Dallas advisory group looks to add environmental justice measures to racial equity plan

Dallas advisory group looks to add environmental justice measures to racial equity plan
Dallas advisory group looks to add environmental justice measures to racial equity plan

Dallas’ Environmental Commission is calling for more specific environmental justice goals to be added to the city’s racial equity plan

On Tuesday, the commission will brief the city’s Workforce, Education and Rights Committee on four “Equity Indicators” it wants Dallas to adopt that would require the city to measure its neighborhood’s proximity to environmental pollution; wooden canopy cover; availability of solar energy; and distance to fresh, healthy food.

The workforce, the education and equity committee will assess the changes before recommending new equity indicators be adopted by the city council.

But Evelyn Mayo, head of clean air group Downwinders At Risk, said the commission’s recommendations do not address grassroots priorities and “will not get to the bottom of these fundamental issues.”

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“The most cited issues from the community are not included in this and there is no clear path for them to move forward,” Mayo said. “And even among the proposed recommendations, they fall short in ways that don’t really make sense.”

Despite strong community and council support for the racial equity plan adopted by the council in August by a 14-1 vote, the lack of environmental justice measures — along with concerns from residents about an inconsistent community input process — has drawn sharp criticism from grassroots groups. .

“The plan identifies both action goals and progress measures to support an environmental justice theme, but it did not introduce any new or revised equity indicators to support them,” said a Jan. 12 memo to city staff from Kathryn Bazan, Dallas board chairwoman. The Environmental Commission, a 23-member group of community advocates tasked with advising the city council on environmental issues.

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Half of the environmental issues raised during several community meetings with the city are related to land use and zoning, but the racial equity plan has no indicators to measure environmental equity in land use, Bazan said in the memo.

“Vulnerable communities are disproportionately affected by a higher pollution load and experience adverse health effects and reduced life expectancy,” she said. “The severity of this negative impact is largely determined by proximity to a pollution source.”

The commission wants the city to adopt an environmental justice screening tool that allows Dallas to measure how close neighborhoods are to environmental pollution such as air emissions, hazardous waste, landfills, impaired surface water, wastewater discharge facilities or a U.S. or state-declared clean. -page.

The commission has concrete proposals for other environmental issues that it says should be addressed as part of the racial equality plan:

Tree crown coverage

The commission recommends measuring tree crown coverage in Dallas communities. American Forests, a nonprofit conservation group dedicated to protecting forest ecosystems, has developed the Tree Equity Score Analyzer (TESA), an interactive mapping tool that uses a Tree-equity score and other data to identify where trees should be prioritized to mitigate urban heat island effects. The Texas Tree Foundation has developed the Dallas Urban Forest Master Plan in an effort to grow and maintain the area’s canopy.

Dallas neighborhoods without dense tree canopies are most likely to experience higher temperatures, according to a 2022 IBM study and a 2017 Texas Trees Foundation study on urban heat.

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Communities of color are unfairly experiencing the consequences of increased temperatures as they tend to be located closer to heavy industrialization and “historically limited tree growth or gentrification has removed large-caliber mature trees to make way for new development,” the memo said.

Solar availability

The commission also recommends measuring the kilowatts of solar energy installed on single-family homes in Dallas to address barriers to solar ownership, according to Bazan’s memo. Dallas’ historically marginalized communities feel disproportionately negative impacts from energy prices and grid reliability, Bazan said.

Food safety

The commission also recommends adding an equity indicator that would require Dallas to measure how far neighborhoods are from fresh, healthy food.

About 36% of Dallas residents live in US census tracts defined by the US Department of Agriculture as food deserts, a low-income area where a significant portion of the population is more than half a mile from the nearest supermarket or grocery store.

“Lack of access to sources of healthy and affordable food makes it more difficult for some people to eat a healthy diet and is linked to other negative health outcomes,” Bazan said.

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Is it enough?

Mayo is among those who are concerned that even the commission’s proposed changes to the racial equality plan may not go far enough.

Missing from the land-use and zoning recommendations are specific measures to reform longstanding industrial practices, which Mayo says are critical to undoing decades of environmental racism.

“Local municipalities are the ones who have the power to concentrate industrial land use, low-income people, communities of color, into floodplains and all of those things,” Mayo said. “That’s what happened in the city of Dallas and most major cities in this country.”

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Dallas and other major cities have made a concerted effort over the decades, along with banks and mortgage lenders, to “tie into dangerous areas” of black and other non-white communities, Mayo said.

The solution to increasing equity among these historically disadvantaged communities created through zoning practices is to forcefully reform those practices and begin to undo the conditions that led to inequality, Mayo said.

Mayo said the city could also add an equity indicator that would require tracking the number of industrially zoned parcels of land in communities of color to see if it increases or decreases over time.

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