Keep dirty oil out of Houston (crossposted from the Houston Chronicle)

Nov. 27, 2010

One of the first things I noticed when I moved to Houston's East End 30 years ago was how close our schools are to the refineries and power plants that line the Houston Ship Channel. These are quite literally some of the most polluted schools in the country. According to an analysis of Environmental Protection Agency data by USA Today, Chavez High School and Deer Park Elementary are in the top 1 percent of the most polluted schools nationwide, along with a dozen other schools in our area that share this unfortunate distinction.

 A recent study by the University of Texas and Rice University shows that of the 12 hazardous air pollutants generated by petrochemical refining, we have all 12 right here in the East End.

On top of that, eight chemicals known to cause cancer show up here at elevated levels. This toxic air pollution is making our children sick. A lot of kids around here are getting leukemia. In fact, if you're within two miles of the Houston Ship Channel, you have a 56 percent greater chance of contracting leukemia than you do in other parts of the country, according the University of Texas/Rice study.


One of the reasons is what these refineries are processing: the dirtiest kind of oil in the world, from Canada's tar sands. Tar sands oil is full of heavy metals, sulfur, carcinogens and neurotoxins. It contains 11 times more sulfur and nickel, six times more nitrogen and five times more lead than conventional crude oil.

And as bad as things are now, they could get a whole lot worse if Secretary of State Hillary Clinton approves a new tar sands pipeline proposed by a foreign corporation called TransCanada. The company wants to send its junk across 2,000 miles of American farmland, rivers and lakes and aquifers. The name of the pipeline is Keystone XL, and Houston Ship Channel refineries are currently slated to receive 90 percent of its toxic tar sands oil.

Expansion of dirty fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline will only add to Houston's troubles. This pipeline would take us backward — worsening our dependence on dirty foreign oil, further endangering public health and undermining Texas' emerging clean energy economy.

Like the rest of the country, Houston has been hit hard with high unemployment. We need to rethink and revitalize our economy, and clean energy is a big part of that. Recently, we've seen some encouraging steps - clean energy investments from the federal stimulus and private companies have created thousands of new jobs here.

What we need right now is bold leadership to stimulate the Houston economy with more clean energy investment and protect our kids - and all of us - from air pollution.

Fortunately, Secretary Clinton has the opportunity to provide that leadership. The Keystone XL pipeline is not yet a done deal. Before issuing a permit, Secretary Clinton must review the comments submitted by thousands of concerned citizens, and order an additional, full analysis of the pipeline's environmental and health impacts.

There's too much at stake to allow this dirty, dangerous pipeline into our community. Our kids' health has been sacrificed for too long. It's time to shift gears and invest in the kind of clean energy that will help Houston prosper while keeping our kids healthy.

Juan Parras, a resident of Houston's East End, is a community activist and founder of t.e.j.a.s


t.e.j.a.s. (Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services) is a 501 (C)(3) non-profit dedicated to providing community members with the tools necessary to create sustainable, environmentally healthy communities by educating individuals on health concerns and implications arising from environmental pollution, empowering individuals with an understanding of applicable environmental laws and regulations and promoting their enforcement, and offering community building skills and resources for effective community action and greater public participation.



Our goal is to promote environmental protection through education, policy development, community awareness, and legal action.

Our guiding principle is that everyone, regardless of race or income, is entitled to live in a clean environment.