Looking back on our work in 2015

TCE Blog
Melanie Scruggs, Houston Program Director

What a challenging and busy year it has been for Texas Campaign for the Environment (TCE) and our sister non-profit, Texas Campaign for the Environment Fund (TCE Fund). We knocked on over half a million doors all across Texas, and spoke face-to-face with more individuals about the environment than any other group. We have been honored to organize in coalition with new allies and strengthen old relationships in the Texas environmental movement. We had plenty of fun along the way, as always. If there’s one thing we have all learned from canvassing, it’s that if we aren’t having fun, we aren’t doing it right!

Victory on Toxic Chemicals in Consumer Products


TCE and TCE Fund have joined with allies across the country to pressure retailers to remove toxic chemicals from products they sell and adopt broad policies to direct their suppliers to use safer chemicals. This leverages the economic power of retailers to produce big changes in the market as a whole, eliminating dangerous chemicals even if the government won’t act.

Since May 2015, we have participated in national campaigns targeting Walgreens, Macy’s, Costco, Best Buy, Pier 1 Imports and the three national dollar store chains. We helped organize demonstrations outside Walgreens and dollar stores as part of national days of action. TCE and TCE Fund led the efforts that succeeded in holding Fort Worth-based Pier 1 Imports accountable on phasing out the use of toxic flame retardants. In addition, Macy’s has also agreed to remove toxic flame retardants from upholstered furniture.

Moving Forward on Zero Waste in Major Cities Throughout Texas

In the DFW area, TCE Fund is doing our first ever poll on people’s perception and understanding of recycling. This data will help us develop and implement an effective communications strategy around recycling in multi-family and commercial buildings, the source of 75% of the discards in the city.

TCE and our allies in Houston are running out the clock on “One Bin for All,” a proposal to do away with curbside recycling by mixing recyclables and trash to potentially be burned later. Instead, the City of Houston has finally provided curbside recycling bins to ALL the residents it serves. We have become a resource on these so-called “Dirty MRFs,” quoted in national trade journals and local press as far away as Alabama as companies continue to pitch this wasteful path to other communities.

TCE was also successful in getting recycling and other resource recovery goals included in the comprehensive Plan Houston document. This can provide the basis for a Zero Waste vision for Texas’ largest city, including new policies like recycling in multi-family buildings and areas where neighborhood associations handle waste and recycling contracts.

caldwellcoIn Central Texas, we are working with allies in Caldwell County to promote economic development through Zero Waste while they fight a permit for a proposed giant landfill. We presented at a Zero Waste Business Conference sponsored by the City of Austin and we have been educating Austinites about why and how the city should have curbside composting as a Zero Waste and Climate Protection Strategy.

Progress on Producer TakeBack Recycling for Household Batteries


For the first time ever, the Texas House of Representatives considered statewide legislation to make battery manufacturers set up free recycling programs for household batteries, including both single-use and rechargeable varieties.  TCE Fund issued a detailed report titled “Recycling Not Included” to provide policy-makers with background on the need for producer takeback recycling to protect the environment and public health.  The legislation received a hearing in the House Environmental Regulation Committee, a key step toward moving the legislation forward in the next session. Since then the Speaker of the Texas House has issued an interim charge to hold hearings on how household hazards like batteries can be handled more effectively in Texas.

State Legislature Took Aim at Environmental Protection


The Texas legislative session was held in the first five months of 2015, and it was rough for the environment and local control. Legislators passed House Bill 40 which stripped Texas cities of their power to protect residents’ health and safety with regards to oil and gas facilities. Texans also lost important opportunities to oppose permits for polluting facilities through the Contested Case Hearing process when Senate Bill 709 passed. As bad as these bills were, however, our efforts forced some compromises that prevented them from being even worse. There were also attempts to pre-empt local control on single-use bags and heritage tree ordinances which TCE and our allies were able to defeat. TCE also helped pass legislation to increase accountability on ammonium nitrate facilities like the one in the City of West which exploded in April 2013 and killed 15 people. TCE generated letters to many legislators from constituents for and against various pieces of legislation both during and after the session.

Canvassing with Tablets to Increase Our Powertabletsfortce

TCE and TCE Fund are pioneering a switch from canvassing with clipboards and pens to tablets. With digital tools and instant data entry, TCE Fund will be able to communicate with tens of thousands more Texans every year –meaning we will generate thousands more emails, calls and petition signatures to decision-makers. This will put more public pressure on government and corporations alike, which is what it will take to put good environmental policies in place and defeat the bad ones.

Strong Support for TCE and TCE Fund’s Initiatives

TCE Fund has diversified its funding sources with important new contributions made by some of Texas’ most respected philanthropic foundations. So far, five foundations have backed our work in 2015. The Meadows Foundation awarded TCE Fund $50,000 which is being matched by eight generous individual supporters. Together with other foundation grants, TCE Fund has raised a total of $135,000 in support of TCE Fund’s push for recycling in multi-family and commercial buildings in Dallas and digital canvassing statewide. Other 2015 foundation supporters include: The Hoblitzelle Foundation, Eugene McDermott Foundation, Harold Simmons Foundation and the Educational Foundation of America.

TCE Fund also receives funding from dedicated community giving days such as Amplify Austin and North Texas Giving Day. TCE Fund also participates in EarthShare of Texas, which facilitates employee giving through payroll contributions and other workplace partnerships. Since 2014, TCE Fund has been benefiting from vehicle donations. Other generous major donors and community contributions from people contacted through the canvass continue to be critical to TCE and TCE Fund’s success.

Check out this Storify history of 2015:

We expect 2016 to be even better as we are better prepared — with new technology and staff capacity — to take on the challenges ahead. Thanks for making it all possible and for organizing with us.

Take Action

TCE Responds to Austin Statesman’s Article Trashing ‘Zero Waste’

Austin Chronicle Photo

TCE Blog
Andrew Dobbs, Central Texas Program Director

This morning the Austin American-Statesman published a big front page article claiming scary stuff about Zero Waste in Austin—namely that it is expensive, and that we “don’t know the final resting place of some of the items that Austinites put in their blue bins.” We need your help pushing back against the notion that recycling is not beneficial for the environment and our economy. Check out the facts below, sign the petition to Mayor Steve Adler and your Councilmember, and take a moment to write a quick letter to the editor of the Statesman to set the record straight!

Here are the facts the article didn’t mention:

Fact: Recycling means recovering valuable materials in our waste and marketing them as commodities. Like all commodities, recyclables go up and down in price over time. When the prices are high, Austin and other communities that recycle make money. When prices are low, recycling can cost money. Right now all commodity prices are low as a result of historically low oil prices. At some point in the future, however, commodity prices will go back up, and if Austin doesn’t have the infrastructure to capture recyclables at that time the money we lose then could dwarf the money we are losing now.

FACT: Austin is still saving money with recycling. In good times the sales of recyclables makes more money than it costs to pick up, sort, and sell those recyclables, but even in bad years recycling is still a better bet than trash. Landfills are all cost/no benefit for ratepayers, so every bit that you recycle saves you money you would have wasted by throwing those same materials in the trash. Austin Resource Recovery customers pay 46% more for trash than recycling, and if we recycle more we could save more.

FACT: There are costs and benefits that these reporters don’t take into account, namely, the long-term costs of landfilling. Permitting and building a new landfill costs tens of millions of dollars and saddles some community with odor, vermin, litter, traffic, and other nuisances. Every ton that we recycle delays the day that we need to spend millions to build a new dump somewhere in Central Texas. Note that the Statesman article failed to account for this enormous cost of waste and benefit of recycling, or any of the other externalities associated with dumping.

FACT: The scare line that “we don’t know what happens to our recycling” is unfair. Why would anybody pay good money for our recyclables just to trash them? If they wanted to trash them they could get US to pay THEM, not the other way around. Our glass, plastic, aluminum, steel, and paper goes to manufacturers around the world to be made into a variety of new products, and the fact that there are so many markets for our materials isn’t something to be afraid of, it’s something to celebrate.

FACT: Austin has a unique solution for these concerns. The solution: the upcoming Austin Remanufacturing Hub. This project will bring in over a dozen recycling processers and other Zero Waste-oriented businesses to Southeast Austin. Rather than shipping our commodities around the world—cutting into the profit from our commodity sales—we will be able to handle them right here in Austin. This project will create more than 1,000 new manufacturing jobs in one of the most economically challenged areas of the city. There is an upfront investment in this facility for sure, but how many cities get to create hundreds of manufacturing jobs and create value for their recycling all at the same time?

This article repeats the misinformation spread by recycling denialist John Tierney recently in an article which has been debunked by us and by other experts in the field. Make sure to read these responses as well.

Houston Chronicle Photo by Cody DutyTake Action

Please take a moment to do two things to set the record straight on this issue.

  1. Sign our petition to Mayor Steve Adler and your councilmember that reminds them that you and other Austinites support recycling and our continued investment in Zero Waste.
  2. Write a letter to the editor of the Austin American-Statesman. Letters are only 150 words or less, so take one of our points above and make it in your own words. Even better—make your own point to them. Use the app here or email your response to letters@statesman.com and let them know that their readers want fair coverage of this issue!

Recycling saves money, creates jobs, protects the environment, and reduces our dependence on waste facilities. Zero Waste is a common sense policy that can be achieved easily if only we have the political will to do it. Articles like this undermine that political will, and that’s why we have to take strong action to answer them. Please take a moment to sign the petition and send a letter to the Statesman today!

Why everyone is talking about the Paris climate conference

TCE Blog
Corey Troiani, DFW Program Director

You’ve probably heard that world leaders and negotiators met in Paris and reached a global agreement on reducing our atmospheric impact on climate change.

For two weeks, thousands of negotiators from nearly 200 countries mulled over scientific data, models, and input from world leaders. These negotiators ultimately crafted a 31-page agreement gh effectthat countries should dramatically reduce carbon emissions and keep the majority of fossil fuels in the ground. Additionally, industrialized nations will help fund developing nations as they attempt to grow into a low-carbon future.

You might be thinking, how do countries plan on keeping these huge promises, or why should I care about this anyway?

First, scientists have long known that fossil fuel emissions contribute to what is called the greenhouse effect. Heat-trapping gases, like carbon dioxide, keep the suns heat in our atmosphere, causing global temperatures to rise over time. The more heat-trapping gases we release, the hotter the planet gets. And boy, are we releasing a lot of greenhouse gases nowadays. The US alone releases 14.7 trillion pounds of the stuff every year. For perspective, global temperatures have been rising to the tune of about four Hiroshima bombs every second (or about two billion of these bombs since 1998).

So, what happens when the earth heats up a few degrees? The short answer is: Chaos.

If we do not put a control on global carbon emissions soon, we can expect larger storms, more droughts, mass human and animal migrations and extinction, as well as food and water shortages all over the globe. It’s not a pretty sight.

Maybe an uncle, or someone, told you over Thanksgiving dinner that we don’t need to take this seriously, since the Earth hasn’t warmed in the last 15 years or so. Pass the salt, Auntie, because the science is out on that one as well. Even though global atmospheric temperatures have stalled to some extent, oceanic temperatures continue to absorb the bulk of the heat, and ocean chemistry is changing as a result, bleaching wild coral preserves as the waters acidify.

climate oceanic warming

Even in Texas, a fossil fuel friendly state, the public recognizes the impact we are having on our climate. According to a poll by the University of Texas in October, a full 76% of Americans agree that climate change is occurring, along with 69% of Texans. That is remarkable consensus among the population, an agreement only dwarfed by the 98% + consensus among climate scientists. Of course, just because everyone agrees on something—even scientists—doesn’t mean that it is true. However, experiment after experiment, data point after data point confirms the simple fact that more greenhouse gas emissions means a hotter planet.

So, let’s get back to the big climate meeting in Paris and how countries plan on keeping all these big promises to kick their bad energy habits and dole out stacks of cash to the poorer countries. The 21st annual session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) was held in Paris over the past two weeks. The significance of this event was supposed to be greater than any preceding, because it was to result in binding international agreements over a global climate deal.

On Saturday, December 12, negotiators announced that they had finalized their agreement with full consensus by 195 countries. The highlights of this agreement include:

  • The desire to limit global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius since preindustrial average.
  • The pledge of wealthier nations to contribute $100 billion annually to developing nations to shift to a cleaner energy economy.
  • Developed countries agreed to take “the lead” on reducing emissions, while developing nations will “move over time” to make cuts.

Many environmental and social justice groups have a critical view of the agreement for a number of reasons:

  • The funding targets for developing nations are non-binding.
  • There are no clear mechanisms for parties to take action (e.g. agreement on a carbon tax).
  • Indigenous and island nations did not win specific defenses against climate damages.
  • Negotiators settled on limiting to 2 degrees Celsius rather than below 1.5 degrees, which could be difference between life and death for many threatened communities.
  • The agreement must be ratified by 55 countries (responsible for at least 55% of global emissions) before it is considered “binding” (aka worth adhering to at all).
  • Some analysts suggest that even if countries adhere to their goals, we will still not hit the 2 degrees or less warming targets.

While it is still unknown if countries will adhere to their agreement in Paris by establishing similar targets at home, the events surrounding this conference inspire a lot of hope. More than 600,000 people across the world took to the streets to stand up for a fair and just future during the redline banner parisconference. Despite the French government’s ban on marches in the city of Paris due to national securities threats, thousands took to the streets. In one instance 10,000 shoes were left in the Place de la Republique to replace marchers who were barred from the area.

The climax of marches took place across the world on Saturday, December 12. Dubbed the Red Line Action, to signify the line of temperature and carbon emissions that cannot be crossed to avoid catastrophic climate disruption, 15,000 took the streets in Paris alone carrying red banners and decorations.

Climate justice organizers, who believe large industrialized countries should make the lion’s share of emissions cuts and assist developing nations and indigenous people with equitable solutions, used the conference “as an opportunity to organize, to mobilize, to build new links, strengthen existing networks and announce ambitious future plans for action.”

The conference in Paris inspires hope for us primarily because it demonstrates how many ordinary people are willing to stand up and fight for a fair and livable future. We look forward to building power with communities across the state—and globe—who share the vision of an equitable and just world that is free of pollution.

Here’s what some of our allies from Houston had to say about Paris.


Corey Troiani
DFW Program Director, Texas Campaign for the Environment

Houston Runoff Election Environmental Questionnaire

TCE Blog
Melanie Scruggs, Houston Program Director

Questionnaire Graphic v4Early voting began Dec. 2nd and runs through Dec. 8th for the City of Houston runoff election on Saturday, Dec. 12th. Voters will decide our next Mayor, four of five At-Large Council Members and three out of eleven district-specific Council members who are in the runoff. There are other races on the ballot as well.

We helped put together a short environmental questionnaire for City Council runoff candidates with the help of our co-sponsors: NAACP Houston Branch, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (t.e.j.a.s.), Citizens Climate Lobby, Dr. Robert Bullard, Air Alliance Houston, Sierra Club Houston Regional Group, San Jacinto River Coalition and the League of Women Voters Houston. We especially thank Dr. Jacqueline Smith with the NAACP Houston Branch Climate and Environmental Justice Committee for her assistance with the questionnaire.

You can read candidates’ responses to the environmental questionnaire here or by clicking the button below.

Read Responses

B-King-headshot S-Turner-headshot

Answers have been published as submitted including spelling or grammatical errors. Any responses that exceed the character limit of 1000 characters are ended with asterisks. Each of the 16 candidates was asked to respond to the following three questions:



  1. In 2015, Houston expanded curbside recycling for all neighborhoods with city trash services. What specific policies or programs would you support to build on this progress and address illegal dumping, prevent new trash facilities from being located in low-income areas, and expand recycling, composting and education?

  2. This December, the UN Climate Change Conference is meeting in Paris, France to achieve a universal agreement on global actions for all nations to address climate change. How will you lead Houston as a global city in addressing climate change?

    Sylvester Turner: Energy-efficient technologies and energy conservation are major ways to reduce energy consumption and make Houston cleaner and greener. I am pleased with the city’s ongoing embrace of renewable energy – we are currently the top municipal purchaser of renewable power in the nation… Read More

    Bill King: The science is clear that climate change is underway and that human activities are one of the primary drivers. The only question that still merits serious debate is this: given what we know, what do we do about the problem?… Read More

  3. What local environmental and environmental justice issues are most important to you? What policies will you support to address these issues?

Our questionnaire includes links to your voting location information. Learn more about where Houston candidates stand with the League of Women Voters Runoff Edition Voter Guide and helpful questionnaires from Bike Houston, Scenic Houston and OffCite.org (a quarterly published by the Rice Design Alliance).

Please share this blog post to help educate your friends and co-workers about the runoff election with a reminder to always vote with the environment in mind. Your voice and your vote make a huge difference in this and every election!