Latest News from Air Alliance Houston

Just received from Moving Forward Network participant Air Alliance Houston by email…

TCEQ is on Facebook!
Just don’t expect them to post anything.

Adrian Shelley, Executive Director, Air Alliance Houston

If you follow us on social media (we’re on Facebook and Twitter, among others) then you may have seen me criticizing the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for having a weak online presence. This is about more than just me having fun with the agency. It was fun, even though they haven’t responded (sample tweet: “Ever see @TCEQNews around here? Neither do we. Get Email Alerts). But the purpose was to shed light on the TCEQ’s lack of public engagement.

This is a longstanding problem, and it is about more than just TCEQ following 6 people on Twitter or having a Facebook page since 2012 but not posting to it a single time. The real problem is that the agency does the absolute minimum it can to get by with the public, and then puts the public at fault for not being more engaged. I cannot count how many times I have heard a member of the public say to TCEQ, “You’re not keeping us informed. You’re not telling us anything.” Only to have an agency official respond with, “The information you want is available on our website.”

That’s true, but simple access to data isn’t the same as enabling members of the public to meaningfully interpret and act on data. Take, for example, the TCEQ’s monitoring data online. If I, a member of the public, want to know what air quality is like near my home, I first have to go to this page and find the monitor nearest to me. If you don’t understand how to use that site, fear not! It has a 27 page user guide.

Now all you have to do is remember the name of that monitoring site and go to this page. Then it’s as easy as picking one day at a time, selecting the monitoring site from a drop down menu of several hundred sites in no particular order, selecting a time format, selecting highlighting options, and clicking “Generate report.” Then you just have to interpret a table that looks like this:

Easy, right?

Compare that to another option for Houstonians who want to know ozone levels. If they visit our webpage,, they’re getting monitoring data that’s available from the TCEQ’s site in the format shown above. On our page, though, that data looks like this:

See the difference? Yes, the TCEQ is fulfilling its role as a government entity by making information available to the public. But we’re actively working to translate that data into formats that anyone can understand and use. In the coming years, we hope to bring you more data about air quality and public health in formats like that used on

In our opinion, it’s not enough for the data to be out there. It has to be useable, and it has to be used. It’s also not enough for TCEQ to make a facebook page and then ignore it for two years, or to start a Twitter feed but then not follow anybody (this is known as the Kanye West approach, and it really only works if you’re Kanye West). The agency needs to be serious about interacting with the public and providing access to information in meaningful ways.

If you agree that TCEQ isn’t doing enough to meaningfully engage the public, why not let them know? You can tell them on social media. Just don’t expect a response.

My Testimony to the EPA
An account of the Refinery Rule Hearing
Paige Powell, Administrative Assistant, Air Alliance Houston


As you are aware, the EPA recently held a hearing in Galena Park on the new refinery rule proposal. I spent the morning in attendance listening to several testimonies from people who came in from all over the country. The bulk of these spoke to the topic of real-time fenceline monitoring, from which, emissions data would be available to the public. The crowd was overwhelmingly in favor of these changes.

I was impressed by the competence and passion brought forth by those who testified. Many of them had prepared written speeches loaded with statistical data of emissions events; others spoke to the human side of the issue and brought personal accounts of sickness in their families and communities as a direct result of these industries. Both were equally powerful and painted a fairly complete picture of the issue.

I had not planned on testifying that day; my position at AAH doesn’t directly deal with emissions data or community members, and I felt less qualified than some to speak to the point. However, after hearing some of the personal accounts of how these chemical and oil refineries have adversely affected their surrounding communities, I summoned a modest amount of courage and decided to share my story.

I’ve been a resident of the Houston area for thirty years; grew up battling asthma, bronchitis, and pneumonia; and have lost three grandparents to cancer. I understand the level of toxicity that plagues our fair city and can sincerely say that I am working to improve conditions herein. That’s precisely why I came to Air Alliance: I want to create a safe and healthy home for my daughter — for all of us.

As I gave my testimony, I was impressed with the level of attention that the agents paid to my words. They made eye contact with me as I spoke, nodded along in agreement, and even jotted down a few notes. During the break that followed, more than one of the agents sought me out in the crowd, shook my hand, and thanked me for sharing my story. I did not expect this reaction — earnest consideration of public opinion — from federal government employees. For the first time in my life, in my environmental activism and political careers, I felt that the oligarchs had in fact heard my plea.

Oh, what optimism lies ahead! If these facilitators and rule-writers do in fact have our best interest at heart and are concerned with acting on the desires of the community, then we may just end up with the clean, healthy Houston that we all want. I urge you all, when presented with such an opportunity, to speak out and make your opinions known. You never know who might actually hear it. 

Thank You for Participating!Recent EPA Events were a Big Success here in Houston

Adrian Shelley, Executive Director, Air Alliance Houston

I just want to take a quick moment to say-one last time-THANK YOU to everyone who participated in the August 5 refinery rule hearing and/or the Aug. 6-8 EPA environmental justice training workshop. Both events were a massive success, and we couldn’t have done it without YOU!

On August 5, 140 people showed up to let the EPA know why it was important to them that the federal government act to limit toxic air pollution from oil refineries. Ninety people delivered testimony that was overwhelmingly in support of the rule. We even had a bus of 30+ Louisianans join us for the hearing. Overall, it was a great day, and I’ve heard from several people inside EPA that the hearing made a big impression on the rule writers and will have a positive impact on the rule.
Following the refinery rule hearing was the Aug, 6-8 environmental justice workshop held by EPA Region 6. This is the third such workshop held in the last two years (the others being in Albuquerque, NM and New Orleans, LA) and by far the most well attended so far. I told this story last week, but I just have to repeat it one more time: I heard from one of the EPA organizers that event registration was originally capped at 200, and then reopened when that cap was quickly met. Ultimately, 240 people registered, and I personally know of several more who attended without registering.
Again, the large number of people participating was a big part of the reason this event was such a success. Thank you to everyone who attended, and especially to Juan Parras and everyone at Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, who helped organize and administer the event.
We’ve talked about both of these events a lot in the last few months, and both of them were huge successes. So while we’re done talking about them (for now), let me just say, one final time: THANK YOU ALL.