January 2020 Volume 3, Issue 1
Environmental Justice News
The Environmental Justice Team at Lone Star Legal Aid welcomes you to our 3rd edition of 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
Settlement with Texas City Ammonia Plant to Benefit Galveston Bay Foundation

Gulf Coast Ammonia LLC (GCA) will donate $250,000 to the Galveston Bay Foundation for future restoration projects and water quality efforts as part of a settlement between GCA and shrimp boat captain Roy Lee Cannon. The settlement resolves Mr. Cannon’s objections to the wastewater discharge permit issued to GCA by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). The TCEQ Executive Director approved the permit on April 22, 2019.

GCA, an agricultural and specialty chemical manufacturing company, will develop an ammonia facility in the Texas City industrial complex using industry-leading, proven technology and safety features. The facility will help to meet domestic and global demands for products to improve crop production and yields.

Mr. Cannon was represented by Lone Star Legal Aid (LSLA) in the public participation process for the new facility’s wastewater discharge permit, which is regulated by TCEQ. Mr. Cannon submitted comments on the facility’s plans to discharge up to 2.2 million gallons per day of industrial utility and stormwater discharges into the lower Galveston Bay in an area just south of the Texas City Dike, near a sensitive brown shrimp habitat. GCA describes utility water as water used for process cooling or for generation of steam for power generation, which should not come in direct contact with the ammonia production process.

A lifelong commercial and recreational fisherman and shrimper, Mr. Cannon’s concerns about the proposed plans and his relationship to the proposed site area earned him a contested case hearing on the permit with the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH). LSLA highlighted these advocacy efforts in the October 2018 edition of Environmental Justice News (Volume 1, Issue 7). Reflecting on the outcome of this settlement, Environmental Attorney Bryan French commented, “Engaged citizens are Galveston Bay’s first line of defense against environmental harms, and as Captain Roy’s efforts clearly demonstrate, one person can make a big difference.”

After learning of Mr. Cannon’s concerns, GCA revised its plan to reduce discharges from its new facility. In accordance with the terms of the TCEQ permit, GCA will implement a utility water and stormwater management program for the facility, ensuring that that any water potentially contaminated during operations will be taken offsite using proper disposal methods. Uncontaminated utility water and stormwater, as confirmed through onsite testing, will be either diverted to the outfall once its safety has been determined or redirected onsite for disposal. All non-contact stormwater on the site will be directed into Texas City’s municipal stormwater treatment system and treated consistently with the municipality’s TCEQ stormwater permit.

GCA also has pledged $250,000 to Galveston Bay Foundation once the facility commences its operations. A 501(c)(3) non-profit organization established in 1987 under the laws of the State of Texas, GBF’s mission is to preserve and enhance Galveston Bay as a healthy and productive place for generations to come.

GBF plans to use the pledged Gulf Coast Ammonia donation towards the organization’s ongoing capital campaign for its new headquarters and an educational facility to be housed in Kemah, Texas. “Captain Roy Cannon has spent most of his adult lifetime trawling the waters of Galveston Bay for brown shrimp and bait fish. He knows how valuable the Bay’s nurseries are to our region," said Bob Stokes, President of Galveston Bay Foundation. "His efforts in this case to make the wastewater permit at this proposed facility as strong as possible have truly protected the health of the Bay. We are proud to use funds from the settlement of this case at our new education center in Kemah, TX, where students from across our region will be exposed to the wonders of Galveston Bay in our Captain Roy L. Cannon classroom. His efforts here will undoubtedly inspire a new generation of Bay users and stewards to appreciate and protect Galveston Bay!”

Relying on the bay for his livelihood, Mr. Cannon feels the result of this permit challenge is a win-win for all involved. 

Ken Koye, GCA’s CEO, noted, “Our ammonia plant development is a net positive for Galveston Bay, as flow controls included with our project plans actually will reduce the flow of stormwater into the Bay compared to the flows possible without our plant. And we are happy to make a donation in support of GBF’s outstanding programs, which seek other ways to minimize the human impact on this invaluable resource.”
Above: Shrimp boat docked in San Leon, Texas / Photo: Rebecca Novak, Lone Star Legal Aid
Top: Captain Roy Lee Cannon (R) talks with Environmental Attorney, Bryan French (L) / Photo: Rebecca Novak, Lone Star Legal Aid
City of South Houston Agrees to Continue Monitoring its Wastewater for Mercury in Settlement with Community Groups

The community advocacy group and LSLA client, Caring for Pasadena Communities (CPC), along with LSLA community partner, Bayou City Waterkeeper (BCW), have successfully negotiated a settlement agreement with the City of South Houston (COSH) that will protect a nearby watershed from the threat of potential discharges of mercury into nearby Berry Creek.

At a preliminary hearing at the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) in Austin in November 2019, CPC and BCW were granted party status in the contested case hearing process by the administrative law judge to contest an amendment on the City’s Wastewater permit with Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). The amendment would have removed mercury limits on wastewater discharged by the City’s wastewater treatment plant into Berry Creek, doing away with the City’s weekly testing requirements for the neurotoxin, which can accumulate in the tissues of fish and other marine life once it enters the waterways.

As reported in December 2018 EJ News, community members raised alarm after COSH submitted an application to TCEQ in mid-November 2017 for the removal of its mercury limits. Along with Bayou City Waterkeeper Attorney, Kristen Schlemmer, LSLA EJ Attorneys Rodrigo Cantú and Bryan French provided educational presentations to community members regarding the public participation process with TCEQ.

Community members were outraged to learn that the City would even consider such a plan. Expressing concern over potential adverse impacts the amendment would pose to predominantly minority, environmental justice communities located along Berry Creek and adjacent waterways including Sims Bayou and the Houston Ship Channel, CPC submitted comments to TCEQ in December 2018.

Attorneys Cantú and Schlemmer negotiated the agreement on behalf of their clients, CPC and BCW, at mediation with the City of South Houston. On January 14, 2020, the agreement was approved by the South Houston City Council. Laying out monitoring requirements for the continuation of the City’s weekly testing for mercury, the agreement includes important safeguards, such as:

  • COSH will continue weekly testing for mercury to a sensitivity of 0.0005 mg/L, its monitoring limit.
  • COSH is required to provide its monitoring results to TCEQ on a monthly basis.
  • If the City detects mercury above its monitoring limit more than 6 times in the life of its 5-year permit, or in any 3 consecutive tests, the City will be required to amend its wastewater permit through TCEQ to revise its effluent limit. The new limit would be determined through the TexTox database, possibly resulting in more sensitive, and more costly, testing.
  • In the event of any exceedance of the City’s monitoring limit, the City is required to inform CPC, LSLA, and BCW within three days of discovering its exceedance.
  • CPC, LSLA and BCW can ask the COSH directly for any publicly available effluent test results at any time, removing the Public Information Request step from this process.
  • The City must alert CPC and BCW if certain changes are made to its pretreatment program. Pretreatment programs such as the COSH’s include wastewater discharged by industrial users who are obliged to abide by local limits in the effluent they send to the municipal wastewater treatment plant. Under the pretreatment programs, municipalities act as permitting authority, and as such, they are responsible for informing their industrial customers what they can send to the wastewater treatment plant, how often the industrial users must test for mercury and other contaminants, and what the associated limits for each contaminant are.

“I’m glad we were able to meet with the City of South Houston and come up with a resolution to continue this monitoring, and that we will have access to the City’s reports,” shared Patricia Gonzales of Caring for Pasadena Communities. “We just want to make sure that they stay safe. We’re hoping the City doesn’t have any incidents and that they do a good job of monitoring their wastewater.”

Bayou City Waterkeeper's Kristen Schlemmer agreed. “Mercury is a highly toxic substance that requires adequate monitoring to protect human health and wildlife. By agreeing to continue testing its wastewater for mercury on a weekly basis, the City of South Houston will make sure mercury does not leave its facility at levels that pose risks to public health or the environment.”

In the coming months, the City of South Houston will be sharing information with customers about its new monitoring requirements, emphasizing the continued weekly testing for mercury. Caring for Pasadena Communities and Bayou City Waterkeeper are planning an informational meeting to explain these changes to community members in person, as well.

“We are pleased to see that the City will continue its weekly monitoring of mercury in its effluent at a level that is protective of human health and the environment,” shared LSLA’s Cantú. “This is a vital safeguard that the surrounding community deserves.”
Above: Children fishing along Sims Bayou / Photo: Courtesy Rebecca Sallans & Save Glennbrook Green Space
Above: An osprey catches a fish at Sims Bayou / Photo: Courtesy Rebecca Sallans & Save Glennbrook Green Space

Top: Map of South Houston wastewater treatment plant at Berry Creek with downstream flow to Houston Ship Channel and tidal flow along Sims Bayou / Image: Rebecca Novak, Lone Star Legal Aid
North Houston Highway Improvement Project (NHHIP) Updates

Since 2018, Lone Star Legal Aid (LSLA)'s EJ Team has been working with Independence Heights Redevelopment Council (IHRC) to address the serious concerns and threats posed by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT)’s  North Houston Highway Improvement Project (NHHIP) on the historic neighborhood of Independence Heights. In this newsletter, LSLA EJ News shares important updates on recent developments in our EJ Team's advocacy surrounding the NHHIP, as well as opportunities for community members to learn more about the impacts of this project on Houston neighborhoods, with links below to share your perspectives with the City of Houston and TxDOT before the close of the NHHIP public comment period in 2020.

ADVOCACY UPDATES

As a direct result of Independence Heights Redevelopment Council’s advocacy surrounding the NHHIP, in September 2019, TxDOT updated its Historic Resources Report to include an historic overview of Independence Heights, a community which had been completely omitted from TxDOT’s original draft technical report, despite its historical significance as the first African American town incorporated in the state of Texas. TxDOT's updated analysis of historical resources for Independence Heights appears in Appendix F of the updated report. The updated report identifies many of the impacts that the proposed NHHIP poses to continued efforts of IHRC and others to preserve the history and culture of Independence Heights.

Executive Director of IHRC, Tanya Debose, was pleased to see TxDOT’s adoption of IHRC’s comments concerning the community’s rich history. "It is our hope that this is a new day in developing equitable transportation solutions for all communities to benefit," said Debose. "Unlike the past, where communities of color served as the canvas for highway improvement projects, this is an opportunity for TxDOT to do things differently by working in harmony with communities to get it right."

In addition, due to IHRC’s direct request to TxDOT to investigate flooding impacts of the NHHIP on their community, TxDOT has conducted a hydrological study on Little White Oak Bayou which confirms the decades-long impacts to the Independence Heights neighborhood from an undersized culvert at I-610. As referenced in IHRC's comments to TxDOT, the Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium determined that the culvert has caused repeated flooding to the neighborhood since the early 1960’s, when TxDOT’s predecessor completed construction of the I-610 freeway. 

IHRC is encouraged that the initial results of the hydrological study show a potential benefit of the freeway’s redesign and removal of the I-610 culvert, which could be accomplished by the proposed NHHIP. Such a redesign could result in the redrawing of the 100-year flood plain in this area, removing a large portion of Independence Heights homes from the existing 100-year flood plain. 

Reflecting on these changes to TxDOT's proposed plan, LSLA EJ Managing Attorney Amy Dinn commented, “We are excited that this infrastructure project may provide a solution to the repetitive flooding that has plagued so many homeowners in Independence Heights, hopefully reducing the need for buyouts or elevation of homes in the future." IHRC is hopeful that TxDOT will share the results of the hydrological study with the public soon.

UPCOMING COMMUNITY WORKSHOPS

Starting on January 30, 2020, the City of Houston will host a final round of three community workshops on the NHHIP’s proposed expansion of I-45N from downtown to Beltway 8 and its associated modification of downtown-area connections to freeways including I-69, I-10 and 288. The City plans to report back to community members through these meetings regarding previous community suggestions for improving and changing TxDOT’s proposed plan for the NHHIP. 

The City and its technical design team developed a number of improvements after comments were gathered at City-hosted public meetings with residents last fall. The final round of community workshops will collect further feedback from residents on the City’s proposed alternative designs in hopes of addressing the many concerns expressed by citizens about the impacts of the expansion, including freeway connections, property impacts, parks, flood control, and neighborhood impacts on public health and safety. Additional input received from community members at these meetings will help to guide the City’s requests to TxDOT in seeking alternative designs for the NHHIP. Residents interested in sharing their thoughts on the project with the City can attend these community workshops and find out how potential changes to the project might address their concerns.

DRAFT TECHNICAL REPORTS AVAILABLE FOR REVIEW

TXDOT recently posted two technical reports for public review and comment: Community Impacts Assessment Technical Report and Draft Cumulative Impacts Technical Report. These reports are part of TxDOT’s environmental impacts review required by NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act). Community members can submit comments on the reports through February 7, 2020 to HOU-piowebmail@txdot.gov. Links to the documents and information about how and when to submit comments are available at: http://www.ih45northandmore.com/final_eis.aspx

Later in 2020, community members will also have the opportunity to comment on TxDOT's Final Environmental Impact Statement. Information about the Federal environmental review process is available on TxDOT's web page, under "Quick Links": Citizen’s Guide to the NEPA Process .
City of Houston Community Workshops / Image: City of Houston Planning & Development Department
LSLA Presents at 2019 National Brownfields Conference in Los Angeles
The 2019 National Brownfields Training Conference hosted by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took place in Los Angeles, California on December 10-13. The National Brownfields Training Conference is the largest event in the nation focused on environmental revitalization and economic redevelopment. 

The theme of this year’s conference was Sustainability, Livability, and Resiliency. Lone Star Legal Aid’s Managing Attorney, Amy Dinn, took part in a three-person panel presentation on “Brownfields 2 Healthfields: Natural Disasters,” a reflection on lessons learned since Hurricane Harvey, focusing on the proximity of contaminated sites to environmental justice communities.

With her co-presenters, Suzi Ruhl, Senior Counsel, U.S. EPA Office of Environmental Justice & Co-chair, NEPA Committee, Federal Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice, and Danielle Gettsiner, CEO of Community Lattice, Dinn championed the U.S. EPA’s Brownfields 2 Healthfields Program as path forward to prioritizing and removing contamination from properties located in the floodplain by redeveloping these sites with community input, particularly in areas like Houston that have been subject to repetitive flooding events and recent natural disasters.

Suzi Ruhl of U.S. EPA Headquarters provided an overview of the Brownfields 2 Healthfields (B2H) Program, which transforms contaminated properties to strengthen community health, equity, sustainability and resiliency for impacted vulnerable and underserved populations living in environmental justice communities. The B2H program involves three components: A contaminated site, generally referred to as a “brownfield”; engagement of the community impacted by the site (“2”); and the redevelopment of the contaminated property as a “healthfield” in a way that can advance the community’s priorities and interests. A variety of end uses may be considered healthfields - from hospitals to clinics, community gardens, community centers, or other redevelopment initiatives that address the impacted community’s needs.

“The opportunity to leverage trailblazing approaches from brownfields remediation and redevelopment for time-sensitive challenges facing vulnerable, overburdened and underserved communities is unprecedented,” shared Ruhl. “These challenges extend from natural disasters to manmade environmental challenges exacerbated by natural disasters. Brownfields redevelopment helps communities become resilient by addressing upstream social factors, and improving the conditions where people live, learn, work and play.”

Dinn then considered Hurricane Harvey as the catalyst that has launched a “Disaster B2H” Program in Houston, where many impacted Superfund sites and brownfields released contaminants into surrounding communities with Harvey’s floodwaters. Using the B2H methodology to prioritize environmental justice communities and the cleanup of brownfield sites located in the floodplain, Dinn made the case that we can reduce the ongoing risk of these sites to communities and transform the properties into something beneficial that addresses community needs and results in multi-tiered benefits for the remediation dollars spent.

Danielle Gettsinger, CEO of Community Lattice, a newly formed non-profit devoted to community revitalization, spoke about her consulting work with the City of Houston’s Brownfields Program, which recently received a U.S. EPA Brownfields Assessment Grant to revitalize properties in the Fifth Ward area including St. Elizabeth’s Hospital and the Japhet Creek Project with Buffalo Bayou Partnership. Gettsinger shared these projects as a model for the “healthfields” redevelopment potential of many floodplain-area brownfields as a way to minimize the risk of contamination to surrounding neighborhoods.

Finally, the panelists focused on the CES Environmental Services site, a brownfield located in the OST/ South Union area of Houston. Long a source of outrage and concern for the neighboring community, a major flooding event in 2012 led to the contamination of the property as toxic chemicals seeped into the surrounding area prior to EPA’s emergency response on the contaminated site in 2013. Still largely contaminated, the site presents a B2H opportunity for the community to reclaim a property that has long placed an unfair burden on the community and instead transform it into something that brings the community together. In late November 2019, Dinn conducted a short survey with community members during an OST Community Partnership Meeting, generating a number of community ideas for potential redevelopment of the site as a “healthfield” to provide more beneficial end uses for the property and better serve the community's needs.

Reflecting on the conference, Gettsinger shared, “I appreciated the opportunity to be part of the Disaster B2H panel with the Suzi Ruhl of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice and Amy Dinn of Lone Star Legal Aid. It was a privilege to represent Houston communities on a national platform, sharing their stories and advocating for the need to better incorporate environmental justice principles into the practice of brownfields redevelopment and disaster recover. The conference itself was also a fantastic opportunity to hear stories from similar communities around the country and identify strategies and resources to advance environmental justice initiatives here in Houston.”

Lone Star Legal Aid plans to continue consulting with the OST/South Union community regarding the future of CES Site. Dinn reflected on the community’s concerns: “We are hopeful that a B2H solution will emerge for the CES Site that lines up with the community’s objectives for redevelopment, as opposed to allowing another industrial or commercial use of the property that puts the community at further risk.”

The team's presentation, Brownfields 2 Healthfields: Natural Disasters, can be found on LSLA’s Environmental Justice Resources page.
Above: Brownfields to Healthfields (B2H) Triple Bottom Line includes community health, environmental sustainability, and economic vitality / Image: EPA
Above: Disaster B2H will target contaminated areas where repeated flooding is a concern / Image: Amy Dinn, Lone Star Legal Aid
Law Students Wanted as Externs
for the LSLA EJ Team!
Our EJ Team is looking for externs from February 2020 through October 2020 to assist with ongoing environmental justice work. Working with licensed attorneys at Lone Star Legal Aid in Houston, Texas, each extern will address a variety of community‐based environmental issues and litigation involving air and water quality in Harris, Galveston, and Brazoria Counties. Students may assist with community outreach and education, research and drafting of legal documents (briefs, pleadings, and/or responses), and may participate in legal representation of clients at state or federal administrative hearings and in state and/or federal court.
 
This paid externship will be compensated at $15 per hour plus a parking stipend. Interested candidates currently attending an accredited law school should submit a cover letter and resume to Amy Dinn at: adinn@lonestarlegal.org . For more details on the program, click here .
Catch our EJ Team at these upcoming events!
Thursday, January 30 - Woodville Community Meeting, Wheat Elementary School, 507 Kirby Dr, Woodville, TX 75979, 6:30 pm

Saturday, February 8 - Settegast Civic Club Meeting, Presentation on Deed Restrictions, Hobart Taylor Community Center, 8100 Kenton, Houston, TX 77028, 10:00 am

Monday, February 10 - IMPACT Community Meeting, True Love Baptist Church, 4029 Falls Street (Entrance off Emmet and Sayers Streets), 6:00 pm

Tuesday, February 11 - Glenwood Forest Community Civic Club, Presentation on Deed Restrictions, 9709 Mesa Dr, Houston, TX 77078, 6:00 pm - 7:30 pm

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

For more information on any of these presentations or upcoming meetings, please contact our EJ Team at 713-652-0077 ext. 8108.
Upcoming Community Engagement Meetings
City of Houston Community Workshops on the NHHIP I-45 Expansion:
 Thursday, January 30 – Emancipation Community Center, 3018 Emancipation, Houston, TX 77004, 6:00 – 8:00 pm
Saturday, February 1 – Aldine Ninth Grade School, 10650 North Fwy, Houston, TX 77037, 10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Monday, February 3 – Harris County Dept. of Education, 6300 Irvington, Houston, TX 77022, 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm

Coastal Texas Study - Public Open Houses hosted by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers:
Saturday, February 8 - High Island High School, 2113 6th Street, High Island, Texas 77623, 1:00 pm - 3:00 pm
Wednesday, February 12 - Galveston Island Convention Center, 5600 Seawall Boulevard, Galveston, Texas 77551, 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm
Thursday, February 13, Bay Area Community Center, 5002 E NASA Parkway, Seabrook, Texas 77586, 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
More information on the scope of these upcoming open houses is available at www.coastalstudy.texas.gov .
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) , 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