fb tracking

Healthy Port Communities Coalition

Public Citizen News / May-June 2024

By José Medina

The Healthy Port Communities Coalition (HPCC), which Public Citizen joined in founding more than a decade ago to organize Houston communities around environmental issues, had a busy start to the year.

The industry in and around the Houston Ship Channel presents constant challenges to neighboring communities. With the next phase of a major channel expansion soon to be underway, the coalition’s member organizations have mobilized to keep the community engaged and informed about decisions made by Port Houston Authority.  

The HPCC Town Hall

Port community residents are the people best positioned to speak about the  challenges they face in their homes and workplaces. In February of this year, HPCC gathered hundreds of community members for a town hall to harness that local knowledge and identify projects that address community needs.

“Events like this are indispensable to the coalition’s work,” said Adrian Shelley, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office, which is  leading efforts to secure grant funding. “Town halls give residents a chance to speak face-to-face with decision-makers who oversee the Port Houston Authority.”

A New Port Commissioner

Also in February, coalition members received word that a member of the Port Commission, which oversees the Port Authority and its operations, declined to be reappointed by the City of Houston when her term expired. HPCC learned the Houston City Council would vote on her replacement in about 48 hours.

Coalition members sprang into action.

By the time the city council gathered, representatives of HPCC member organizations and community members were ready to advocate for a say in the selection process for the next commissioner. Public Citizen’s Texas office requested that city officials slow down a rushed process to allow the community to meet with commissioner nominees or submit nominations. 

Unfortunately, the city council declined HPCC’s request, voting instead to appoint Thomas Jones. However, this organizing opportunity allowed HPCC to communicate its goals to the council, including the city’s new mayor.

“Commissioner Jones, like his colleagues on the commission, is now in a position to help Port communities thrive,” said Erandi Treviño, an organizer with Public Citizen’s Houston-based organizing team. “The advocates in HPCC look forward to collaborating with the commission to finally bring the community’s voice into the decision-making process at Port Houston.”

Under state law, Houston appoints two members to the seven-member commission that oversees one of the largest ports in the country. It jointly appoints a third seat, the chair, with Harris County. The HPCC expects it will have another chance to advocate for a commissioner who will  serve the public interest in February 2025, when the next appointment comes due.

Earth Day on the East End

For the first time, HPCC this year held its own Earth Day celebration.

Gathering at Hidalgo Park on Houston’s East Side, the HPCC’s inaugural celebration included presentations, based on this year’s Earth Day theme of Planet vs. Plastics,that emphasized the dangers that plastics pose to the planet and people. Live music and performances, door prizes, free seeds, and a tree giveaway rounded out the day’s events.

Hidalgo Park is located just a few yards from the ship channel in a historic neighborhood near many communities that guide HPCC’s work.

“This was a fun event with a message,” reflected Shelley. “Staging the event in the shadow of the ship channel makes a statement that Earth Day matters everywhere, but front-line communities are the first to face the consequences of environmental harm. This is as true in our community as on the other side of the world.”