In the next seven days you can help us change the way Dallas City Hall looks at “environmental issues.”
One of the most important lessons of the Shingle Mountain crisis is the high price residents paid by having no environmental health expertise at Dallas City Hall.
This coming Friday, February 12th, the Interim Climate Committee Chaired by former City Council Representative Sandy Greyson is voting on how to organize a new approach to environmental issues in Dallas.
Southern Sector Rising and Downwinders at Risk are formally asking this interim committee to recommend a solution advocated for the last two years by Dallas Environmental Justice advocates: two separate committees. One to track the Dallas Climate Plan, and restoration of the Environmental Health Commission to tackle on-going environmental controversies and policies.
Making sure the numerous climate plan timelines and goals are met will be a full-time job.
EJ advocates say it would be unfair and unwise to also assign this committee the additional responsibility to hear, investigate, and offer policy recommendations on environmental health issues like Shingle Mountain, batch plant permitting, and COVID inequities. They’re urging Former Council Woman Greyson and the Interim Committee to adopt the two committee solution.
You can add your voice to this two committee option by clicking on this link and sending a “ClickNSend” email directly to Chairperson Greyson and Interim Committee members. We’ve got the template written and you can add your own message as well.
If you’re a Dallas resident, please help us bring a much needed focus on environmental health issues to City Hall. Thanks.
Despite the flurry of cynical and self-serving photo ops and press releases that Dallas City Hall churned out on Monday celebrating the beginning of a clean-up at Shingle Mountain, no waste was removed from the site yesterday. Nor will any be removed today.
But thanks to you, a clean up is coming. And also thanks to all you, that clean-up is suddenly more concerned with the health of Choate Street residents.
Last week, after a required 30-day public notice period, a state court approved a settlement between the illegal dump’s landowner, the State of Texas and the City of Dallas that sets the table for removal of all “above ground” material. On Monday, contractors for the city were installing air monitors around the dump to record the levels of dust created when bulldozers begin loading the estimated 100,000 tons of hazardous waste into waiting 18-wheelers for the half mile trip to the McCommas landfill.
According to a separate agreement between the City and the landowner, the City has until December 25th to “begin” the removal process, i.e. sending trucks to actually haul off waste.
This result was anything but a foregone conclusion when the “Move the Mountain” campaign began last August 5th with a new conference at City Hall demanding the illegal dump be gone by the end of the year.
Only 4 months ago City Hall hadn’t made any commitments to a clean-up and had no estimate for when one would take place. The City Council had just unanimously rejected pleas from Choate Street residents to re-establish the Environmental Health Commission as part of a new Climate Plan. We were at a low ebb in our campaign.
But a strategic and constant barrage of public protest and shaming – mock trials, leafleting the Mayor’s law firm, dumping waste at City Hall – along with the attendant embarrassing media coverage, made the City of Dallas actually commit itself to a clean-up it hadn’t planned on doing quite as fast, if at all.
Keeping constant pressure applied for four months was often exhausting, but momentum grew with each new demonstration. November 16th might have seen “peak” Shingle Mountain coverage with publication of a long and well-written expose in the Washington Post, a public demonstration at the dump’s gate counting down the days until a clean-up was supposed to begin and a crew from Solodad OBrien’s upcoming BET documentary in town to film it for a premiere in February.
Thanks to everyone who showed up to those demonstrations of support. Whether you attended one or all of them, your presence made a difference.
Those of you who sent in public comments this last month also had an impact. Initially, neither the State nor City expressed the least bit of concern about the health of Choate Street residents during the messy business of removing the waste. No specific provisions for controlling dust or monitoring air quality were included in the City agreement or State settlement.
But after over 50 letters and emails worth of comments were sent and included in the public record, the City suddenly got religion. It included dust control measures and air monitoring in its final description of the clean-up to the court. Lawyers for Marsha Jackson, Co-Chair of Southern Sector Rising, and a Downwinder board member cited your public comments as the reason the City included these new safeguards at the last minute. So congratulations a second time.
The settlement and agreements signed by the State and City are vague about what happens after the land surface is cleared of waste. Will there be any monitoring wells drilled to see if contamination seeped into the groundwater? Will the clean-up extend below the ground as well as above if the soil is contaminated? If pollution is found in the soil or water, what level of contamination is “acceptable”, i.e. what are the clean-up levels then?
And what and who will be responsible for the health costs -financial and physiological – accumulated by Ms. Jackson and the other Choate Street families?
Residents have drafted their own neighborhood plan for redevelopment that drastically changes the zoning in their community. They’ve submitted it to City Hall. But the same City Council Member that was taking unearned credit for Shingle Mountain’s removal on Monday is fighting this neighborhood plan tooth and nail.
District 8 City Council Member Tennell Atkins is one of the biggest reasons Shingle Mountain exists at all, and why its removal has been so delayed. He’s been nothing but an obstacle to be overcome instead of an ally for his constituents. Adding insult to injury, he’s now standing in the way of Choate Street and Flora Farms residents being able to rebuild their community from the devastation he’s inflicted on them.
Atkins is up for re-election in May and it’s our hope that all of you who made this Shingle Mountain clean-up happen will stick around and finish the job by helping us remove this political tumor that threatens the future of Southern Dallas.
Sunday December 13th was the two-year anniversary of the very first Robert Wilonsky column about Shingle Mountain in the Dallas Morning News. Some of us believed that first column would expose the problem and move officials to act to resolve it. 13 Wilonsky Shingle Mountain columns later, we’re still waiting on the trucks that should have arrived in January 2019.
If they show up before Christmas Day , it will be one of the best, most satisfying moments of a terrible year. But it won’t be the end of the struggle over racist zoning that began on Choate Street. That struggle is just beginning.
Public Comments on the State’s Settlement with Shingle Mountain landowner
Now thru Sunday, Dec 6th
Use our ClickNSend email feature to send your comments to Texas Attorney General’s office in 90 seconds
To make sure residents’ health is protected during a Shingle Mountain clean-up
A four-month citizens’ campaign pressuring the City of Dallas to clean-up the Shingle Mountain illegal dump in Southern Dallas by the end of 2020 is on the verge of paying off.
Following a pattern that began in summer, on the very same October day groups planning civil disobedience at the dump site announced another action, the City signed an agreement with the Shingle Mountain landowner to take responsibility to “begin” a clean-up by Dec 25th. In return, the City received a check for $1 million from the landowner.
Meanwhile, the state has also reached an agreement with the landowner that clears the way for a clean-up. That agreement is now up for public comment until 12 Midnight Sunday, December 5th.
You can help us protect the health of the Choate Street families most affected by the clean-up by providing your public comments to this State agreement. Doing so sends a message to both Austin and Dallas City Hall that they’re being held accountable now that they’ve been put in charge of removing the 100,000 tons of illegal hazardous waste they helped create.
Public pressure is what’s brought us to this point. Public pressure must now make sure the clean-up itself won’t increase residents’ exposure to hazardous materials like Silica, Formaldehyde, Petroleum By-Products and exotic glues and adhesives used to make shingles that are now crumbling into tons of microscopic particles.
On Monday November 16th, members of Southern Sector Rising, Downwinders at Risk, Southern Dallas Shingle Movers and other protesters gathered at the dump’s front gate for an action that hoisted and hooked a huge Clean-Up Countdown Calendar onto the eight-foot-tall metal fence that divides the site from South Central Expressway.
Designed as a giant-size desk calendar, it marked the 30 days of public notice ending on Sunday the 6th. Rev. Frederick Haynes of Friendship-West Baptist Church, Rabbi Nancy Kasten, and the Rev. Amy Moore joined Marsha Jackson and her neighbors in speaking about the need to monitor the City and State during this critical phase.
On the same day, a lengthy expose on Shingle Mountain by Washington Post national climate and environmental reporter Darryl Fears instantly made the dump a national poster child for Environmental Racism.
Two days later, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson was asked about the Shingle Mountain clean-up by a Channel 8 reporter during his City Hall press conference on rising crime rates in Dallas. His revealing answer beginning with, “It’s really a legal problem,” confirmed the City always had the option of cleaning up the dump, but delayed doing so for over 18 months until it had received money from either the operators or landowners. Admitting that the City could have “solved” this problem early on, Johnson said the City choose not to because that would have made the City’s lawsuit against the landowners “moot.”
Moot is a lawyer’s term that’s defined as “of little or no practical value, meaning, or relevance; purely academic.” Instead of making their lawsuit moot by immediately cleaning up a site causing daily human health damage, Mayor Johnson and the City of Dallas rendered the health of Marsha Jackson and the Choate Street families moot. They made it of little or no practical value in the City’s approach. Of much greater value was the cash received by the landowners. The City sacrificed a street full of its own residents for a lousy $1 million.
In his three-minute response, Johnson never uttered Marsha Jackson’s name, never addressed residents’ health issues, and never expressed regret, second thoughts, or apologies over the year and half the six-story waste pile harmed Choate Street residents. He never admitted the City’s multiple failures in code enforcement, zoning or environmental regulation that paved the way for Shingle Mountain’s creation. He complained how the City was put in a “tough position” – never considering how tough it might be for parents to watch helplessly as their child coughs-up pieces of ground-up shingles. Mayor’s Johnson’s answer was full of legal rationale but completely devoid of humanity or self-awareness. There were no people in it.
In short, it was an articulate if soulless synopsis of the City’s position regarding not only Shingle Mountain, but all environmental health problems in Dallas. Because at Dallas City Hall there is no such thing as human-centric environmental problems. What was the City’s first legal response to Shingle Mountain? It wasn’t to cite what an illegal awful abomination it was, but to take it to court over storm water violations. There were no people to worry about. Besides the inability of the City to protect its own residents from illegal hazards is the fact that it continues to treat Choate Street residents as spectators to their own disaster. Marsha Jackson is the Invisible Woman.
In May the Dallas City Council unanimously rejected the pleas of Ms. Jackson and Southern Sector Rising to re-establish the Dallas Environmental Health Commission to give an institutional voice to their concerns within City Hall; to put people back into the mix along with tree planting and water conservation. The Council turned its back on her – again.
That’s why your public comments about maintaining the safety of the pending clean-up are important.
Please show the City of Dallas that you care about Marsha Jackson and the families on Choate Street – even if it doesn’t. Thanks.
Monies will fund unprecedented study of link between health and air pollution in Dallas Freedman’s Town; first effort of its kind in Texas
What’s believed to be the single largest environmental health research investment in a Texas neighborhood was awarded today by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to examine the links between human health and air pollution in the Joppa community of Dallas.
Texas A&M and Downwinders at Risk’s Joppa Environmental Health Project was selected as one of only 16 national proposals funded by the Foundation’s Interdisciplinary Research Leaders grant. Between now and 2022, over $350,000 will be spent by Texas A&M scientists trying to understand the correlation between Particulate Matter air pollution and the health of the Freedman’s Town’s residents.
Cecilia Wagonner, a member of the Joppa church that hosted a community meeting on air pollution monitoring last December, was enthusiastic about the news. “I want to know the truth and nothing but the truth about air quality in our historic neighborhood. This is definitely good news. Let environmental justice be served.”
Per capita, Joppa is the most polluted neighborhood in Dallas. On one side is the Trinity River. On the other three sides are an asphalt batch plant, Railroad switch yard, large asphalt shingle factory, a concrete batch plant, and Interstate highway. It’s directly downwind from the largest methane air polluter in Dallas – the City’s McCommas Landfill methane energy recovery unit.
Since PM air pollution monitoring began there on August 31st as part of the new SharedAirDFW air monitoring network, Joppa’s PM levels have averaged significantly higher than other sites.
Two Texas A&M scientists based in College Station will lead the new Project. Dr. Natalie Johnson, is an A&M toxicologist specializing in the health effects of Particulate Matter air pollution, and Dr. Ping Ma, is an A&M behavioral and social science researcher who previously worked at Dallas Children’s Hospital specializing in health disparities and social determiners of health. Downwinders will assist with community canvassing and outreach efforts as well as provide technical support through its 11-Joppa based SharedAirDFW network monitors.
They’re now all charged with collecting evidence to discover whether Joppa has higher rates of PM air pollution and health problems than other communities, and understand how differences in daily levels of PM affect residents’ health.
“PM represents a significant ‘unseen’ health risk related to cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, including lung cancer and asthma, as well as effects on infant development and brain health,” said Johnson. “SharedAirDFW’s real-time pollution monitors will help make this threat ‘seen.”
Ping pointed out the study will be the first academic-community collaboration of its type in Texas. “Our findings will facilitate understanding of the air pollution risks Joppa residents face as well as generate community-based solutions to help create a new culture of environmental health in Joppa.”
Participants chosen for the IRL process also become students who receive training in the latest research methods and constant feedback from panels of experienced scientists and experts.
Grant monies will pay for staff time, graduate assistants, technology, travel, and community outreach over a three-year period.
The IRL grant is the first research project attracted by the SharedAirDFW regional air monitoring network that debuted in September, but Jim Schermbeck, Director of Downwinders, predicted it wouldn’t be the last. “This network makes all kinds of new comparisons and studies possible. In this case, residents and researchers are using it to document Joppa’s air pollution burdens and assist residents in relieving those burdens. That’s a first for Dallas, and Texas.”
From now until the end of the year the Project partners will be assembling their local contacts, refining their timeline and methodology, and getting ready to begin research in early 2021.
When you click on the new SharedAirDFW.com site, the default setting shows you the location of the SharedAirDFW monitors and the real time wind direction and speed.
The Menu gives you a choice of three different PM monitor networks to look at: SharedAirDFW, the EPA, and Purple Air. You can look at them one at a time or all at once.
The menu also allows you to see where all the major air pollution permits are located in the City of Dallas. Click on the black dot and it reveals the name of the air pollution permit holder as well as the volume of pollution in tons per year reported in 2018 (the last fully reported year). We only have this mapped inventory of air polluters because of the Paul Quinn College report “Poisoned by Zip Code.” The City of Dallas has no such inventory or map.
Since it began collecting data on the afternoon of August 31st, the Joppa Zion Mothership monitor has consistently recorded the highest average levels of PM among all the deployed SharedAirDFW monitors, as well as all EPA and Purple Air monitors in DFW. These bar charts show the level of PM recorded from most of the current SharedAirDFW network monitors from 8/31/20 to 9/14/20. They’re all accessible to the public through the site.
The debut of the SharedAirDFW Network means
21st Century air monitoring finally arrives in North Texas
After three years, and many thousands of hours and dollars, citizens have their own
regional air quality monitoring system.
It’s easy to use, operates in real time, and its monitors are being put where the pollution burdens are greatest.
The Joppa Zion Mothership Monitor: on the Network’s digital map and on its pole after deployment.
Since operation began 8/31, it’s consistently shown higher levels of PM air pollution than other monitors in Dallas.
By January they’ll be 11 more monitors joining it in the Freedman-founded community.
A three-year high-tech collaboration between the University of Texas at Dallas, Downwinders at Risk, the City of Plano, Dallas County, Dallas College, and Paul Quinn College came to fruition today with the official debut of the the SharedAirDFW Network – online, and with an outpost in one of the most polluted neighborhoods in North Texas.
It becomes the first and only regional “hyper-local” air monitoring network in Texas and one of the only ones being built by any US city.
“This network is the purest, most dramatic expression of our 26-year old goal to provide citizens with the tools government won’t,” said Downwinders Director Jim Schermbeck, who’s helped shepherd the Network since it was a National Science Foundation grant runner-up in 2017. “We see SharedAirDFW’s debut as the public health equivalent of turning on electric streetlights for the first time at the turn of the 20th Century. We’re building a utility – the full impact of which won’t be realized for years.”
Debuting with eight Particulate Matter (PM) air pollution monitors located from Richardson to Southern Dallas and Mesquite to Fort Worth, the network is scheduled to install over 100 more in the next 12-24 months, including blanketing Dallas neighborhoods whose residents say they’re already breathing bad air but have no way to prove it.
In the last decade published research on the human health effects of exposure to Particulate Matter air pollution has linked it to a variety of illnesses and diseases, including developmental impacts such as Autism, Parkinson’s, Dementia, and IQ loss. These effects have been documented at exposure levels well below U.S. EPA regulatory limits.
All the monitors in the network were built at the Physics Laboratory at the University of Texas at Dallas campus in Richardson. They’re being distributed to members either in clusters of 11, with one larger hard-wired “Mothership” accompanying ten smaller solar-powered ones or the Mothership as its own stand alone unit.
ALL DFW PM MONITORS DISPLAYED ON A SINGLE MAP
PM Air pollution data collected from those monitors, along with information from EPA and DFW Purple Air monitors, are displayed in real time on a digital map accessible to anyone online at www.sharedairdfw.com. For the first time, a single website displays all the online monitors networks collecting PM air pollution data in North Texas on the same map. Besides UTD, Downwinders at Risk, Dallas College, and Dallas County will be displaying the SharedairDFW map on their own websites.
Only Particulate Matter air pollution levels are shown by the SharedAirDFW map now but larger monitors will also be capturing Ozone, or Smog levels. At some point in the near future, that data will also begin to be displayed on the Network map.
MAPPING OF MAJOR POLLUTERS
Also on display are the locations of the major air polluters in the City of Dallas, along with their self-reported pollution volumes – a first-ever inventory of Big D’s air polluters that no level of government currently provides.
MANY MORE MONITORS IN MANY MORE PLACES
Currently there are only six EPA monitors for Particulate Matter Air pollution in all of North Texas, and only 12 Purple Air monitors online. With the ability to saturate neighborhoods with almost a dozen monitors apiece, SharedAirDFW allows residents, researchers, and policymakers to better pinpoint pollution plumes and health risks.
REAL TIME DATA
For the first time there’s a way for DFW residents get air quality information in real time instead of waiting for up to two or three hours at government monitor sites. The SharedAirDFW monitors display their readings every 30 seconds, 24 hours a day.
AN EMPHASIS ON ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE
For the first time there’s year-round, calibrated air quality data being collected in Dallas’ most polluted neighborhood – the Joppa community in Southern Dallas along the Trinity River. The “Joppa Zion Mothership” – named for the adjacent Church – began transmitting on Monday August 31st. It’s linked to two additional “satellite” monitors that began transmitting this last weekend. By January they’ll be 11 monitors in Joppa, making it the most densely monitored neighborhood not just in Dallas, but all of Texas.
Joppa’s monitors are the first of 33 air monitors Downwinders at Rik is deploying in so-called “fence line” locations. After installation in Joppa is completed, another 11 will be installed in West Dallas, and then in and around Midlothian as well.
In the two weeks since the first Joppa monitor was installed, it’s consistently recorded higher levels of PM pollution than other monitors in the SharedAirDFW network as well as local EPA and Purple Air monitors. Schermbeck said those results vindicate the decision to locate monitors in predominantly Black and Brown neighborhoods disproportionately burdened by their proximity to industrial polluters. “Our monitors are going where people are most harmed by air pollution, but least able to do something about it.”
D with the first story about Marsha Jackson’s lawsuit….”the suit blames the city for (Shingle Mountain’s) existence. It says existing deed restrictions should have blocked the city from issuing a certificate of occupancy, but the operators got one anyway. The city didn’t require the operator to get a special use permit or even have a site plan, it alleges. More broadly, it says the city’s zoning purposely steers similar sites to Black and Latino neighborhoods and, despite having removed other large polluters away from nearby developments like Trinity Groves, has refused to do the same for Shingle Mountain.”
Arguing that the City Of Dallas has always had the authority to clean-up the huge illegal Shingle Mountain dump in Southern Dallas, but chose not to because it’s in a predominantly Black and Brown neighborhood, lawyers for Marsha Jackson added City Hall as a defendant in their federal lawsuit.
Dallas joins the Rogue’s Gallery of grifters, including former operator/con man Chris Ganter and his accomplice landowner Cabe Chadick, being sued by Jackson’s lawyers, famed civil rights attorneys Mike Daniel and Laura Beshara.
At issue is the creation and continuing health threat caused by Dallas’ largest illegal dump – a 100-foot high, 100,000 ton pile of asphalt shingles that began surrounding Jackson’s house in Janury of 2018.
Speaking on behalf of Jackson’s in their amended complaint filed July 8th Daniel and Besharal state, “The City, along with the operator and owner, is responsible for the existence of Shingle Mountain.” The trail of official negligence they document backs that claim.
Shingle Mountain’s operators were in violation of numerous city regulations and laws the day it opened. They violated a specific deed restriction put in place to prevent the very dumping from which they profited. They didn’t have a required Special Use Permit. They didn’t have any solid waste or storm run-off permits. They had no pollution permits to spew asphalt dust into the air by the tons. And they had set up shop in a floodplain which made the entire business an illegal use. Incredibly, the City of Dallas issued the dump a Certificate of Occupancy anyway.
But the suit does more than document the specific abuses leading up to the creation of the Shingle Mountain crisis. It also cites a pattern of racist zoning the City knowingly put in place that practically rolled out the red carpet for the con men responsible for the dump.
The City Council deliberately changed the zoning on the Shingle Mountain dump site to the heaviest industrial zoning possible despite knowing that Ms. Jackson’s home and other homes were adjacent to the site. The City changed the zoning knowing that the heavy industrial zoning adjacent to the homes violated City zoning policies.
Jackson’s suit points out there are no industrial dumps in predominantly White residential neighborhoods in Dallas. The City Council hasn’t approved or contributed to the presence of illegal dumps in predominantly White residential single-family neighborhoods. The City hasn’t issued permits in violation of deed restrictions and doesn’t impose heavy industrial zoning adjacent to single family homes in predominantly White residential neighborhoods. There are no Shingle Mountains or any illegal dumps in a predominantly White residential neighborhoods in Dallas. With only one limited exception there’s no industrial zoning adjacent to ANY predominantly White neighborhoods in Dallas.
It also cites several example of when the City moved quickly to pay for contaminated sites…when developers requested it. In 2010 the Dallas City Council expended over $1 million in City funds to provide for the removal of lead soil contamination for the construction of Belo Garden park downtown. In 2015, the Dallas City Council paid $2.5 million in City funds to relocate and remove the Argos batch plant out of the newly gentrified “Trinity Groves” district and relocate it deeper into West Dallas where it’s adjacent to Black and Hispanic neighborhoods.
But in 2019, when Marsha Jackson requested funding for the clean-up of Shingle Mountain because of escalating health problems, the Dallas City Council refused.
As a result , Jackson’s lawsuit against the City is for: 1) violation of the federal environmental laws by contributing to the creation of the illegal landfill and 2) for treating her differently on the basis of race by creating the industrial zoning that is harming her and by failing to remove the illegal landfill when the City acts to perform environmental remediation in white areas. Ms. Jackson’s suit against the City asks for the City to enter onto the Shingle Mountain property and remove the illegal landfill. She asks for the City to clean up the Shingle Mountain property to remove the environmental and health hazard and to re-zone the property to a compatible use for the homes that are next to the location.
Since the first day it opened for business without any warning, Ms. Jackson and her neighbors have complained about health problems, including respiratory and neurological problems. Specifically, they’ve cited poor air quality resulting from the black dust permeating the air they were breathing. Three years of decomposition is stripping carcinogens and toxins like Silica, Formaldehyde and fiberglass from their adhesive backings and putting them into the air as Particulate Matter pollution. In these summer months, standing downwind of the dump is like standing next to an asphalt batch plant or oil terminal, with fumes overwhelming even the most healthy.
Perhaps most infuriating of all is the argument by Jackson’s lawyers that the City has had the authority to act to remove the dump at any point over the last almost-three years:
“The City of Dallas has the legal power to require the removal of Shingle Mountain. It can summarily abate the use because it is located within the floodplain. The use is not one allowed by the City in a flood plain. Texas law gives the City of Dallas the power to abate the violation by causing the work necessary to do so after notice and an opportunity to comply to the owner. If the owner, as in this case fails to comply, the City, without legal action, may pay for and cause the work to be done and assess the costs to the owner. Until the costs are paid,interests at 10 percent per year and the City has a lien on the property for the costs incurred and the interest. (Tx. Local Gov’t Code. § 54.020.)”
After three years Dallas has seemingly run out of excuses for its discriminatory treatment of Marsha Jackson and her neighbors. A well-worn truism is that the only time the City responds to its residents is when a lawsuit is at stake. Now that the City has been named a “responsible party” to the crisis in a lawsuit, Jackson’s plight might actually be a priority at City Hall.
Friday was reportedly James McGuire’s last day as Dallas’ Director of the Office of Environmental Quality and Sustainability. He’s said to be taking leave for the rest of July and then he’ll move on…to a position at the Trump EPA. After serving for sometime as an “Interim Director,” he’d been the real thing for the last three years.
McGuire’s departure comes almost a month before the unveiling of the implementation schedule of his crowning achievement, Dallas’ Climate Plan, in front of the City Council. Speculation about his leaving ranges from this being a done deal triggered by the Climate Plan’s passage in May, to being fallout from the City being included as a defendant in Marsha Jackson’s Shingle Mountain lawsuit two weeks ago.
During his tenure McGuire, a City attorney who got assigned the OEQS position, earned kudos for policies that directly affected internal City operations – where and how the City bought electricity for it’s facilities, or how efficiently city operations saved water.
But almost every time he stepped outside of City Hall into public policy his record has been a disaster, especially for Southern Dallas.
Time and again, when McGuire had the chance to help Southern Dallas residents, he turned his back, or worse, contributed to the problem they were complaining about. A short list of his “greatest misses” includes:
- Promotion of Batch Plants in Southern Dallas. In 2018 and 2019 four separate batch plants were trying to win permission from the city to locate in already overburdened Joppa and Flora Farms (Shingle Mountain). McGuireand OEQS endorsed all of them. But much worse was McGuire’s purposely misleading statements about current air quality in Joppa during the Council’s debate on the permits. Asked if current Particulate Matter pollutant levels in Joppa should be of any concern, McGuire disingenuously said EPA monitors “in Dallas” showed levels “meeting national standards.” It wasn’t until a pointed follow–up question from a Council Member reveled the cynicism of his answer: the nearest (and only) EPA PM monitor was nine miles away, on the other side of downtown. Residents defeated all four batch plant permits despite OEQS’s endorsement.
- Creation of Shingle Mountain. The six story 100,000 ton illegal dump – Dallas’ largest and most dangerous – was over a year and a half old and was violating a multitude of laws and regulations with impunity when McQuire first learned about it from DMN columnist Robert Wilonsky. The most notorious environmental justice disaster in Dallas in 25 years happened on his watch without him or anyone in his department noticing. Compounding this mistake – which nobody has every apologized for – was the OEQS’ absolute obsession with storm water non-compliance issues at the dump to the exclusion of any concern for adjacent residents’ health from fumes or particulate matter containing carcinogens. At no point over the last two years has McQuire or OEQS said anything about how toxic the dump is to human health, but he and the Department have been very, very concerned about illegal storm water runoff.
- Denying pleas for air quality monitoring from residents of Joppa and Shingle Mountain. In 2018 OEQS representatives rejected Joppa residents’ request that the City provide air quality monitoring – even after portable monitor readings by Downwinders found high levels of PM pollution there, and even though the City had the monitoring equipment to do so. McGuire and OEQS also tuned down Marsha Jackson’s pleas to do air monitoring at her house under the six-story Shingle Mountain illegal dump, even though Downwinders’ portable monitors placed on her windowsill were completely covered in a black dust and recorded hazardous levels of PM pollution.
- The collapse of the City’s “Breathe Easy” air monitoring initiative. After planning for years to deploy 10 to 12 air monitors at public schools in Dallas, the City finally identified the schools it wanted to participate, bought a dozen new Aeroqual air quality monitors, and then informed DISD of its intent. DISD said no thanks; they didn’t want the monitors on school property. The 12 brand new monitors are sitting in a closet somewhere unused. And by the way, no one would know about this epic fail if Downwinders hadn’t fought tooth and nail through the Texas Open Records Act to get the documentation. DISD’s rejection was already a done deal when OEQS staff gave a briefing to City Council on the project…but neglected to mention that the school district had rejected the idea. Some folks would call that a cover-up.
- Withdrawing from the SharedAirDFW Community Air Monitoring Network. Before he began the City’s own Breathe Easy project, McGuire and Dallas was part of group working to build a regional air monitoring network that included Plano, Dallas County, Dallas County College, Paul Quinn College, and area school districts among others. After participating in the Network for a year, he and the City abruptly withdrew their support when a proposed governing structure for the Network required citizen participation. All the other entities stuck around ,and the first SharedAirDFW monitors are about to go online in the next 30-45 days. Meanwhile the rival Breathe Easy effort McGuire invented to avoid public participation went bust. He single handedly set the City of Dallas back years on this front.
- Using a “compliance is protection” defense to avoid talking about environmental health issues. There’s now a decade of scientific evidence that connects exposure to levels of pollution far below the “national standard” set by EPA to serious health injury, including early death. But McGuire and OEQS never acknowledged this evidence. Not once. Instead, as long as the one (!) PM monitor in Dallas showed levels that were within the obsolete 24 hour or yearly standard enforced by EPA, the conclusion was always that “Dallas was in compliance.” But science says compliance isn’t protection. Houston’s environmental department employs a toxicologist who goes to Black and Brown neighborhoods where batch plants are being proposed and tells residents there’s no safe level of exposure to PM pollution. Dallas had a lawyer who stayed in his office, spoke of “compliance,” and approved them.
- Using race-neutral language to to discuss racist environmental justice issues. Although the OEQS probably used the word “equity” more than any other city department in its presentations, it refused to acknowledge that racist redlining, zoning, and decision-making underlies much of Southern Dallas’ pollution problems. Instead, it used all kinds of euphemisms for “racist” to describe the predicament of Joppa and Shingle Mountain residents. When the City’s Climate Plan came to dealing with environmental justice, it threw away the original race-based definition by Dr. Robert Bullard, the guy who invented the phrase, and adopted a consultant’s definition that ignored any mention of race. Nobody but Southern Dallas residents noticed. Oh yeah, it also mentioned water conservation, but not clean air.
- One of his final acts as OEQS Director was also one of McGuire’s most cynical, which is saying a lot. In June he and his staff hailed the official announcement of the City’s deployment of a single PM monitor “in Joppa” when in fact the monitor is located three miles north of the former Freedman’s town in the entirely separate neighborhood of Bonton. In one of the most up-is-down moments of McQuire’s administration, OEQS staff actually told their audience of impressed Council Members that a monitor located three miles away from the closest source of Joppa industrial pollution would be better able to capture that pollution than it would across the street in Joppa itself. They presented no evidence to prove that absurd claim, most likely because it runs contrary to the last quarter century of actual science. But that evidence was ignored to try to make the City look like it was doing something it was not.
With a record like that you wonder how the guy kept his job as long as he did until you realize almost all of his sins were committed against Southern Dallas and People of Color. When it came to things like the City’s feeble Climate Plan that North Dallas white environmentalist were craving, he was an ally. But none of those folks lived in neighborhoods with a batch plant or a illegal dump. Their support came cheap and was completely disconnected from reality on the ground in Southern Dallas.
In choosing McGuire’s replacement there’s a chance to change the way the City of Dallas looks at environmental issues. Fundamental to this change must be inclusion of “environmental health” as a primary focus. The goal must not be just to comply, but to protect.
For the past five years or so “resilence” and “sustainability” have been the hot code words for action surrounding green issues. Fueling this semantic change was the Rockefeller Foundation, that for awhile was giving huge grants to every city that would commit itself to a resilency planning. Dallas chased and got that money and so has a “Resilency Plan” that you’ve probably never seen, out of which sprang the City’s Climate Plan. But that Rockefeller money has stopped flowing and so “resilency” is suddenly getting a lot less play.
Now it’s “sustainability.” Still chasing grant dollars, the City practically tripped over itself in swiftly changing the name of the “Office of Environmental Quality” to the “Office of Environmental Quality AND Sustainability” and created a while new Council “Committee on the Environment AND Sustainability.”
But more often than not “Sustainability” doesn’t include environmental health. Sustainability is water conservation, or tree cover, or renewable energy. It isn’t fighting batch plants, racist zoning, or reducing the health damage caused by pollution meeting the national standard by way of a monitor on the other side of town. “Sustainability” is a word that takes the emphasis away from the goal of better human health and puts it on abstract policy goals. That makes it a red flag for People of Color whose health suffers disproportionately from pollution. It signals yet another detour away from addressing their daily poisoning.
That’s why Downwinders and Southern Sector Rising fought for inclusion of the words “environmental health” in the City’s Climate Plan back in May. But not even a single Dallas City Council Member would agree to include it. So they’ll be yet another City Committee formed to address “sustainability” but not one that has environmental health in its mission.
Now City Hall has a chance to send a message that they’re listening; to make a break with the status quo that produced that long and undistinguished record above. The new OEQS Director could be a turning point…or just another brick in the wall.
Downwinders is advocating McGuire’s replacement should be at least two things: 1) a Person of Color, and, 2) a scientist, preferably a toxicologist, epidemiologist, or public health specialist. No more lawyers.
OEQS needs a fresh new face. One that isn’t already weighted down by City Hall baggage. Black and Brown scientists are likely more qualified to address environmental health injustices in Dallas due to their perspective on race and the environment, and therefore should be proactively recruited for the job” Their perspective is desperately needed at Dallas City Hall.
But a new bio at the top won’t do Southern Dallas much good unless the mission of the OEQS changes as well.
Before McGuire, it was commonplace for environmental health issues to be addressed by the City – either through the former Environmental Health Commission or campaigns like the one then Mayor Laura Miller mounted against a wave of new coal plants being pushed by Rick Perry. McQuire’s neglect of environmental health is the anomaly here, not the other way around.
That kind of pro-active approach needs to be restored, if only to head-off problems before they become lawsuits. The new OEQS Director should feel free to speak about what the science says, and fully embrace public health considerations, not dodge them.
Given the context of the last two months of national uprisings, the situation on the ground and in the courts at Shingle Mountain, plus the rapidly advancing public dialogue on all things Race, the OEQS needs to come to terms with its role as a public health arbiter for Southern Dallas. It would be great if this next Director saw their job as working to reduce environmental health damage there instead of trying to cover it up.