Shifting The Power


Oil Refineries in Houston, TX

The past week has involved reading through countless reports and figuring out what agencies are doing to uphold Executive Order 12898. As well I have began to develop set criteria for how agencies will be scored. For the time being I am focusing on the Department of Energy, the Department of Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency. These three agencies are a part of the Interagency Working Group (IWG) as I mentioned in my last blog. These agencies have a great responsibility in terms of being pioneers in their policy work. They help to keep pushing progress forward on Executive Order 12898 and are seen as the examples for the rest of the federal agencies not involved in the IWG group.

As I get deeper into my research, I find it extremely frustrating having to read through pages and pages of these reports. It is easy to see why this scorecard will be helpful in condensing all this information into just a few pages. Even though I am just looking at three different agencies working under the same entity, it is clear that all three are taking different approaches towards holding themselves accountable. In some ways I find it interesting to see where the different priorities lie for the agencies but for the most part it adds to the frustration of having to piece the EJ movement through the eyes of these agencies.

As an environmentalist and a Houstonian, I have been trying to follow the EJ movement there. In October I attended Power Shift. This is a conference for young environmental activists that are interested in catalyzing different movements throughout their communities. I went with Green GW, a student led organization at George Washington University. The conference had amazing keynote speakers and some were from frontline communities in Houston. Yudith Nieto is someone who I connected with. She comes from Manchester neighborhood in Houston, TX and comes from Mexican parents. I recently read an article about her that resonated with the work I am doing for this scorecard.

In this article she spoke about what led her to become an environmental activist. She attended a gathering led by Juan Parras, co-founder of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (TEJAS), in which he talked to the community about the Keystone XL Pipeline bringing tar sands to refineries in the Texas Gulf Coast. Yudith knew what detrimental effects this would have on the people living in her community. She later attended a hearing in Port Arthur about the Keystone XL Pipeline. Her family chose not to accompany her because they did not speak English and did not feel like they would understand the hearing. More than half the people at the hearing worked in the industry and no interpreter was available for those who did not speak English. This showed her that racism was still around but just manifested in a different way.

Although the scorecard I am creating will not solve the many issues plaguing the EJ movement, it can start a conversation in which situations like the one Yudith went through can be avoided. As part of the National Environmental Policy Act, everyone has a right to attend hearings and have the material presented in their own language. Yudith’s case shows how we still have a lot of work left towards implementing all the policies and regulations federal agencies have in place.

We must continue to shift the power towards the hands of those most affected by the environment and must continue to empower them to take action.

Written by: Mayra Cruz