alliance General Meeting, 900 Bagby Street, Houston, TX 77002, 6:30 pm

Saturday, March 28 - Kuhlman Gully Trash Bash with Lawyers for a Beautiful Houston (HBA), 8:00-11:00 am

Sunday, April 19 - Earth Day at Discovery Green , 12 noon-5:00 pm

For more information on any of these presentations or upcoming meetings, please contact our EJ Team at 713-652-0077 ext. 8108.
Lone Star Legal Aid's Environmental Justice Team partners with a wide variety of community organizations and non-profit groups including:

Achieving Community Tasks Successfully , Air Alliance Houston , Barrett Economic & Community Development Organization (BECDO), Bayou City Waterkeeper , Caring for Pasadena Communities , Coalition of Community Organizations (COCO) , Coalition for Environment, Equity, and Resilience (CEER) , Communities Unlimited , Concerned Citizens for Accountability, Earthjustice , Environmental Community Advocates of Galena Park, Environment Texas , Environmental Defense Fund , Environmental Integrity Project, Environmental Law Clinic of the University of Texas School of Law , Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health , Independence Heights Redevelopment Council , Independence Heights Reinvestment Fund, National Environmental Law Center , Friends of Eastwood Park , National Resources Defense Council , Neighborhood Witness , Northeast Houston Redevelopment Council , Pleasantville Civic League, Old Tamina Water Supply Corporation, OST Community Partnership, Port Arthur Community Action Network, Public Citizen , Settegast Heights Redevelopment Corporation, Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter , South Houston Concerned Citizens Coalition, Super Neighborhoo d 48, Super Neighborhood 57 , Texas Campaign for the Environment, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services , Texas Health and Environment Alliance , Texas Low Income Housing Information Service ,   Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law , UT Health Science Center at Houston School of Public Health
Lone Star Legal Aid | www.lonestarlegal.org