Michael Regan, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator, recently announced that Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee would be appointed to a second term on the Local Government Advisory Committee (LGAC) for the EPA. In addition to that renewal, Regan also noted that Menefee would Chair the Environmental Justice Subcommittee.
This additional responsibility would seem a natural progression for Menefee, who has made environmental justice a core tenet of his responsibilities as Harris County Attorney. The Texas Signal Media Foundation spoke with Menefee about his appointment, and what he hopes to accomplish working alongside the EPA.
According to Menefee, the LGAC is composed of several officials from around the country that make recommendations on many policy issues. He was active on the Environmental Justice Subcommittee, and that work played a critical role in being appointed Chair.
Menefee’s elevated role with the LGAC makes sense because of his legal representation of Harris County. “Houston is ground zero for many parts of the environmental justice movement,” said Menefee. He cited a few reasons for this including no zoning, being the site of the largest petrol-chemical plant in the world and having many facilities that are hyper-concentrated in black and brown neighborhoods.
As for what Menefee would like to see happen with the Environmental Justice Subcommittee, he has several goals. The first is “making sure our recommendations aren’t just beneficial for governments in California where you have a local and state government that see the world in the same way, but also that they are flexible enough to be applicable in a place like Texas.”
Understanding and responding to the cumulative impact of environmental activity (also known as incremental) is also something that Menefee wants to highlight. Currently, Menefee is part of a team of Houston leaders threatening legal action to stop the construction of a concrete crushing plant near the LBJ Hospital.
A recommendation that his Environmental Justice Subcommittee could make would be for the EPA to lead the development of federal policy that “encourages local governments to establish zoning land use and public health restrictions” so that communities can stay protected from harmful exposure to pollutants or chemicals. So far, Menefee is proud of the partnership he has established with the EPA, and his expanded role on the LGAC can only further broaden that impact.
Menefee cites the current role the EPA is playing in the investigation and cleanup of the Union Pacific Site in the Fifth Ward as just one example of how the partnership between the agency and Houston has already made an impact. Menefee’s belief that Houston is the epicenter of the environmental justice movement makes him even more committed to stay involved with the LGAC. “Our partnership with the EPA is really moving the needle on some issues, so to the extent we can strengthen and deepen that, I expect the dividends to increase as well.”