EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – Protestors took to the state building in Downtown El Paso to call on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to support the federal government’s stated intention to reevaluate air pollution levels in the region.
Members of the Familias Unidas del Chamizal raised signs in front of the building on E. Franklin Street on Thursday afternoon to push the TCEQ to support federal efforts to reassess the pollution levels in El Paso. Over two dozen of the demonstrators called for improved regulation of air pollution levels.
“We’re doing this not only for Barrio Chamizal but the whole of El Paso. And, we need people to get involved. To be concerned,” Familias Unidas del Chamizal member Cemelli de Aztlan said. “To get more information. And, to speak out.”
As of Monday evening, a spokesman for the TCEQ did acknowledge KTSM’s request for comment. But a statement or interview was not provided by publication time.
Familias Unidas del Chamizal is one of the organizations named in a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The El Paso group along with the Sierra Club and city of Sunland Park sued the EPA in 2018 after the agency designated El Paso’s air pollution under a more acceptable level.
The suit said the acceptable designation for El Paso did not accurately represent a finding in the EPA’s own 2015 National Ambient Air Quality Standards survey. The survey found El Paso actually had significant pollution above passable levels.
El Paso Matters reported the lawsuit led the EPA to downgrade the region’s air quality status from attainment to “marginal” nonattainment in December. And, the EPA is considering whether to lower El Paso’s designation to “moderate” nonattainment.
Nonattainment is a reference to when ozone levels exceed federal pollution standards.
Hilda Villegas, Familias Unidas del Chamizal’s lead organizer, said part of the organization’s protest was also to pushback against a claim by the TCEQ that pollution is mainly due to emissions in Juarez. And, she said the federal government and TCEQ should not give into an exception in the federal Clean Air Act that does not consider emissions on international boundaries.
“A lot of these maquilas (factories) are U.S. owned,” Villegas said. “That means they don’t want to address the problem. That means they continue to protect private interest instead of the interest of the community.”