Public Citizen News / March-April 2023
By José Medina
This article appeared in the March/April 2023 edition of Public Citizen News. Download the full edition here.
The passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) by Congress in 2022 was monumental. Touted as one of the most significant pieces of legislation in years, the new law addressed prescription drug affordability and our changing climate, among other things.
“This is a very good day for America,” Public Citizen President Robert Weissman said on the day of the act’s passage. It could also be a good day for Houston. And Public Citizen is working to make sure that happens.
The IRA provides an opportunity to work with partners to benefit communities in Houston. In the months after the act was signed into law, the Texas office of Public Citizen secured funding for a two-year project that would allow it to help Houston – and more specifically, Port Houston – obtain IRA benefits.
“Getting this law through Congress and to the president’s desk was a win, but it was only a start,” said Erandi Treviño, an organizer for Public Citizen in Houston. “Now, we must take full advantage of all the benefits the act offers for improving our air, land, and water. That will be a part of our focus in the next couple of years.”
In partnership with the Port of Houston Authority (POHA) and the Texas Climate Jobs Project, Public Citizen will work to identify grant opportunities for POHA and other entities operating in and around the Houston Ship Channel and offer guidance on the application process.
The grant opportunities available through the IRA, and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, can help the port authority achieve its pollution reduction and climate goals.
The IRA includes investments in clean energy by easing the transition to cleaner transportation. It means that the Port of Houston could use the federal funding to switch to electric vehicles – such as trucks, cranes, and marine vessels. Vehicle electrification is just one strategy to reduce emissions, which is vital if the port is to achieve the goals of its 2050 Zero Carbon Roadmap, the Sustainability Action Plan, and the Clean Air Strategy Plan.
“It is important for Public Citizen to undertake these efforts on behalf of port communities,” added Maxine Gomez, an organizer for Public Citizen in Houston. “Frontline communities, like those next to the port and along the ship channel, are often the first and most affected by pollution. And Houston, unfortunately, has a long history of the extreme weather events that are made worse and more likely by the climate-harming emissions we aim to reduce through this project.”
This two-year project includes community outreach.
Working with the Healthy Port Communities Coalition (HPCC), a coalition which we founded more than ten years ago, Public Citizen will survey communities to gauge which federal opportunities are a priority for residents. The project includes planned town hall events to present community members with available options and as a venue for residents to provide feedback. Community feedback collected at the town halls would be recorded, transcribed, and supplied to the port authority.
As part of Public Citizen’s language justice efforts, these town halls will be translated into Spanish to bring in residents who may feel reluctant to become involved due to language barriers.
A Milestone for HPCC
The Texas office of Public Citizen does much of its Houston work through the Healthy Port Communities Coalition, in which Public Citizen plays a leading role.
This past November, the coalition reached a milestone: Its 10th anniversary.
HPCC’s mission is to empower and advocate for the residents who live near the Port of Houston and its ship channel. These environmental justice communities are often the most impacted by the regular operations of the many industrial facilities in the area, and whenever these facilities experience a disaster like an explosion or chemical spill.
Since its founding, HPCC has notched some significant victories.
In 2015, HPCC was part of a successful campaign to pass a local ordinance to restrict the wasteful and polluting practice of truck idling. More recently, HPCC helped convince the Port of Houston Authority to use cleaner dredging equipment for its multi-year project of expanding the ship channel.
“HPCC has become invaluable to our Houston work,” said Adrian Shelley, Public Citizen’s Texas director. “Aside from being instrumental in pushing for cleaner air and healthier communities, perhaps its best accomplishment has been helping the community secure something that it hasn’t always had: a voice.”