Zac Trahan, director of Texas Campaign for the Environment's Dallas office, explains to the Dallas City Council in January why the city needs to ditch plastic bags. Bag makers behind him sport "No Bag Ban" shirts. Courtesy of the Dallas Morning News.

July 1, 2014  

By Rita Cook 

Zac Trahan may not wear a white hat but the Texas Campaign for the Environment's Dallas director admits he did move to Dallas to clean up the town.

With three offices in Texas, the Texas Campaign for the Environment originally set up shop in Dallas in 1991, then closed in 1994. After a 10-year hiatus, it returned in 2004.

Over that time, however, the organization’s mission has remained the same, he said. 

“We envision a Texas free from pollution,” says Trahan. “Our mission is to empower Texans to fight pollution through sustained grassroots organizing campaigns that shift corporate and governmental environmental policy.” 

DFW environmentalists showed their appreciation for TCE’s local efforts when peers awarded the Texas Campaign for the Environment's Dallas office as the best local grassroots nonprofit during the Green Source DFW Sustainable Leadership Awards in March.

Trahan said TCE’s impact in North Texas dates back to petition drives to start city-wide curbside recycling programs in Dallas and Arlington in 1991. 

“We think those have been very successful,” Trahan says. “Re-establishing our office here in 2004 was also an important achievement. We then succeeded in convincing several DFW-area legislators to support and pass the computer and television recycling laws.” 

Above, Texas Campaign for the Environment's Dallas office won the 2014 Green Source DFW Sustainable Leadership Award for Grassroots Nonprofit. Below, TCE staff fight the Plastic Bag Monster in Dallas. Courtesy of TCE.

Recently, TCE was a significant player in passing a strict gas drilling ordinance in Dallas last year and a fee on single-use bags in March.

As a result, Dallas has one of the state’s strongest gas drilling ordinances and is the largest city in Texas with a single-use bag ordinance. 

As for upcoming projects, Trahan said they plan to tackle e-waste recycling. 

“After we get Walmart on board with electronic waste recycling, we hope to pass legislation to keep all e-waste out of Texas landfills and we are working to convince Rayovac to support battery recycling programs. We hope to pass state-wide policies that make all other battery manufacturers responsible for recycling their products as well.” 

Trahan, who has been the director of TCE's Dallas office since 2011, came from the Houston office. He says he became interested in environmental issues when he studied biology at the University of Texas at Austin.

“I learned a great deal about the environmental and ecological crises that are currently playing out across the world,” he said. “Human activity is helping cause one of the largest mass extinctions in the history of the planet – we are literally tearing down the foundations of the living ecosystems that sustain our societies.”

It was at that time that he says he knew he couldn’t stay in academia and study the problems, instead he found meaningful work to make whatever difference he could.

With a varying staff depending on season from 20 to 30 in the summer months, Trahan says much of the work done out of the office is community organizing. 

“[The staff is] out canvassing in neighborhoods each and every day. That means they are using old-fashioned, door-to-door, face-to-face communication to educate and mobilize residents throughout DFW,” he said. “That’s how we build the public support and public pressure we need to win campaigns.”

TCE organized a protest at a Dallas City Plan Commission meeting when the CPC voted to reconsider drilling permits in parkland. Courtesy of KERA.

However, operating as a door-to-door canvassing organization is a constant challenge. Trahan explains since some cities seek to restrict the organization’s constitutionally protected rights and prevent them from organizing support in certain communities.  

“Even in cities that have reasonable and legal canvassing rules, occasionally the individual police officers who encounter our staff members mistakenly stop and detain them or issue citations.” 

Right, TCE protest against gas drilling in parkland at Dallas City Hall.

In addition to canvassing, the group has also helped organize public pressure campaigns against high-tech companies such as Dell, Apple, Samsung and Toshiba to convince them to start recycling electronics as well as organizing opposition against several landfills and other waste facilities, including liquid waste facilities in Central Texas and in the Rio Grande Valley. 

And, while most of the time is spent organizing support in DFW communities no more than 60-90 minutes from the Dallas office, Trahan says they do send small groups of organizers to canvass in areas all over Texas. 

Left, TCE banner at a proposed gas processing site. Courtesy of Dallas Morning News.

“We are currently working to defeat a waste incineration proposal in Houston and to put zero waste programs in place instead,” he said. “Each of our offices represents a unique cultural area in Texas, but we always seek to assist as needed in local communities when pollution and quality of life issues arise in their neighborhoods. We serve as a resource for like-minded residents who want to protect our shared environment and participate in the democratic decision-making process.”

Rita Cook is an award-winning journalist who writes or has written for the Dallas Morning News, Focus Daily News, Waxahachie Daily Light, Dreamscapes Travel Magazine, Porthole, Core Media, Fort Worth Star Telegram and many other publications in Los Angeles, Dallas and Chicago. With five books published, her latest release is “A Brief History of Fort Worth” published by History Press. Contact her at [email protected].

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