Environmental Justice in Arlington, Texas

Read about how community organizers in Arlington, Texas, prevented the construction of a fracking well.

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Environmental Justice in Arlington, Texas

After recent racial justice uprisings across the United States, legislative leaders have been pressured to address the racism built into their locales’ actions and infrastructures — and for Arlington, Texas, that meant examining the effect a fracking well would have on the community surrounding it, and ultimately rejecting its drilling.

Nationwide, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, fossil fuel projects are more likely to be built near communities where people of color, specifically Black people, and people in poverty live. That proximity means those communities are disproportionately impacted by pollution — and thus by respiratory illnesses, such as asthma and COVID-19. This environmental racism holds true in Arlington, where French energy company Total was planning to drill a fracking well near a predominantly Black and Latinx neighborhood, where residents experience high rates of poverty, childhood asthma, and now COVID-19.

Given that pandemic discrepancy, and after their constituents demonstrated against police violence and racial injustice, Arlington City Council passed a resolution in June affirming its commitment to equity for “residents of all racial, ethnic, and national origins in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and acknowledging the devastating impact on seniors and members of the African-American and Hispanic communities.”

Its constituents then put that commitment to the test. Liveable Arlington, a nonprofit fighting the drilling and expansion of fracking sites in Arlington since 2015, had been working since early 2020 to educate the community on the new Total fracking site, which would be situated close to homes and a preschool. The nonprofit connected with organizers in the neighborhood near the site, tabled at the preschool, went door to door, spoke to worshippers at a nearby Catholic church, and distributed materials in English and Spanish. Through these efforts, members from the nonprofit gained a sense of how the well would impact the nearby community — and how the people who lived there were opposed to its drilling.

Ranjana Bhandari, founder and board chair of Liveable Arlington, says any well drilled more than 600 feet away from a school, home, or daycare, as this well would’ve been, typically doesn’t require the city council to give the go-ahead. Plus, a Texas state law prohibits cities from regulating oil and gas industries. But in this case, Arlington’s recent resolution to address racial equity gave concerned community members some leverage, and the council voted to reject the well.

Bhandari says this decision was good because it touched on many things: the importance of children’s health, environmental and racial justice, and the harm that’s done to a community when drilling is permitted so close to homes and schools. She hoped this ruling would represent a positive change, but since then, the city staff has approved seven new gas wells near another preschool without a public hearing.

“We are continuing to do our work, because so far, it doesn’t look like it’s represented a new direction for Arlington, unfortunately,” Bhandari says. “There’s a huge asthma epidemic here among children, high rates of respiratory disease, high rates of cardiac disease. It’s a public health crisis, and it’s a financial crisis because the cost of that is pretty high, both on the individual and on the public health system. And, of course, fracking has greatly contributed to the climate crisis. But I hope this was a good example for other people in the same situation. It looks at the harms, at who was being harmed, and it’s an example of a city government that decided to be leaders and make a good decision on behalf of the people they represent.”

You can learn more about environmental justice movements happening nationwide at websites such as Climate Justice Alliance, which includes resources and member organizations. Browse the list of members to find climate justice opportunities near your own community.

Indigenous Seed Keepers Network

The Indigenous Seed Keepers Network (ISKN), an initiative of the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance (NAFSA), is part of a growing movement in support of Indigenous seed sovereignty. The Network gathers and grows heirloom seeds; provides education, mentorship, and advocacy around seeds; and aims to create guidance for tribal communities to steward and protect their seeds from patenting and biopiracy.

folded paper pouches with one spilling out seeds on to a wooden table

Through its Seed Rematriation program, the Network seeks seeds that were disconnected from their communities of origin, often because of the forced relocation of Indigenous people, according to NAFSA’s website. Recognizing seeds as a rich cultural inheritance, the Network collects these heirloom seeds from public institutions, seed banks, universities, and seed keepers, and returns, or “rematriates,” the seeds to the people whose ancestors planted them, connecting past, present, and future generations.

Rowen White, chair of the Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) Board, wrote on SSE’s blog that, in partnership with SSE, the ISKN reviewed SSE’s massive seed collection and identified hundreds of seeds with direct connections to Native communities. Of those, 25 were grown in 2018, and then returned to those communities of origin.

The NAFSA site says, “This process often entails policy documents and negotiations, but also spiritual and emotional work — developing new ceremonies and protocols to welcome home these relatives, as well as acknowledging the elders who have worked for so long to make this movement possible.”

Learn more at Native Food Alliance or at Seed Savers.

Reducing Soil Salinity

In South Dakota, nearly 2 million acres and counting in the Upper James River Basin have saline soils, which are less viable for growing crops. The South Dakota Soil Health Coalition (SDSHC) focuses on issues affecting soil health and fertility, including its increasing salinity, and hosts programs to help producers improve the soil on their properties.

metal shovel with a wooden handle stuck in to dark wet dirt

One such effort is promoting a new grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in South Dakota. The grant is for producers in affected counties to help prevent and improve saline soils. It’s available through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which gives producers financial and technical assistance for addressing issues around natural resources and habitat. Farmers can receive funding if they agree to outlined conservation and land management practices, such as reduced tillage, cover crops, and crop rotations. Approximately $1 million is designated toward this three-year program.

In addition to raising awareness about this new financial tool, SDSHC hosts Soil Health School, an annual event that involves classroom presentations, panel discussions, and field demonstrations, directed by SDSHC staff, producers, scientists, researchers, and an array of soil health experts. According to Stan Wise, SDSHC communications coordinator, these sessions are hosted by local producers who offer their land for the field exercises, and the goal of the school is to teach participants about soil structure and function, the principles of soil health, and practical advice for implementing soil health practices.

To learn more, visit SD Soil Health Coalition.

Making Use of Excess Produce

Brand-new gardens blossomed throughout the 2020 growing season, and, come harvest, many budding gardeners joined the ranks of growers worldwide in finding themselves with more produce than they knew what to do with. Seeing potential in that bounty, garden supply company Bonnie Plants and AmpleHarvest.org partnered to create the Grow More Feed More program. Its goal, like its name, is twofold: Inspire more Americans to start gardening, and then encourage them to donate their extra produce to people who need it.

man holding a basket with green and purple vegetables with a blurry green backround

Ample Harvest, a national food pantry locator, connects home gardeners to local food pantries to get fresh food to where it’s needed most. Through the Grow More Feed More program, AmpleHarvest.org received 5 percent of Bonnie Plants’ online sales this summer, and Bonnie Plants encouraged people to start victory gardens and donate their yields by promoting the program on social media and partnering with large retailers to educate shoppers. Bonnie Plants also grew 25,000 pounds of its own produce to donate.

Mike Sutterer, CEO of Bonnie Plants, says that engagement from both food pantries and produce donors has increased on AmpleHarvest.org. In the midst of COVID-19, this is an accessible and exciting way for gardeners to help others, Sutterer says. “Part of gardening is giving back to those in your community, to those who need it. … For this program, you don’t even have to leave your house. You can grow in your own yard and literally create an environment where you can help your neighbors,” he says.

To learn more or participate in the program, go here.