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In the limestone plaza outside Austin’s City Hall last night, more than 200 orange-clad workers and supporters rallied with signs and banners while rush-hour traffic stopped and started. One worker paced back and forth, rehearsing the statement he’d deliver to the Austin City Council hours later.
Led by the Workers Defense Project, Austin Interfaith, various unions and other organizations, the workers were there to tell the council to stop giving companies tax breaks unless those companies start protecting workers and paying a fair wage. It was the culmination of five years of work for labor groups in the city, and it paid off. At the end of the night, the City Council passed a resolution making Austin the first city to add comprehensive protections for workers into its corporate-incentive program.
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Six years after Citgo Petroleum Corp. became the first major oil company to be criminally convicted by a jury for violating the Clean Air Act, the company may finally be sentenced this month. Residents who were exposed to harmful emissions from Citgo’s Corpus Christi refinery have been awaiting a sentence. The hearing in federal court opened last week in Corpus with their testimonies.
The hearing marks the first time that victims of an air pollution crime have been awarded protection under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act and allowed to share testimony in court. The Citgo case could open the door for other air pollution victims to claim that status in environmental justice cases around the country, says Melissa Jarrell, a professor of criminal justice at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
The unusually long sentencing hearing is scheduled to continue through the end of the month. In 2007, Citgo was convicted of violating the Clean Air Act after an inspection revealed that the company had been illegally storing oil in two uncovered tanks for 10 years, and, unbeknownst to the residents, releasing harmful chemicals like benzene into the air. Residents of the fenceline communities surrounding the refinery, who attribute a spectrum of health problems to consistent and prolonged exposure to toxic chemicals, feel they’ve been denied justice. They are eager to see Citgo punished for its crimes, and are also seeking restitution from the company.
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In an attempt to move Republican leaders in the House to reignite the immigration reform debate, thousands of immigrants in more than 140 cities marched on Saturday, demanding reform and an end to deportations. The demonstrations set the stage for a larger protest planned for tomorrow in Washington, D.C.
In Texas, thousands marched. Houston saw the biggest turnout, with organizers estimating nearly 2,000 demonstrators. Close to 1,000 people took to the streets in Dallas, according to organizers, and rallies in Austin, San Antonio and Corpus Christi drew hundreds. Huge demonstrations in Phoenix, New York and Los Angeles sent the same message to Washington: Immigrants are no longer afraid, but they are tired of waiting.
“The government shutdown isn’t going to shut down the issue,” says Connie Paredes, who helped organize the Dallas march with Texas Organizing Project. “The issue is still there and we’re going to continue fighting for immigration reform and for a pathway to citizenship.”
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Central Texas’ vulnerability to extreme weather events—and the pressing need for the region to adapt to climate change—dominated the discussion Friday at a conference hosted by UT’s LBJ School of Public Affairs. Organized by a group of public affairs students, the “Climate Resilience and Adaptation Strategies” symposium featured scientists, academics, architects, activists and leaders in city government discussing how to adapt to climate change in a state where many politicians deny its existence.
Rather than focusing on climate change mitigation, which typically involves actions meant to reduce global climate change (e.g. cutting greenhouse gas emissions), the conference explored how communities can adapt to the already evident effects of climate change.
The bad news: Central Texas, which is prone to drought, extreme heat, flooding and wildfires, will need to prepare for more extreme weather events.