Democratic presidential candidate and former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke raised a few eyebrows recently by claiming, “Race is the No. 1 indicator for where toxic and polluting facilities are today.”
Politifact Texas rated the claim “mostly true,” citing several studies that say race is a stronger indicator than income or property value in determining who is more likely to live near hazardous waste facilities and plants coughing out pollution.
In too many Houston neighborhoods, residents don’t need a study to tell them they fit O’Rourke’s description. They know their health is at risk because they can smell it in the air they breathe. That includes residents of the Harrisburg/Manchester community, just south of the Houston Ship Channel, where 97 percent of residents are people of color and 37 percent live in poverty.
The Environmental Protection Agency says 90 percent of Harris/Manchester residents live within a mile of a facility considered at high risk for a “catastrophic” industrial accident. ...
The recent fire at the Intercontinental Terminals Company storage facility in Deer Park illustrated the danger to largely minority communities nearby. A smoky, black cloud lingered for three days. Complaints of headaches, dizziness, confusion and vomiting gave way to fears of cancer, nervous system deterioration, memory loss and brain damage.
Sometimes, environmental complaints are countered with the argument that the industrial sites arrived in a neighborhood first, before the suffering residents made it their home. Even when that’s true, it’s not as important as asking how or if they should continue to be neighbors. Now that they do have human neighbors, the industries need to operate safely, no matter how long they’ve existed. It’s the job of government regulators to make sure they do. Unfortunately, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality too often has failed to adequately regulate the petrochemical industry and at times has impeded local efforts to protect public health. ...
Fortunately, correcting the problem does not require a race-based remedy. It requires a stronger commitment by TCEQ to police dangerous facilities anywhere that break environmental rules. It requires local governments’ continued insistence that they help protect residents everywhere from environmental lawbreakers when the TCEQ won’t. ...
Workforce work needed
Unemployment in the Midland metropolitan statistical area fell to 1.7 percent in April.
How low is 1.7 percent? In March, 1.7 percent would have been low enough to rank as the second-lowest in the nation. Let that soak in for a second. ...
We expect that when the Bureau of Labor Statistics posts unemployment rankings for April, Midland again will be among the lowest. That has become a given every month.
But 1.7 percent is healthy for our community. But don’t take our word for it. Economist Ray Perryman said, “Rates this low are not sustainable and creates some significant challenges in virtually every sector. … It is particularly difficult for many retail and service sector concerns for which labor is a major cost and there are limited opportunities to recruit in a tight market.”
Perryman also said, “As the region adjusts to a more permanent and sustainable level of high energy production and makes the necessary investments in education, infrastructure and quality of place, more workers will be attracted on a long-term basis to relieve the situation.”
Translation: This community’s priority must be the successful recruitment of workers. We hope Priority Midland is listening, because a top priority should be pretty obvious. In fact, along with education, workforce recruitment and retention should be the No. 1 priority. This community needs to dedicate all available resources to creating more housing. Our workforce has needed relief in that area for years.
We mention retention and recruitment because the Texas Workforce Commission’s numbers in April show that while the jobs are there, the workforce growth isn’t. The commission reports Midland’s workforce grew by almost 2,800 year over year in April. However, the number of employed residents rose by almost 3,000. ...
We hope the first announcement of a Priority Midland agenda addresses this. We hope the leaders of the community are unified in the desire to build our workforce and will be equally as vigilant about dedication of resources — including the dedication of all available sales tax inside the city — to build the infrastructure that helps bring more housing to aid in the recruitment and retention of workers. Our entire community will benefit.