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TAKE ACTION: Drive Valero Out of San Antonio’s Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival!

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Oil and pollinators don’t mix. Deceleration photo illustration.

A new petition targeting San Antonio’s Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival reminds us that fossil fuels poison communities, drive biodiversity collapse, and are a leading cause of climate chaos. There is no place for them in a festival claiming to honor pollinators or even our own increasingly tenuous place in the web of life.

Greg Harman

Some days it seems that the struggle against Valero is happening everywhere but San Antonio, the company’s hometown. The Manchester community outside Houston has fought Valero’s Houston refinery for decades over the toxic clouds that routinely settle over their homes. Similar struggles dog communities near other refineries, such as those in Port Arthur and Corpus Christi. The Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe of Texas know Valero as a monster polluter they say is occupying the location of one of their historic villages at Three Rivers and fueling petrochemical build out threatening other sacred sites. Valero execs are almost never called out for their efforts to stall federal climate action or normalize ecocide. We have to travel far outside our local media landscape to see the company’s influential propaganda work—such as the insidious “Essential for Life” campaign, which Brian Kahn at Gizmodo calls one of Big Oil’s “creepiest”—dissected.

One of the most violently incongruous relationships Deceleration has observed in San Antonio is this continuing partnership between Valero and the Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival. As the petition released last week makes clear, habitat destruction, toxic pollution, and climate disruption are all core Valero products.

Valero is an outsized contributor to the demise of our natural world and the rise of extreme storm, drought, and heat helping drive so many species to extinction. No amount of learning materials stamped with Valero’s logo in our elementary schools can undo these facts. Valero should not be applauded from the stage of a festival dedicated to disappearing butterflies (as they were at last year’s festival) or allowed to film greenwashing videos with festival participants for a backdrop (as they also were last year).

It all led us to this somewhat despairing tweet when we saw Valero was—again—underwriting what should be a time for unfettered celebration:

We are also disappointed the festival organizers decided to move this year to Brackenridge to partner with the Brackenridge Park Conservancy. Brackenridge, as many already know, has been a center for a struggle over the rights of nature in San Antonio for years, but unavoidably so since the beginning of 2022 when Conservancy-supported efforts to violently relocate of a rookery of migratory birds became clear. The needless destruction of roughly 100 trees (including many towering elder trees) due to a particular interpretation of a bond-funded project at the headwaters of the San Antonio River lies ahead.

Because we are dedicated to a living planet, Deceleration supports all those working to call out and correct the climate offenders within our community. We urge all people of conscience to support this petition and work toward the day when our worst climate offenders are no longer able to greenwash their poisons by underwriting efforts driven by some of our best intentions. There is so much to love about the butterfly festival, but by the alliances organizers have struck—with Valero, wrong all year ’round; with the Conservancy, which has clearly succumbed to redevelopment fever of late—make it impossible to support.

We encourage all to sign on to this petition.

It reads:

Monika Maeckle, Texas Butterfly Ranch, Monarch Butterfly & Pollinator Festival, and all Festival organizers, participants, and supporters

The annual Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival is a welcome opportunity to celebrate our solidarity with our planet and Her many living systems. For that reason, allowing the world’s largest independent refiner of polluting fossil fuels to underwrite the festival is the height of hypocrisy and a betrayal of our values.

How can we claim to be celebrating endangered monarchs in good faith while partnering with and promoting a company knowingly picking apart the earth’s life-support system? A company that daily blankets low-income and BIPOC communities in the United States under toxic clouds? A company that has repeatedly lobbied to delay federal action on global warming?

San Antonio-based Valero Energy just reported record-breaking $4.7 BILLION quarterly profits as our families were held captive at the pump paying over $4/gallon. As they robbed us at the pump to enrich themselves, Valero ramped up air pollution at their refineries way beyond permitted limits. They continued to poison the Manchester community of Houston with hydrogen cyanide and were just discovered secretly releasing toxic chemicals for years into neighborhoods outside a California refinery.

Dirty fuels are destroying the planet and poisoning our families. We’ve had enough.

We call on Monika Maeckle (@monicam), founder of the Texas Butterfly Ranch and the Monarch Butterfly & Pollinator Festival, and all Festival organizers to part ways with Valero and commit to making the festival a truly biosphere-friendly event.

We are troubled by the Festival’s selection of Brackenridge Park for this year’s festivities, as bird and tree protectors have documented violence against migratory birds by City parks staff for many months and continue to resist the removal of elder trees at this sacred site. We also urge them to reconsider their practice of breeding and “tagging” butterflies for release into the wild at the festival. See the paper “Captive-reared migratory monarchs fly in the wrong direction” for information on the potential problems with this approach. This paper concludes the answer to monarch decline is found not in breeding programs but in policy changes—which would include habitat protection, pesticide reductions, and a rapid transition away from drought- and warming-linked fossil fuels.

We call on festival participants to stop collaborating with the Texas Butterfly Ranch until we scrub ecocide out of the festival.

Join us and make this call heard.

More about Valero refineries:

  • Port Arthur, TX: Valero’s Port Arthur refinery dates back to 1901. Of the roughly 3,000 people who live within 2 miles of the plant, over 90% are African-American and 60% are low-income. Located directly next door is the country’s largest oil refinery (owned by Motiva, a subsidiary of Saudi Aramco). Exxon Mobil and Total also operate refineries in the region. The neighborhood ranks above the 95th percentile nationally for both the EPA’s air toxics cancer risk and respiratory hazard metrics.
  • Houston, TX: Valero’s Houston refinery, built in 1942, is one of eight oil refineries along the Houston shipping channel. Roughly 26,000 people live within 2 miles of the Valero plant. More than 80% are Hispanic, and more than half are low-income residents. Refineries operated by Chevron, Kinder Morgan, and Access Industries are located nearby. The area ranks above the 95th percentile nationally for air toxics cancer risk, and in the 80-90th percentile for respiratory hazard.
  • Norco, LA: The St. Charles refinery is located along the Mississippi River in Louisiana’s infamous “Cancer Alley.” Shell also operates a refinery nearby. Marathon’s Garyville refinery is a few miles upriver. The 4,400 residents living within 2 miles of the refinery are about 84% white and 26% low-income. According to the EPA, this area has extremely high health risks, ranking above the 95th percentile in both air toxics cancer risk and respiratory hazard.
  • Other Valero refineries located in low-income communities of color include facilities in Wilmington, CA, Corpus Christi, TX, and Memphis, TN.

For more, see Greenpeace’s report on Valero’s lobbying against climate action and poisoning communities—mostly low-income and people of color—across the United States.