Mobilizing Communities to Demand a Cleaner Port

The Houston Ship Channel is home to the second-largest petrochemical and refining complex in the nation, as well as the top-ranked U.S. port in foreign waterborne tonnage. It’s also home to vibrant communities such as Galena Park, Manchester and Pleasantville, where residents, mostly people of color, bear the burden of pollution from the industrial facilities, cargo ships and heavy-duty trucks operating in and around the ship channel. Due in part to high levels of ozone, particulate matter and toxic emissions, communities close to the ship channel have a higher risk of cancer and respiratory illness than those farther away.

Community Mapping PasadenaAfter learning of plans to expand the ship channel to accommodate larger cargo ships, leaders from several portside communities came together in 2012 to launch the Healthy Port Communities Coalition, with the singular purpose of urging the Port of Houston to reduce pollution from all aspects of its operations. The six-member coalition modeled its efforts on successful organizing campaigns in communities adjacent to the ports of Long Beach, Los Angeles and Oakland – ports now considered leaders in reducing air pollution and carbon emissions.

The coalition first urged the Port to establish the Chairman’s Citizen Advisory Council, now known as the Community Advisory Council, providing residents an opportunity to engage directly with the Port’s elected Commissioners, followed by a campaign that resulted in the adoption of an anti-idling ordinance on Port property. More recently, the coalition spurred the Port to utilize low-emissions equipment to dredge a deeper and wider ship channel – equipment that will measurably reduce nitrogen oxide pollution within the neighboring communities during the years-long dredging project. The coalition also played a key role in the Port’s recently released Clean Air Strategy Plan, ensuring its strategies included quantifiable emissions reductions tied to the Port’s Goods Movement Inventory.

With support from the Jacob and Terese Hershey Foundation, the coalition will continue advocating for the health and safety of portside residents, including making sure that the Port follows through on Clean Air Strategy Plan commitments and takes full advantage of funding available through the Inflation Reduction Act for ports to adopt zero-emissions technology. According to longtime coalition member Bridgette Murray, Executive Director of Achieving Community Tasks Successfully, “Coalition members are aware of the sometimes disparate positions of industry and community, but our success comes from listening to one another to find solutions.”

Photos courtesy of the Healthy Port Communities Coalition