The City of Houston Responds to Surprise and Unwarranted Announcement about U.S. Department of Justice Investigation

HOUSTON - Please attribute the following statement to Mayor Sylvester Turner.

"From day one, the City of Houston under my administration has prioritized the needs of communities of color that are historically under-resourced and underserved. My Complete Communities initiative works to lift neighborhoods using limited city resources in partnership with public and private organizations and their resources.

"This morning, the City of Houston was stunned and disappointed to learn about the investigation into illegal dumping by third parties launched by the U.S. Department of Justice. Despite the DOJ's pronouncements, my office received no advanced notice. This investigation is absurd, baseless, and without merit.

The City of Houston prioritizes and utilizes several mechanisms to combat illegal dumping by third parties, a practice that we agree disproportionately plagues Black and Brown communities in Houston and many municipalities throughout the country. The City has spent millions and continues to spend millions of dollars in bulk waste collection as well as addressing illegal dumping caused by third-parties.

"In 2021, Houston city council doubled the fine from $2,000 to $4,000 for illegal dumping in Houston, which is the maximum allowed by state law. We have also installed surveillance cameras to catch and prosecute individuals and businesses responsible for illegal dumping. The City follows up on 311 complaints about illegal dumping and aggressively pursues those responsible for illegally discarding debris on public or private property without the owner's consent. Houstonians can call 311 directly or submit a report of illegal dumping to 311 online, and all illegal dumping reports are routed directly to the City's Solid Waste Management Department for action.

"This DOJ investigation is a slap in the face to the City and the many people who diligently work to address illegal dumping daily and prevent environmental injustice.

For years, the City of Houston, in collaboration with Harris County and others, has worked to assist to assist Black and Brown Houstonians living in the Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens community, where cancer-causing creosote from Union Pacific Railroad has created health concerns. Yet, the DOJ has remained silent. We have taken legal steps to advocate for people living in these community with no help from the DOJ.

"Further, today's announcement follows the DOJ's blatant inaction when faced with the Texas General Land Office's (GLO) refusal to engage in voluntary compliance and conciliation, despite the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Formal Determination that GLO discriminated based on race and national origin against Black and Brown Houstonians in the design and operation of the CDBG-Mitigation Hurricane Harvey Competition.

"The City takes any complaint and investigation seriously and will cooperate with DOJ. We fully expect the DOJ's investigation will determine that Houston does not discriminate in its responses to neighborhood health and safety issues.
We believe the City of Houston's proactive measures to address environmental health and safety issues by leveraging public and private resources should be acknowledged instead of vilified. We welcome the DOJ's support in that effort.

"I am grateful for the support of U.S. Representative Al Green, who today released the following statement, "the Office of Congressman Al Green is committed to assisting the City of Houston with the issue of illegal dumping, a form of environmental discrimination that disproportionately affects communities of color. While it regrets that the U.S. Department of Justice has taken such abrupt action without consulting with or giving any prior notice to Houston-area officials, including members of Congress, or the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer, it fully supports the City of Houston and Mayor Turner's efforts to ensure all Houstonians live in a safe and healthy environment, as well as their cooperation with the rush-to-judgment announcement of an investigation that does the City of Houston a disservice."