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PODER (People Organized in Defense of Earth & Her Resources)

May/June 1996 issue of Poverty & Race

55 North 1H 35
Suite 205B
Austin, TX 78702
Contact: Susana Almanza

People Organized in Defense of Earth and Her Resources (PODER), with support from PRRAC, has been conducting research since early l995 on the environmental impact of high-tech industries on their surrounding Latino and African-American neighborhoods in East Austin, Texas. PODER and the Montopolis Area Neighborhood Improvement Council (MANIC) are working to ensure that high-tech industrialization benefits the neighbors and workers of high-tech manufacturers without harming the environment.

Preliminary research results suggest that the City of Austin has encouraged industrial development in the poorer minority East Austin neighborhoods while aggressively discouraging similar development in the more affluent and predominantly white West section of the city. Additionally, the research revealed a pattern of planning, zoning and pollution permit approval "fast-tracking" that has allowed several polluting semi-conductor manufacturers to locate in the area. Most alarming is that the permit "fast-tracking" has not taken into consideration the cumulative negative environmental impact of locating these companies, in some cases, literally next door to one another. Most of the pollution has disproportionately occurred in census tracts and zip codes closest to the industrial cluster-where the proportions of people of color are among the highest in Austin. The disparity increases as a result of the impact of area ground water and soil contamination.

On October 12, 1995, PODER and MANIC filed a Title VI Administrative Complaint with the Office of Civil Rights of the Environmental Protection Agency, citing discriminatory practices of the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) and the City of Austin. The complaint was filed a few months after another semi-conductor manufacturer announced plans to construct a new plant in East Austin. The manufacturer's public announcement indicated they would emit air contaminants, such as acids, inorganic compounds and carbon compounds.

Since the announcement, PODER and MANIC representatives have requested public hearings regarding Air Quality Permits before the TNRCC.The hearings would allow concerns to be brought forth regarding numerous facilities in the same adjacent area of Montopolis that emit toxic chemicals and the possible adverse cumulative impact of these emissions on community residents. PODER has had to seek legal counsel to obtain information and is presently awaiting a ruling from the Attorney General's Office regarding their repeated requests for public information about the company.

Future advocacy goals include: work in securing clean, safe job opportunities for East Austin residents; ensuring community participation in developing balanced land use planning guidelines that respect local cultures and the environment; monitoring and enforcing local environmental laws; ensuring community oversight of all government-funded programs designed to benefit industry (tax abatements, utility incentives, etc.); and effectuating citizen participation in planning resources for housing and transportation associated with high-tech industrial development.

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