“Tesla’s Austin Gigafactory could be an environmental disaster waiting to happen”
by Amber X. Chen
Protocol, April 8, 2022
Subject: Tesla is destroying Austin’s environment and community
Hi Mr Kahn,
My name is Amber X Chen and my writing has been in Atmos and the Los Angeles Times. I recently pitched Atmos climate director, Yessenia Funes, about the horrific nature of Tesla’s new ‘Gigafactory’ that is perpetuating environmental racism in Austin. Yessenia told me that her editorial calendar is quite packed for April, but that you may be interested in commissioning the piece for Protocol.
I’ve put the text of the whole pitch below. I hope to hear back from you!
Like a lot of major companies, Tesla has relocated many of their operations to Texas, for the state has very little environmental regulations and low corporate taxes. Tesla began construction on their Gigafactory in July 2020. This has been enabled by the county and the state which gave Tesla a 50 million tax incentive to build their Gigafactory in Austin to the detriment of the low-income majority Latinx communities nearby.
Valle del Rio and Austin’s Colony (two communities surrounding the Gigafactory construction) do not have access to clean water (Valle del Rio does not have access at all and Austin’s Colony is forced to buy from Southwest Water, a private company that is gouging their prices) for the city said they were located too far East. However the Tesla factory is getting clean water directly from the city, even though it is farther East.
The factory construction is also creating constant truck traffic, noise pollution, and dust that residents say is so bad it prevents kids from playing outside. Tesla is also trying to build a road through Austin’s Colony and they want to make that road private. The communities that surround the factory have already been subject to aggregate mining and already have the tell-tale signs of environmental injustice like high asthma rates. It is an underserved neighborhood with poor social services and little public transportation. As for the argument that this will create jobs, fluent English is one of Tesla’s work requirements, which excludes a huge portion of the community.
There are also concerns over how Tesla is going to manage their land and water, especially storm water because they have located their factory next to a flood zone where the risk of toxic pollutants flowing into the Colorado River is high. Tesla hasn’t shared their plans for management yet, even though the factory is set to open on April 7.
PODER, Austin’s only EJ group and also TAPP (Texas Anti-Poverty Project) have been working really hard on campaigns to hold Tesla accountable. My vision for this article is to give a run down of what Tesla is doing to Austin and what residents want instead, spotlighting the orgs doing the work. There hasn’t been enough press on this situation and it is important that Tesla feel more public pressure and change their practices.
I already have a direct contact to PODER, via organizer Alexia Leclercq and PODER has been in direct contact with Tesla and Austin officials, and have done a lot of community outreach.