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Title: Gasping for Air: Why Texas Air Pollution Policies Fail to Protect Children with Asthma
Authors: Scribbick, Sine
Advisors: Gerwin, Leslie
Department: Princeton School of Public and International Affairs
Class Year: 2021
Abstract: As the leading producer of oil and natural gas and the top emitter of greenhouse gases in the nation, Texas is notorious for its unhealthy air due to lenient pollution emission standards and weak enforcement. The level of pollutants in the air in Texas poses serious health threats to children living with asthma as ambient air pollution is a largely unavoidable asthma stimulus. Despite a growing body of evidence demonstrating a link between air pollutants and both asthma development and exacerbation among children, the state has allowed asthmatic children in Texas, particularly those living near industrial sources of pollution, to breathe unhealthy air. Through a variety of sources including archival data, judicial cases, legislation, climate science publications, media articles, and interviews with medical and environmental experts, this thesis explores the question: Why have Texas air pollution policies failed adequately to protect children with asthma, in particular low-income and minority children who are most harmed by unclean air? I hypothesize that the collective failure of government is rooted in decision-making that prioritizes the political and economic concerns of state actors and industry officials over actions to reduce asthma risks grounded in science. Moreover, the executive actions and policies of state officials, actions by state legislators, and judicial decisions have fallen short of the protective and preventive measures needed to optimize healthy air quality. The qualitative analyses supported my hypothesis, finding that environmental policy is polluted with leadership, politics, and ideology; Texans' health is undermined by the failure of state government officials to enforce federal air quality policies, consider science, and to regulate polluting industries to prevent respiratory illness; and the consequences of the congruence between President Trump and Texas leaders had the greatest impact on low-income and communities of color who cannot protect themselves from the decision to pollute their neighborhoods. The findings in this thesis point to the issue of environmental justice in which the failure of Texas officials to restrict pollutants disparately affects communities of color which traditionally lack the political power to demand the extra measures required to protect their health to the same extent as wealthier people living in the suburbs. Finally, this thesis concludes with the policy changes needed to improve the substance of the standards that will protect the health of Texan citizens and the processes by which the government sets the expectations in an ideal world. I concentrate the examinations and recommendations to the state as public health and environmental justice issues are traditionally a state’s responsibility. However, as this thesis demonstrates, due to the political climate of Texas, accomplishing the ideals is not feasible. Thus, I provide achievable recommendations to the state on how to clean up the air, allow for robust public and scientific input, decrease the influence of politics and ideology, disrupt the status quo with technology, and help repair injustices done to these vulnerable populations.
Type of Material: Princeton University Senior Theses
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, 1929-2021

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