Urge the Dallas Council To Restore the Environmental Health Commission on May 27th

CLICK HERE TO SEND AN EMAIL RIGHT NOW. YOU CAN ADD YOUR OWN COMMENTS

For over a year Southern Sector Rising has been lobbying the City Council for the restoration of the Dallas Environmental Health Commission. With the adoption of the City’s Climate Plan, the Council has a chance to do that next Wednesday , May 27th. But they must hear from you.

Opposition is coming from management in the Office of Environmental Quality and Sustainability who don’t want the word “health” used for this new body. Why? Because this is the same city staff who doesn’t want to responsibility of telling citizens they have bad air or are living too close to industry. Houston has a staff toxicologist advising City Hall. Dallas has a lawyer.

This is why residents must have the Dallas Environmental Health Commission. It serves as a citizen-friendly forum for putting environmental health issues on the official City Hall radar and generates important new public policy proposals. Every Council Member would appoint a member and various experts would serve as advisors. It would instantly elevate the status of Environmental Health at Dallas City Hall.

You can help make this happen by sending a quick “ClickNSend” email to Mayor Johnson and the City Council urging them to vote for a new Dallas Environmental Health Commission. You can add your own comments as well. It takes all of 30 to 60 seconds, and it could mean the difference between Dallas and the next Shingle Mountain.

HERE’S THE LINK TO SEND YOUR EMAIL TO THE MAYOR AND COUNCIL https://www.downwindersatrisk.org/featured-citizen-action/

Thank you.

A BIG THANK YOU

You Contributed Over $21,000 for Our
COVID-Connected Program Work Last Week

In our first ever attempt to conduct a week-long fundraising campaign, much less during an unprecedented pandemic, we had unprecedented success. Over seven days our supporters contributed a total of $21,600 to Dowwinders at Risk. That’s the most we’ve ever raised during one of our fundraising drives.

Besides raising needed funding for our work, we also received national exposure through the Peace Development Fund’s Grassroots Fundraising Week that featured us and 12 other grassroots groups doing social justice work around the country during the COVID crisis.

These new funds will be used to support our zoning equity work surrounding he upcoming “forwardDallas! land use planning process, the new regional air monitoring network we’re building, assistance to grassroots groups such as Southern Sector Rising, and continued original reporting of local environmental news.

We can’t tell you how much we appreciate the contributions, especially in light of the circumstances. We value your support and pledge to squeeze every bit of change out of every dollar you send us. Thank you.

DIRECTOR


CHAIR

National Fund Spotlights Downwinders’ Efforts to “Take Back Our Cities”

Today, the Peace Development Fund is using its national presence and contacts to help raise funding for Downwinders at Risk, under the banner of “Taking Back our Cities.”

We’re being featured on their website all day. We’re one of only 13 groups chosen to receive this kind of attention from the Fund.

The Fund liked our work around the upcoming Dallas MasterPlan process, partnering with Southern Sector rising and neighborhood groups to rezone Southern Dallas communities tract-by-tract to improve environmental health.

We’re one of the few environmental groups in the country using land use planning tools to reduce residents’ exposure to pollution. Our aim is to dismantle the racism institutionalized in local zoning codes that have forced People of Color and industry to live side-by-side for decades.

Many of you helped us reach our Giving Day goal. But we need those of you who didn’t contribute on Giving Day to do your part today. Here’s your chance to join the fight for cleaner air and environmental justice.

CLICK HERE TO CONTRIBUTE.

Thanks.

Director

Chair

 

____________________________________

 

COVID Connects:

Racist Zoning
to
Increased Vulnerability to COVID

 

What is It?

For most people, “zoning” isn’t a very interesting topic. How your property is classified by city government is of little concern – until you discover how few protections you have or how close a large polluter can operate near you.

In Dallas as well as most American cities, People of Color have been historically forced by law or practice to live in neighborhoods they had to share with industry. The Trinity River floodplains were used as a large dumping ground for both people and factories deemed “undesirableby white power brokers.

While illegal now, that institutionalized discrimination lives on in the form of obsolete racist zoning that still makes Southern Dallas a dumping ground.

 

Why Do It?

Unless you change the zoning classifications in South Dallas that make it such a haven for dirty industry, the City’s pollution burden will remain concentrated there, stifling economic development and quality of life.During the last two years Southern Dallas has fought off four proposed batch plants in the same neighborhood because the zoning directs them there. The notorious Shingle Mountain illegal dump took advantage of zoning loopholes to withhold notification of its activities from its neighbors. Instead of playing “whack-a-mole” and having to organize anew against every attempt to site a new polluter there, Southern Dallas residents need to re-write the leftover racist zoning laws and prohibit their part of town from becoming the default Big D dumping ground.

Downwinders is partnering with our friends at Southern Sector Rising and the Inclusive Communities Project to do just that. Dallas is gearing up for a once-in-a-decade review of the City’s MasterPlan that will invite residents to imagine how they want to change their neighborhoods. There’s an opportunity to submit new plans that reverse the racist zoning that plagues the entire Southern part of Dallas.

We’re working with specific Southern Dallas neighborhoods that want to give residents more green space, more buffer zones between themselves and pollution, and even begin proceedings to remove industry from their communities. It’s a 2-3 year process but the end result is increased Environmental Justice in places that desperately need it.

What’s the COVID

Connection?

Top: Industry Zoning in Dallas
Bottom: COVID Risk Factors
Research done during this pandemic shows Black and Brown residents are being  disproportionatey impacted by the COVIC virus.This is being attributed to a number of “pre-existing conditions” in the neighborhoods where they live, including lack of health insurance and health care facilities, poverty and…exposure to air pollution. We know that Black and Brown residents are more likely to be exposed to more and higher levels of air pollution than their white peers.
If you change the zoning so that Southern Dallas residents are not living side-by-side with polluters, you reduce their exposure to poisons and improve public health, including making them less vulnerable to viruses  like COVID.

 

 

 

STATUS?

“forwardDallas!” is the name of the process the City of Dallas is using to redraw its MasterPlan. It was supposed to begin this Spring but may not start until summer. It will involve lots and lots of neighborhood meetings.Downwinders, Southern Sector Rising and the Inclusive Communities Project isn’t waiting however.  We’ve already met with residents’ groups in the Floral Farms and Fruitdale neighborhoods to begin a grassroots planning process. Because of their preparation, these groups will be able to show up to the City meetings with their own plans already developed and ready to be approved. More online meetings are being scheduled for other neighborhoods.

No group has used the “forwardDallas” process to overhaul Dallas zoning in such a comprehensive way. No coordinated effort has ever been focused on this mission. Like so many projects Downwinders takes on, its a “first.” But it’s a chance to make fundamental Change.

This obsolete pattern of “redlining” and segregation lives on in a legacy of racist zoning that still drives polluters to Southern Dallas and along the Trinity River Corridor. Most of the land set aside for heavy industry in Dallas is still south of the River – in predominantly Black and Brown neighborhoods like West Dallas and Joppa.

To make sure Southern Dallas doesn’t remain the City’s dumping ground you have to change the zoning that controls what can go where and next to whom.

PM Pollution and COVID

 

The Massachusetts-based Peace Development Fund has chosen to spotlight the COVID-connected work of
Downwinders at Risk and 12 other groups
across the country this week in order
to help raise funds for that work.

As of late last night successfully met our original goal of $10,000. THANK YOU. So now we’re setting our sights on trying to raise an additional $3,000 by Friday. All of this money goes to local DFW program work in front line communities that are most vulnerable to
COVID infection.

Help us help more people.
CONTRIBUTE HERE
Thanks

______________________________________

 

COVID Connects:

 

Particulate Matter Air Pollution

to Increased Risk of Disease

 

 

What is It?

 

PM pollution is the soot from ANY form of combustion – engine, boiler, furnace, or bonfire. Industrial combustion releases really tiny pieces of soot that pass right thru your body’s natural defenses and end up not only in your lungs but your blood stream, where they can travel to any organ.

You’ve heard of the dangers of second-hand smoke? PM is industrial second-hand smoke.

Research over the last decade connects PM pollution with not just lung and coronary diseases, but IQ loss, Autism, Dementia, Parkinson’s Disease, Diabetes, Immune-Deficiency, depression, and blindness. Research also shows Black and Brown residents are exposed to more PM pollution and at higher levels than most of their white peers.
Since 2017 Downwinders has focused on reducing Particulate Matter (PM) pollution in Dallas-Fort Worth from all sources. We’ve helped stop four batch plants in Southern Dallas. We partnered with Marsha Jackson and Southern Sector Rising  galvanizing City Hall into finally closing the Shingle Mountain dump, where industrial size grinders spewed plumes of PM pollution.We’re also pushing for faster electrification in transportation and
re-thinking freeways. We’re in the weeds with neighborhood groups plotting new land use plans separating PM sources from people, or eliminating them altogether. In essence, we’re conducting an anti-smoking campaign aimed at machines.

 

Why Do It?

Sources of PM pollution are controlled by local governments through zoning and other municipal and county policies. As a local group, North Texas is where Downwinders is most effective in making change.

After the 2016 presidential election it was clear we couldn’t make progress on DFW chronic smog without good faith partners at EPA. So we turned our attention to addressing the most insidious air pollutant that can be controlled by local action. We found we could have a big impact on how these very small toxic particles are affecting DFW residents.

 

 

 

 

What’s the COVID Connection?

DALLAS ASTHMA RATES BY ZIP CODE
Exposure to air pollution, specifically Particulate Matter and Nitrogen Oxide – another by-product of combustion – have been linked to increased likelihood of contracting COVID. Many articles have noted the disproportionate air pollution burden of Black and Brown neighborhoods corresponds closely with their disproportionate vulnerability to COVID.
Italian scientists recently found COVID hitching a ride on PM pollution in regional hot spots of industrial pollution and virus contamination, raising questions about how far it could travel.

Neighborhoods at Highest Risk of COVID infection

 

 

STATUS?

Since 2017 Downwinders has purchased five portable Aeroqual PM monitors that have been used to track PM Air pollution in DFW and identify hot spots. These portable monitors were the first to record PM levels in the Joppa community in Dallas and the Shingle Mountain illegal dump. We also offer free training in how to use these monitors.With UTD and others, Downwinders is building a 100 + PM monitor network for DFW to track the pollutant in real time across the region.

Dallas’ climate plan sets goals for electrification of the DART bus fleet by 2040 but other cities are moving faster.

For the last three years debate over the siting of proposed new batch plants has raised the profile of Particulate Matter at Dallas City Hall and around North Texas.

 

 

Environmental Organizing on Giving Day 2020

TUESDAY GIVING DAY UPDATE:

We’re over half-way to our goal of $10,000.

Please help us get there today.

 

1. Today the Communities Foundation of Texas is sponsoring a special COVID crisis North Texas Giving Day for DFW non-profits.

2. The Peace Development Fund has chosen to spotlight the COVID-connected work of Downwinders and 12 other groups across the country to help during the crisis.

The Fund and generous donors are matching every dollar we raise this week up to $10,000 – that’s a $20,00,000 grant on the line.

We have until Friday to raise the $10,000.

You can help us reach this goal right now by contributing at our North Texas Giving Day Page or the Mighty Cause pay portal the Development Fund has set up for us.

Thanks for your support,

Jim Schermbeck, Director

Evelyn Mayo, Chair

 

____________________________________

 

COVID Connects:

Community Organizing to

Environmental Health

200 signs like these went up across Dallas on Earth Day 2020. Major Johnson has yet to visit or speak publicly about the highest profile environmental justice scandal since the West Dallas RSR lead smelter Superfund site 25 years ago.

What is It?

Downwinders provides much needed basic organizing resources to local grassroots environmental health fights.We offer the only full time staff devoted to applying community organizing principles to assist groups. We provide start-up funding for fliers and other materials. We’re the only citizens group that has the technology to take air pollution samples…and the classes to teach you how to do it as well. Mostly, we give those in need the attention they’re not getting from officials or anyone else.

Most importantly, we show how to use a fight to change the system that produced the problem. The most recent example is the Shingle Mountain illegal dump and the group Southern Sector Rising that was created to shut it down and clean it up.

Why Do It?

Because nobody else does. Marsha Jackson had been complaining about Shingle Mountain for almost a year when she finally found Downwinders. It took us only three months of organizing with Ms. Jackson to get the City to reverse itself and file suit against the site’s operators to close the site.Out of that effort sprang Southern Sector Rising, a group aimed at not only seeking justice for Shingle Mountain residents but making sure Dallas implemented a citywide Environmental Justice agenda. Part of that agenda, announced on March 20th 2019 at a City Hall news conference, was the restoration of the Dallas Environmental Health Commission and a Environmental Equity Provision that would steer polluters away from already over-polluted neighborhoods. 

Southern Sector Rising and Downwinders are using the example of Shingle Mountain to pass policies aimed at preventing new Shingle Mountains.

What’s the COVID Connection?

In 2020 it seems obvious that municipal governments need to address environmental health issues. But Dallas ditched it’s original Environmental Health Commission a decade ago.

Formed in the wake of the 1980’s West Dallas and East Oak Cliff Lead smelter fights, the Health Commission was a citizen-based watchdog. It recommended the effective banning of hazardous and medical waste incineration in the City and wrote a tough anti-smoking policy before the Council disbanded it.

Had the Commission been around in 2017, it’s likely the Shingle Mountain dump would have shown-up on Dallas City Hall’s radar screens a lot sooner than it did when a reporter had to tell officials about the outrage a year later.

And an “equitable” economic development policy would end the practice of illegal dumpers and grifters targeting Southern Dallas for their schemes.  That pattern of “development” is one reason why residents find themselves more vulnerable to COVID.

Before the virus, City Hall policy avoided environmental health issues. This pandemic shows why it must embrace and plan for them.

STATUS?

Southern Sector Rising has asked that restoration of the Dallas Environmental Health Commission be part of the City’s new climate plan, up for a vote on May 27th. Despite 10 of the current 15 Dallas City Council members having endorsed the idea only last Spring, there’s been no public movement toward adoption.              Watch a 90 second update on Shingle Mtn

SSR won the closing of Shingle Mountain as an active operation, but the dump itself remains an on-going public health crisis in its own right. Over 100,000 tons of petroleum based asphalt shingles
are stacked 6-7 stories high next door to Dallas residents, including families with children.

Despite being invited and holding office for a year, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson has never visited or commented publicly on Shingle Mountain.

His lack of leadership was the focus of last month’s Earth Day actions when                                                          WATCH a 90 SECOND UPDATE ON SHINGLE MOUNTAIN
over 200 “directional aids” went up around
Dallas offering to show him the way to the dump

ACTION YOU CAN TAKE:

Here’s a link to a quick “ClickNSend” letter you can send Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson to help him find his way to Shingle Mountain

COVID CONNECTIONS

Downwinders At Risk was already dedicated to fighting for environmental health in North Texas before the COVID virus hit.

Focusing on harmful Particulate Matter, we were already supporting grassroots efforts to reduce the air pollution burdens in predominantly Black and Brown neighborhoods.

We were already building out local capacity to monitor DFW air pollution and advocating an increased role for local cities and counties to protect their residents from environmental health threats.

All of that work was important before March. It’s become more important since then. But our responsibilities on the ground are outstripping our ability to support them adequately. Like other non-profits, the virus has made it harder to do even the simple things.

This week you can help provide some relief.

The Peace Development Fund has chosen to spotlight the COVID-connected work Downwinders is doing, along with that of 12 other grassroots groups across the country to help supplement their budgets during the crisis. The Fund and generous donors are matching every dollar we raise this week up to $10,000 – that’s a $20,00,000 grant on the line.

We have until Friday to raise the $10,000.

Beginning today and continuing thru Tuesday the 5th at Midnight you can help us meet this goal by contributing via our North Texas Giving Day Page.

Then Wednesday thru Friday the Development Fund has its own Downwinders Mighty Cause pay portal you can also use.

We’re using each day this week to show how our various pieces of program work is more relevant than ever before. Today it’s an update on our ambitious new DFW air monitoring network – SHAREDAIRSDFW.

We know everyone is having a hard time, but with the Development Fund matching your dollars, you can make whatever contribution you give go twice as far to benefit those at highest risk.

Thanks for your support,

Jim Schermbeck, Director

Evelyn Mayo, Chair
__________________________________________

COVID Connects:

Vulnerable Communities to the Need

for Better Air Pollution Monitoring

A screenshot of the SHAREDAIRDFW network map being assembled by UTD students and Downwinders at Risk. This map will soon be available at websites hosted by UTD, Dallas County and Downwinders, Only two of the over 100 new monitors are installed (dots) but more are on their way.

 

What is It?

 

The SHAREDAIRDFW community air quality monitoring network. With its partners at UTD, Downwinders is building a new air monitoring network for DFW that will provide real time information from over 100 locations, including industrial hot spots in Joppa, West Dallas and Midlothian.

 

 

Why Do It?

 

Dallas County’s 2.7 million residents currently share only one EPA Particulate Matter air pollution monitor, north of downtown. Tarrant County has two and Denton County one. These monitors only reflect very local conditions and don’t reveal pollution levels in “frontline” neighborhoods where industry operates next to homes.

Making pollution burdens more equitable across racial and class lines requires identifying, measuring, and mapping those burdens: “You can’t fix what you don’t measure.” The SHAREDAIRDFW network is the first attempt to permanently map air pollution burdens across North Texas and make that information easily accessible to the public 24/7.Dallas County’s 2.7 million residents currently share only one EPA Particulate Matter air pollution monitor, north of downtown. Tarrant County has two and Denton County one. These monitors only reflect very local conditions and don’t reveal pollution levels in “frontline” neighborhoods where industry operates next to homes.

Making pollution burdens more equitable across racial and class lines requires identifying, measuring, and mapping those burdens: “You can’t fix what you don’t measure.” The SHAREDAIRDFW network is the first attempt to permanently map air pollution burdens across North Texas and make that information easily accessible to the public 24/7.

 

What’s the COVID Connection?

Research being done during the COVID pandemic concludes those living with the highest air pollution burdens are among the most vulnerable to being infected and dying from it. Specifically there seems to be a connection between a person’s exposure to Particulate Matter and Nitrogen Oxide air pollutants and the likelihood of contracting COVID. Past studies from the SARS epidemic also point to a strong link between exposure to air pollution and vulnerability to illness.By mapping where the heaviest air pollution burdens are, we can avoid adding to that burden and pursue policies targeting pollution decreases. We can begin to reverse the circumstances that makes the most pollution-impacted neighborhoods the most vulnerable to disease.

 

STATUS?

 

Via teleconferencing, UTD students are finishing up the digital map the Network will use to display its real time air quality information. This map is meant to display not only the levels recorded by our own fleet of monitors, but  easy access to the handful of EPA and Purple Air monitors in DFW as well.

The map will be hosted on websites hosted by UTD, Dallas County and Downwinders.The first community monitors are slated for the former Freedman’s town of Joppa, where Downwinders bought a utility pole for the installation of the larger Mothership monitor. We’ve got a contract for Internet service and are now trying to tie down electrical power.

After a planned community meeting in March was canceled, we’re now gearing back up to find hosts for all ten “satellite” monitors. We hope to be able to begin operation this summer.Once we’re up and running in Joppa, West Dallas is next and then Midlothian. In all Downwiwnders will be responsible for 33 of the over 100 network monitors going up as part of the first wave installation.

……MEANWHILE, Downwinders is using its portable monitors to record air quality in front line neighborhoods during the shelter-in-place periods so we’ll have a baseline for what cleaner air looks like.

Memo: Vote on Dallas Climate Plan Scheduled for May 27th…via Zoom?

Disregarding calls to postpone a vote on its controversial Climate Plan until the Dallas City Council can resume traditional public participation in meetings, Council Environmental Chair Omar Narvaez has set a May 27th date for full council approval.

According to an April 9th memo Narvaez sent to the rest of the Council, the newest draft of the plan will be unveiled online on April 21st with a full briefing to the Environmental And Sustainability Committee scheduled on May 4th if that’s possible. If not, the full council will get a briefing on either May 6th or 20th.

While current local Shelter-in-Place orders expire at the end of April, most experts believe those should be extended through May and there’s no timeline for reinstating in-person public meetings of any local city councils or other governing bodies. If the City follows Narvaez’ schedule, it’s uncertain under what circumstances the Dallas Plan would be adopted, and how much public participation would be allowed.

That Dallas’ plan might be approved while by-passing the usual democratic niceties is just one more way it’s managed to elude real public engagement and transparency over the past two years. From beginning to end, the project has been a consultant and staff-led exercise with just enough of a thin veneer of “public participation” to reassure the unaware. 

[pdf-embedder url=”https://www.downwindersatrisk.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/CECAP-memo_040910.pdf” title=”CECAP memo_040910″]

 

In the memo, Narvaez goes to great lengths to recap City Hall’s efforts at including “the public”  in the plan. He cites the plan’s Stakeholder process, where staff hand-picked its own City Hall-friendly review committee. Not cited is the strange fact that there’s never been a list of individual stakeholder participants released and anyone wanting to know who was representing “the public” in the process had to submit an Texas Open Records Act request to City Hall to find out. Navarez also recounts the previous briefings his Committee has received from staff – but not the fact that no public participation was allowed in those briefings.

Neither does Narvaez mention that some of the Plan’s own official stakeholders are in open rebellion over its uninspiring results, including allies who were practically embedded with city staff for months. There are at least two separate on-going efforts by former stakeholders to try and strengthen the Plan before passage.

But the same divisions that have plagued Dallas environmental groups since the Plan’s announcement are dividing it at the end of the process as well. Representatives of larger mainstream groups like the Sierra Club and Public Citizen are pushing for quick adoption of the Plan, while Texas Campaign for the Environment, the local fledgling Sunrise Movement chapter, and others are seeking delay until citizens are allowed to come back into the Council Chambers and speak directly to their representatives – without the help of Zoom.

One recent development of the Plan that could be actually be relevant for ordinary residents is talk about restoring the Environmental Health Commission as a way to monitor the Climate Plan’s progress as well as serve as a new forum for residents’ concerns. Eliminated ten years ago just as secret gas drilling deals were being written by then City Manager Mary Suhm, the Commission had previously acted as the Council’s eyes and ears on all things related to public health and successfully advanced policy on a variety of fronts, including practical elimination of all waste incineration in Dallas.

Downwinder allies in The Southern Sector Rising Campaign for Environmental Justice called for restoration of the Environmental Health Commission last year at its March 20th news conference at City Hall and has been lobbying to bring it back ever since. Responding to a 2019 Dallas Green Alliance questionnaire, 10 of 15 current Council Members approved of the idea, so theoretically at least, it might be an easy sell.

If restoration of the Commission as previously fully empowered were to actually be included in a final Climate Plan package, at least something of practical real word use would have been purchased with the $500,000 + spent to date on the effort.

Our past coverage of the plan:

February 2019: “All Plan, No Action: Dallas City Hall’s Approach to Climate Change”

March 2019: “Dallas Climate Plan’s ‘Public Participation’ is Neither Very Public nor Participatory”

May 2019: “Dallas’ Climate Plan Rolls Out Public Engagement Plan. Public is MIA.”

November 2019: “The Only Thing Missing in Dallas’ Climate Plan “Focus on Equity” is…any measure of Equity”

February 2020: “How the Dallas Climate Plan Baits and Switches on Air Pollution”

March 2020: Biggest Disappointment of the Dallas Climate Plan? Greens Giving Away Their Power For So Little in Return.

College of Constructive Hell-Raising Begins 4th Year With Another Full Class

Civil Rights legend Peter Johnson talking community organizing with this year’s class.

 

There might be no better symbol of Downwinders’ transformation from a local clean air group to Something More than our successful College of Constructive Hell-Raising.  We just began our fourth year with a class of 22 students that will push the number of alumni to over 50 at this May’s graduation. Seven of our 12 current board members are graduates.Unlike other seminars for political activists that examine electoral strategies or specific skills like public speaking or fundraising, the College enables its participants to “think like an organizer.” Its sessions are a combination of the same principles taught to professional organizers at the nation’s oldest schools of community organizing and the local history of effective social change as told by the people who made it.

Environmentalism is not its focus. Rather it’s a deep dive into the mechanics of how “Davids” beat “Goliaths.”

Per custom, original Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) organizer Peter Johnson was the semester’s lead-off guest speaker. As someone who knew MLK Jr. on a first name basis, Peter instantly brings history down from the pedestal many of us want to put it on. Other guest lecturers include John Fullinwider, Changa Higgins, Mavis Belisle, Sister Patricia Ridgley, Kim Batchelor, Luis Selpulveda, Patti Fink, Don Madison, Colette McCadden and Meagan Green.

As impressive as our speaker line-up is, it’s also the diversity of students who’ve fueled the success of the class – urban aggies, animal rights and police brutality activists, peace and immigration activists, LGBT, transit rights and anti-gentrification activists. We’re growing a network of relationships that transcend single-issue silos and making new friends that connect us to larger struggles.

Interested? Another class begins January 2021 with enrollment beginning in September. You can put your name on a waiting list to get an early heads-up here, and follow the College on FaceBook here.

How the Dallas Climate Plan Baits and Switches on Air Pollution

A little after 5 pm Monday February 3rd, the Office of Environmental Quality and Sustainability (OEQS) at Dallas City Hall released its draft recommendations for the city’s climate “action” plan. There are 93 “action items” including transportation, buildings, green spaces, water management, solid waste, and urban agriculture. Most are without imagination or timelines, meaning that even the most milk toast-like recommendations being made will have to be fought for tooth and nail to be done in a timely manner.

Like the department that generated them, the list of recommendations is effusive about stormwater management and tree-planting and silent on more challenging issues such as inequitable pollution burdens and the City’s own reliance on natural gas. It once again puts the spotlight on the lack of any environmental health expertise at Dallas City Hall in the decision-making process. When Dallas OEQS staff talk about the environment, what they really mean is “conservation” – a definition that’s been obsolete since at least the 1970’s.

There’s no better example of how this tunnel vision affects policy than OEQS staff invoking DFW’s chronically poor air quality (i.e. an environmental health problem) to sell the need for its Climate Plan…only to see the actual Plan ignore poor air quality as a serious health issue that could use some innovative thinking.

For over a year now, anytime you saw a Climate Plan presentation by Dallas OEQS staff, it always cited DFW’s smog problem as something that would only get worse as the climate crisis played out. “Everyone here is probably aware of DFW’s longtime air quality problems” or some approximate was the standard riff. And of course, everybody was. Heads nodded. Audience members were sometimes asked if they knew anyone with asthma and hands immediately shot up. That was the point. The selling point.

Because, until recently at least, the abstract nature of “the climate crisis” made it difficult to get people excited about the idea of a plan. Staff/Consultants needed a hook. And that hook was something everyone could relate to and probably already knew about: DFW’s three decades of violating the Clean Air Act.  If you look at the results of the Ctiy’s online survey asking about frequency or intensity of climate change effects, “Poor Air Quality” was the second most cited concern.   Among the City’s own handpicked crew of “stakeholders” advisors, it tied for first, along with buildings/energy use, getting more votes than parks, “nature-based approaches,” and renewable energy.

And yet, in those same City Staff presentations that highlighted poor air quality as a reason to have a Climate Plan, air quality itself was completely absent in the staff’s list of anticipated recommendations. It wasn’t that they just didn’t have much to say. They had nothing to say. There wasn’t even a category for air quality.

So Downwinders complained. Loudly. Staff and consultants sprang into action and came up with a category of recommendations officially called…“Other,” the theme of which was “air quality standards” and “public education.” Opportunities cited included “location-specific initiatives (e.g. downtown)” and “Programs targeted outdoor workers (e.g. Landscapers, construction workers).”

So sure, we have a chronic air pollution problem that warrants a $500,000 consultancy fee to construct a plan, but in that plan we’re only going to continue to inform people of that problem and maybe do some kind of vague thing relating to the poor souls who work outside (limit hours, hand-out free oxygen, help find new employment, or maybe free health check-ups? Doesn’t give a hint). By the way, only the public education part of that slide made it to last Monday. Construction workers and landscapers are still up a creek.

Along with those snippets of text on the “Other” slide were large color pictures of the “Breathe Easy” 5K run sponsored by The Jerome Alston Memorial Foundation in May…during Ozone Season. We’ll give the City staff credit. In terms of public education, there might not be a better way to personalize the seriousness of DFW’s air pollution problem than having North Texas smog cause an emergency asthma attack while you’re running in it. But liability could be an issue.

As late as the final round of public meetings last Fall, staff still didn’t have an “Air Quality” category but said they would have “something” when the plan was published.

Turns out “something” looks a lot like nothing.

Among the 93 “actions” listed in the Plan’s draft, the category of Solid Waste gets nine recommendations. Water Resources 15.  Urban Ag 14. The brand new category of “Air Quality” has four – the fewest of any category in the plan. It’s practically stamping “Last-Minute Desperation” on the whole subject.

And tell us if any of these recommendations sound like anything you might have already heard about…

Let’s take them from the top.

The very first thing out of the gate, the lead-off, sexiest, out-of-the-box recommendation for improving air quality is…. somehow talk the State into adding more obsolete, state-run air monitors at some unspecified time in the future.

If you can, forget that the State environmental agency – the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) – is a model for the Trump Administration. Forget that its official position is that smog is waaaaay overrated as a health threat. In other words, forget that this is akin to hiring Charlie Sheen to babysit your only child.

It’s not the baked-in, in-your-face cynicism of City staff knowing the state has every reason not to do this that’s so offensive. It’s the same cynicism applied to knowing full well what will happen even if the state says yes to the request: no real improvement in local information about air quality. Those state monitors are big, slow, and sparse.  They run two hours or more behind real time. They’re hard to find online. They’re needlessly expensive and take up lots of real estate that has to be purchased. Their placement is decided by TCEQ and city staff, not the communities most in need of them.  There is no stated OEQS goal for the number of monitors to acquire, or suggestions about where new monitors should be. No language in the recommendation about wanting real time monitoring or more modern equipment. It’s just an expansion of an already-obsolete system the state only runs because federal law requires them to (for now).

OEQS wants more of these lumbering and obsolete monitors from the state.

So let’s say the City talks the state into doubling the number of state PM 2.5 monitors in Dallas. Victory! The discussion will then be where to place the second slow, hard-to-find PM monitor for all of Dallas County’s 2.5 million residents.

Left unsaid in this recommendation is something we already know. For a year now Staff has tried to move that single Dallas County PM monitor located on Hinton Street north of Downtown to somewhere in Southern Dallas. Apparently the state has made that hard-to-impossible and so for the purposes of having something, anything, to recommend for this climate plan, staff  recommends more monitors – knowing there’s a snowball chance in Hell of getting them. It’s the perfect bureaucratic out.

Most importantly the City remains a spectator to the reporting to its residents of how bad their air is. Its staff doesn’t have to make any environmental health judgments as they’re busy promoting tree planting. They leave that up to the people who couldn’t care less about how much pollution you’re breathing.

In the wake of recent Gulf Coast chemical plant accidents, the TCEQ is under heavy criticism for its lack of current air monitoring technology. The system it operates in DFW hasn’t changed in over 20 years. TCEQ won’t even put an air monitor in the only DFW “non-attainment” county that doesn’t have one – Wise – where smog levels have been predicted to be even higher than in DFW proper.

Recommending a modest expansion of circa-1999 technology is the opposite of a “best practices” answer for our gap in local air quality knowledge.  The most alarming thing about this recommendation is that it got made at all.

The one-liner stapled at the end about offering free health screenings “with Dallas County” (who’s already in the business)  in “areas with poor air quality” is incredibly condescending. Here’s the ultimate “settlement house” approach to a social ill – addressing the symptoms but not the cause. “Well, we can’t do much to enforce code or keep those batch plants out of your backyard, but by God we’ll be around every 6 months to keep track of your asthma until you die from it.”

How does OEQS staff know where those “areas with poor air quality” are now unless they’re out monitoring them? Which they clearly do not want to do. Given there’s only one official PM monitor for all of Dallas County, how are they defining “areas with bad air?” If they’re making educated guesses where those “areas” are based on other factors besides monitoring, why not name those factors and the “areas?”  OEQS goes out of its way to avoid using the words “environmental justice” even as it makes recommendations based on the concept.

Recommendation #2 – let’s build our own “non-regulatory” air monitoring network sometime in the unspecified future with unspecified non-profits and community partner volunteers and put an unspecified number of monitors in unspecified places, for which we unspecified criteria. And these monitors “could be used to “to track progress for air quality improvements based on strategic initiatives deployed in CECAP, and the comprehensive plan.”

This is actually a great idea. It’s such a great idea that a specified alliance of local governments, non-profits, and community partners are already doing it in specified locations with specified monitors. Their effort is about to deploy over 100 locally-built air monitors that will increase PM 2.5 monitoring in Dallas County by 4000%. It’s called the SharedAirDFW Community Air Quality Monitoring Network and the City of Dallas officially walked out of it last year over a public participation requirement and a desire to refrain from being the source of bad news about bad air.

Dallas city staff is consistent in believing that telling you about air pollution is absolutely, positively necessary – they just want someone else to do it.

Having walked away from the SharedAirDFW network, OEQS set out to make one up of its own using the City Hall-friendly Nature Conservancy as its non-profit partner. The “Breath Easy” plan was to put 9-12 PM and smog monitors on the same number of DISD campuses, grow trees and implement anti-idling zones at those schools and see if asthma attacks/rates dropped in 24 months (2 growing cycles). Everyone seemed to agree how important a project this was and the city raised $500,000 or more to buy 12 very nice Aeroqual (Recommended by Downwinders since 2017!) air monitors. Everyone but the Dallas independent School District, who nixed the idea last summer. This detail somehow escaped the presentation staff gave to the City Council’s Quality of Life Committee on the Breath Easy project in September 2018.

An Aeroqual stationary air monitor like the 12 Dallas owns…but isn’t using

So far the City of Dallas is 0 for 2 in making their own recommendation a reality when it had the chance. But wait! Remember those 12 monitors the City bought for the defunct Breathe Easy project? They’re just sitting somewhere. They’re already paid for but aren’t being used. OEQS could implement this recommendation of theirs on its own tomorrow if it wanted to by placing these 12 monitors in locations based on where the most industrial facilities are and where the most air pollution complaints come from. Overnight it could have its own fleet of “non-regulatory” monitors in the field, with all the benefits cited by staff.

But there’s no mention of those 12 monitors, or of the City Hall’s ability to accomplish this goal on its own, right now, without waiting. Because it doesn’t want to. It wants someone else to do it.

Recommendation #3 . It’s that forlorn public awareness recommendation showing up in the form of continued support for an ozone season air quality campaign run by a group that did its part to make smog an issue for years. There’s no harm to this but there’s also no help. This campaign will go on for as long as DFW is in violation of the Clean Air Act and doesn’t mention climate change.

Finally, there’s recommendation #4. Perhaps (but perhaps not) heavy industry that pollutes a lot shouldn’t be close to homes. This is coming straight-faced from a OEQS that’s approved the last four batch plants seeking permits to set-up shop in Joppa and the South Central Corridor…next to homes. Do as we recommend, not as we actually, you know, do.

The TAMKO asphalt shingles plant and multiple diesel locomotives operate next to Austin’s asphalt batch plant…and residents in Joppa

When it says the City will review zoning, that’s not a special environmental health screening of sites. It’s just part of upcoming land use planning processes that will already be used to re-examine all zoning on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood level. They’re riding coat tails. The OEQS doesn’t make recommendations about suggested buffer zones, where those zones should be, or what criteria the city should use in pursuing buffer zones. And it doesn’t even say the City’s neighborhoods need any buffer zones between homes and industries at all, just that it may want to consider them at an unspecified time by an unspecified body for  unspecified neighborhoods.  Have we mentioned the staff at City Hall really really doesn’t like to deal with environmental health issues?

We get it. They had to have something or you’d be reading our criticism about the absence of ANY specific air quality recommendations, no matter how lame. And there are other items in other categories that will inevitably produce decreases in air pollution of all kinds – bus and vehicle fleet electrification being among the lowest-hanging fruit.

But City Hall’s cynical use of DFW’s air pollution problem to win support for a plan that ends up doing nothing about it directly makes these “Air Quality” recommendations particularly contemptuous.

What would more sincere “air quality” recommendations look like?

1. Acknowledging an historic imbalance in the air pollution burdens borne by Dallas neighborhoods and a commitment with a deadline to inventory the City’s air pollution threats by council district and zip code. You can’t fix what you don’t measure. Right now there’s no map of where concentrations of air pollution are in Dallas.

2. Acknowledging there’s no safe level of PM air pollution, i.e., no amount of exposure that isn’t capable of doing harm. Acknowledging People of Color are exposed to more, and higher levels of PM pollution than their white peers. These conclusions, supported by a multitude of good studies, including ones from EPA, are basic in prioritizing where to reduce air pollution in Dallas.

3. Recommendation to write an Environmental Equity Provision into City Code to discourage and prohibit siting new polluters in those zip codes hosting more permitted polluters than the citywide average, beginning in 2021.

4. Recommendation to quit siting polluters in any floodplain beginning in 2021.

5. Recommend a 2025 deadline for the electrification of all railroad switch yard operations in Dallas.

6. Recommend 1500 foot buffer zones on either side of new major highways where homes, day care centers, and schools would be prohibited from locating. Applied to existing highways as uses within 1000 feet come up for new permits and zoning.

7. Recommend the immediate amortization and relocation of the GAF asphalt shingle factory in West Dallas and the TAMKO shingle factory in Joppa. These factories are among the City’s largest industrial polluters in Dallas, accounting for over 420 tons of air pollution in 2017 alone.  They operate in the middle of dense urban residential areas populated primarily by People of Color. They need to be relocated elsewhere. Building new facilities will automatically trigger modern pollution controls requirements. They’ll be cleaner and doing business in a less harmful location.

8. Recommendation to rewrite city codes giving incentives for cleaner industries and more requirements for dirty ones.

9. Join UTD’s SharedAirDFW Community Air Monitoring Network – plug OEQS’ 12 unused monitors into the Network and begin to take responsibility for telling Dallas residents what their air quality actually is.

10. Acknowledge the conflict of interest the City has in producing and selling gas from its landfill recovery operation and commit to electrification of all city-owned vehicles by 2025. Dallas’ own city-run McCommas Bluff methane gas recovery facility is the fourth largest air polluter in Dallas, releasing over 160 tons of air pollution in 2017 alone. Recommend contracting only with electric vehicle fleets for additional services. Los Angeles recently committed to an all electric garbage truck fleet in five years, and Dallas could do the same – but it still wants to use its own landfill gas to power combustion vehicles.

11.  Implement stronger enforcement of the city air quality and nuisance ordinances, including hiring new staff and publicizing how to request an investigation.

12. Beginning in 2025 begin collecting municipal clean air mitigation fees of $50 a pound on permitted air pollution from major sources to incentivize pollution controls and pay for new staff. In 2017 such a fee would have collected over $1 million.

13. Implement no idling zones in all Dallas warehouse districts.

14. Recommend Low-Emission Zones in Downtown Dallas where combustion vehicles are banned or restricted, permanently or on a schedule. Consider expanding to other parts of Dallas such as Deep Ellum and Bishop Arts where congestion is already a problem.

15. Recommend PM pollution protection be designed into new bus shelters.

16. Recommend establishment of an Electric Bus Procurement Pool with DISD, DART, Trinity Metro, other area schools districts, and transit companies for cheaper purchases of electric buses.

17. Restoration of the Dallas Environmental Health Commission.

18. Hiring a City of Dallas Environmental Health Scientist.

DFW does have a chronic bad air problem. The Climate Crisis will make it worse. It is a legitimate area of policy planning in any thoughtful, modern Climate Plan.

Just not this one.

Downwinders Welcomes New Board Members

November brought a round of new board members joining our ranks. It also brought an historic milestone. For the first time in our 25 year history, we’re now governed by a board whose majority is composed of people of color.

   Marsha Jackson

A year ago not many people at Dallas City Hall knew Marsha Jackson’s name. That’s not the case this December. Ms. Jackson is both the founder of her own neighborhood group, Neighbors United, and the citywide Southern Sector Rising Campaign for Environmental Justice. She’s also the nearest neighbor to Shingle Mountain, Dallas’ largest illegal dump and the highest profile symbol of environmental racism in North Texas since the RSR lead smelter clean-up in the early 1990’s. Like Luis Sepulveda almost 30 years ago Marsha Jackson’s name has become synonymous with the fight for Environmental Justice in Dallas.

Michelle McAdam

Michelle is a long-time friend of Downwinders who finally decided to join the board. She was a student in the very first year of our College of Constructive Hell-Raising, where she met her unlikely Southern Dallas doppelganger and provided us with one of our favorite college stories. She’s a true Daughter of Dallas nobility but instead of resting on our laurels or trust funds, she’s worked tirelessly her whole adult life for people who haven’t been as fortunate, including being on staff at the International Rescue Committee and now as an Economic Empowerment Specialist at New Friends New Life, a group working to transition women out sex trafficking or exploitation.

Justina Walford

Justina is a former District 4 City Council candidate, Southern Dallas dog rescuer and advocate, and member of the Southern Sector Rising Campaign Steering Committee. She’s also Director of the annual Women Texas Film Festival. Born and raised in Southern California, Justina owned a theater in Hollywood during the early 2000’s where she produced full length plays and storytelling events that included her original work.

Amber Wang

Amber has degrees from Rice in Mechanical Engineering and trouble-making from our own College of Constructive Hell-Raising. She’s Technology Manager at the Victory
Co-Working space Hatchways and has bravely decided to help us in developing more sustainable local funding source. At Rice Amber led a student design organization that developed pro bono solutions for nonprofit organizations and social ventures in the Houston community. We hope she can do the the same for us.