North Texas Daily

Texas Winter Storm Uri exposed environmental racism

Texas Winter Storm Uri exposed environmental racism

Texas Winter Storm Uri exposed environmental racism
March 05
13:00 2021

FWinter Storm Uri devastated Texas, leaving four million people freezing in their homes without electricity or access to clean water. In the darkness, major problems surrounding racial and income disparities were brought to light. When the Texas independent power grid failed, it’s obvious which communities were hit hardest: low-income communities of color

While affluent neighborhoods like Highland Park in Dallas stayed warm, 11-year-old Cristian Pineda froze to death in his family’s mobile home in Jefferson County. Pineda fell victim to environmental racism and income disparity. 

Black and Hispanic families in Texas are more than twice as likely to live below the poverty line than white families, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Texas homes aren’t built to withstand harsh winters and lack insulation to keep people warm. Low-income communities of color didn’t have the option to go to a hotel and many can’t afford an expensive generator to keep their power on.

Environmental racism is a form of systemic racism that occurs when people of color are disproportionately impacted by climate change and face more health problems caused by their environment. Environmental racism also occurs when communities of color lack access to essential businesses like grocery stores.

The blackouts in Texas clearly show evidence of environmental racism. First, communities of color have a history of being disproportionately impacted by climate change. Second, Texas is known for using redlining and gentrification to force people of color into specific areas. Finally, low-income areas across the country tend to lack hospitals and during the blackout, state officials instructed energy companies to prioritize areas near hospitals

Racist housing policies have pushed communities of color into areas where climate change is more severe and the environment is more polluted. In fact, Black children are five times more likely to have lead poisoning from living close to toxic waste than white children, according to research published by the American Chemical Society and conducted by Dr. Robert Bullard. Another study published by the ACS found that Black people earning $50,000 to $60,000 a year are more likely to live in polluted areas than white people who only make $10,000 a year. 

Climate change results in more severe weather and consequently has a deeper impact on Black and Hispanic communities. Studies have found Black Americans are disproportionately exposed to extreme heat. In Texas, Black and Hispanic people have reported feeling unusually cold in their houses at a higher rate than the statewide average according to the American Housing Survey from 2019. 

Fast forward to 2021 and those communities get hit by a catastrophic winter storm. Texas didn’t do enough to prepare the most vulnerable communities even though state officials knew how devastating the winter storm would be on the state’s power grid. 

Black and Hispanic low-income communities were abandoned by the Texas government and left to freeze in their homes. By shifting responsibility to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas and creating a deregulated power grid, the state was set up for failure. Federal regulations could have forced Texas to winterize the power grid and make productive changes to protect vulnerable communities from extreme temperatures and severe weather.

Featured Illustration by J. Robynn Aviles

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Shelby Stevens

Shelby Stevens

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