By Paloma Lopez
Recently, The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) is facing backlash from Harris County residents for providing insufficient and unclear data regarding the permit application process that essentially allows businesses to pollute air and water. This pollution has even been linked to rising cancer levels over several years, specifically in North Houston neighborhoods.
So, how have locally elected officials in Houston responded to this? With the help of data science firm Air Alliance Houston, Houston residents and local officials have been able to have access to a more user-friendly interface where they can view polluting projects based on TCEQ data, make public comments on individual permits, and request public hearings. All of this information can be found on their AirMail website.
The launch of AirMail has led to public hearings where people have begun to voice their opinions, questions, and concerns on specific projects.
Houston Council Member Tarsha Jackson covers District B, which is the district made up of primarily North Houston neighborhoods. These neighborhoods are the places that have seen health risks linked to pollution projects. To respond to these observations, Councilmember Jackson has held and facilitated several monthly meetings, promoted by Air Alliance Houston, to give constituents updates surrounding current and emerging environmental issues in Houston. In addition, other council members and city government departments also attend these meetings.
AirMail has already started to notify thousands of residents on these emerging issues to educate them on the matter.
Fortunately, residents are starting to witness substantive change led by locally elected officials. In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced it would investigate TCEQ for civil rights violations.. AirMail hopes that with more public comments submitted, more pressure can be applied to TCEQ to provide sufficient and clear data about the permit application process so that pollution can be slowed down in the city.