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.
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 Power
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.