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Port Arthur

April 26, 2011 Leave a comment

I had no idea what to expect in Port Arthur. I knew a little about the industries that were there from field trip readings but other than that, clueless. Just arriving to Port Arthur to meet Hilton Kelley at Kelley’s kitchen I almost felt like the van was lost, because there was no sign of any open businesses. All I saw was abandoned buildings and graffiti. I didn’t know that Port Arthur was so run down. I was so surprised by the abandoned buildings in Port Arthur.

Upon arriving, I was so impressed by Hilton Kelley. He told us his life story and the history of Port Arthur without a problem. He was very charismatic and good speaker.  I have heard of Hilton Kelley several times in Sacrifice Zones. He exceeded my expectations on the type of person he was. I didn’t expect him to be so well with people and also down to earth.

I found it interesting that he mentioned that Port Arthur used to be mainly a white neighborhood and that his restraunt actually used to be a whites only tavern. That in the 1950s Port Arthur was segregated across the railroad tracks. The buildings being abaonded made a lot more sense to me when he mentioned that Port Arthur went through a stage of white flight, which caused a lot of economic opportunities to leave. I expected to see gentrification in Port Arthur  like in Houston, but there was none.

Hilton Kelley’s view seemed a lot different than Juan Parras on the environmental justice.  Kelley kept mentioning that although he is fighting for Justice he knows that the truth will come through and things will get better. I was impressed by his hope for Port Arthur.  Juan Parras came across with distrust in the city government. I didn’t sense that from Hilton Kelley, he mentioned several times talking to council man about Port Arthur’s pollution problems. I found working with city council to be a very effective mean for change. I didn’t remember reading anything about Hilton Kelley working with city governments in class. That was news to me.

Kelley’s tour around Port Arthur was very eye opening.  I’ve never expected to see a refinery that close to a children’s playground and apartments. The smell was overwhelming; I didn’t know how people could possibly live in that area with the constant smell.  Upon talking to citizens I expected them to be angrier about the issue. I could tell they were upset, but none of them really told me anything about wanting to talk to anyone about it, or even try to fix the pollution problem. They acknowledged that it wasn’t good and yes, they probably will get sick from it later on, they failed to realize that they can do something about it.

Standing and listening to Hilton Kelley at the apartments and walking through the apartments and seeing the people made me feel bad. I acknowledge that these people need help to conquer this pollution burden that they were stuck with, but I felt helpless at the same time knowing at that moment I couldn’t do anything directly to help them. It seemed to me, that they saw us with our notebooks taking observations and saw us as unapproachable. We were the scientists looking down at these scared lab rats who were unaware of the danger in their environment.

Hilton Kelley’s tour challenged me to really care for these people. Actually meeting the people in the town of Port Arthur and seeing what they actually lived in everyday, I felt really blessed for what I have. I really saw why people fight for environmental justice. At times to me in class in seemed like it was easy to blame companies for their pollution and point the finger at them for being in a low income neighborhood. I really saw why, it was a big deal for polluting industries to be low income neighborhoods. They really had no means to fight it. If it wasn’t for Hilton Kelley moving back to Port Arthur from California, who knows if anyone would have really stood up for these people.

– Katie Hargrove

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Learning the Bucket

April 20, 2011 Leave a comment

Do you know how to “bucket”? From Louisiana to Texas, Nigeria to India communities suffering air pollution from refineries and industries have learned to “bucket;” that is, create an air sampling device and working with an independent lab to test the air where they work, live and play. Global Community Monitor (GCM) is at the forefront of this movement to provide knowledge and tools to communities…to take back their air.

Hilton Kelley, 2011 Goldman Prize awardee, learned that communities could participate in collecting environmental data after joining the “Bucket Brigade,” a group of activists that learned how to take air quality samples for themselves.  I discovered this video he produced to demonstrate the bucket.

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New Site, Old Site

April 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Hello EJ TEXAS readers! We have moved parts of the blog to a new server, one that is hosted by Texas A&M University.  This new site will be used for course and educational activities. But I am going to continue posting and commenting on this one.  I encourage you to comment as well, and for students who are subscribed, please continue to post here, and I will copy your comments/posts to the new site.  There are some administrative locks on the TAMU site, so you will have to go directly through me to post on the new site anyway.

I still want to keep this “sister” site alive as well for the general public.

Here is the new course blog: Environmental Justice Blog

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Impressionable

April 18, 2011 Leave a comment

I think that for an individual to fight for the rights of people that are unable to defend themselves, it takes a very compassionate, dedicated leader. Both Juan Parras and Hilton Kelly exemplify this type of extraordinary person. These individuals speak not only intelligently, but also with great poise and passion for people and their rights for a healthy environment. Both of these leaders take these issues to a personal level, because they live in these environmentally unjust areas.

It is difficult to imagine living in an area where it feels like there is no justice and that your voice to rights in unheard. For many of our students even viewing these low-income areas was a first. I was shocked by the size of the petrochemical factories in Port Arthur. These factories are beyond massive, and there are several packed in the city along the water.

In both Houston and Port Arthur economic development is crucial to the success of a community. Economic development indicates that there is relative strength of environmental regimes. For a grassroots movement to be successful there needs to be experiential, scientific and regulatory knowledge, and overall the co production of knowledge. It is inspiring for a student to view individuals playing a role in environmental activism, not only does it make you more aware of environmental justice, but makes you want to work for the good of the common man.

Port Arthur – Observations

April 15, 2011 1 comment

One the second day, as we rode into downtown Port Arthur, I could not help but notice how abandoned the town was. It was the middle of the morning, and yet there seemed to be little movement in the streets and buildings. As we met with Hilton Kelley and continued out drive through the city, this pattern continued. Many of the houses and buildings were boarded up and abandoned. Once we got out of the vans and toured around, the second thing I noticed was the smell of rotten eggs in the air due to the amounts of Sulfur Dioxide. The smell became worse near the project housing, where Hilton Kelley was actually born. Inside Kelley’s Kitchen, Hilton explained to us that the town was not always so abandoned. He explained that in the 1950s and 60s Port Arthur was highly segregated. African Americans had to live on one side of the railroad track and would be cruelly punished by cops for being on the wrong side too late at night. In fact, the place where Kelley’s restaurant is now used to be an all white tavern where African Americans had to come through the back. Due mainly to white flight the town is now 64% African American and 23 % Mexican with only a very small 5-6% Anglo American population. Many factors contributed to the demise of the city including the large hurricanes that came through the area such as Rita and Ike. Unfortunately the town has now become somewhat of an environmental sacrifice zone.

Hilton has done an enormous amount of work to bring back to life the city of Port Arthur. His dedication is truly remarkable. He educated the community, held meetings and rallies, gotten a petition to give to a congressmen with 600-700 signatures, formed CIDA, organized bucket brigades as well as countless other contributions. One thing that Hilton is really hoping will help revitalize the town is that the EPA has made Port Arthur a spotlight community. This will give them access to HUDD among other things. After hearing both councilman Melvin White and Hilton Kelley speak to us, the plethora of environmental obstacles facing Port Arthur became clearer. For one, the environment in general is a ground level issue which people will easily ignore if you let them. Many of the community in Port Arthur is poor and so between living pay check to pay check and working ridiculous hours to provide for their family, they honestly do not have the time, energy, or money to be very involved in petitioning their situation. In addition, the lack of infrastructure in the town is a big problem. As we were touring we saw no banks and no large grocery stores, They need to find a capital that is linked to something besides petroleum, The councilman told us that there have been three major storms to hit the area, Hurricane Ike, Katrina, and crack. He discussed how they have to retrain the hearts and minds of the people in order to build up the community.

I learned a lot from visiting Port Arthur and meeting Hilton Kelley and Melvin White. I think Mr. White’s words on the importance of being a multi-tasker these days in the variety of community issues that one is faced with is very true. Hopefully, through the great contributions that Hilton Kelley among others have made, Port Arthur can become a thriving town once again.

-Kristin McNabb

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A Toxic Game – Basketball in the Shadow of Refineries

April 12, 2011 Leave a comment

In eyeshot and “smellshot” of both the Motiva and Valero refineries, Hilton Kelley talked about his history and the history of the Carver Terrace housing complex where he grew up.  He moved out of the government-funded housing in 1976 when his mom had enough money for a house, but when he returned in 2000, not much had changed except for the residents.  At the complex, we saw African-American families, little kids, senior citizens, and everywhere in between.

After his briefing we split off and tried to talk to residents who had seemed to disappear after our four matching vans pulled in.  Some groups had success in talking to people who returned to ask about our arrival, and a news crew tailing us tried tugging at heartstrings by recording a little girl and her mom during an interview.  Several of us set off toward the basketball courts where there was a game of basketball going on.

I played basketball with residents Dee, Dooney, and Jack, and Kate and Stephan from our trip and between shots and them taking us to school with their skills; we talked about the refineries and the pollution.  They seemed to know stuff was wrong, but there wasn’t much they thought they could do about it.  The refineries were necessary to the health of Port Arthur as a city but at the expense to the health of its citizens.  After sweating a little bit and starting to feel light-headed, we were brought back to reality by our group moving on across the playground.  After our goodbyes, we rejoined our group and continued our toxic tour of Port Arthur.

-Nathan Kaufman

Hoops with Carver Terrace Residents (Photo: Rosler)

A real eye-opening experience…

April 12, 2011 1 comment

This trip has been a remarkable journey through the eyes of another person in learning and acknowledging their daily lifes and struggles in the poor neighborhoods of Port Arthur and eastern Houston.  It greatly exceeded my expectaions that one would only imagine from reading or watching a film of the community’s struggle for a better life in the high concentrated areas of heavy (and dirty) industries.  To be able to talk with Hilton and Parras smack in the middle of their own environments is truly a eye-popping experience that allows for us to take in all the horrible sights, smells, and sounds that was thought to be unbearable to live in.  I cannot imagine myself allowing any of my loved ones to live in such a situation in the future.  Yet, those residents are too poor and working many jobs just to scrap by their daily lives… too busy to give thier time or money towards an united grassroots effort into making the community a cleanier place.  It is difficult for them to reform the political system to work towards the favor of the lower class, especially when there were no (or minimal) zoning laws set in place to prohibit the construction of industries right into the middle of a residential neighborhood.  The industries automatically doesn’t offer their aid in contributing to the community.  They give out minimal amount of money only when they encounter effective resistance.  We saw gas pipes trailing aboveground right across a local playground with the smoke pipes in the background emitting white smoke; the air was full of the sulfur dioxide aromas.  We saw a high school with all kinds of the petroleum industry-owned lines running underground through the school grounds.  We saw massive Valero tanks built right next to a tiny house whose owner refused to move out of his home that has been in the family for countless generations.

It is obvious that this has been a fight that can go on for a decade or more to get any real revolution for the better with cleanier (green) industries.  Those communities cann0t do the fight alone, but with an united front with some outside aid will they start to see some positive outcomes.  We need to be able to do effective and scientific studies/researching that would aid into the reform for a cleanier environment and a stronger enforcement of the Clean Air / Water federal acts.  They do not need only money from funds, but they need to advocate for improvements in their economic sectors that would attract more businesses/industries into the area for s stronger economic stability/sustainability that would eventually aid the community for a better and safer neighborhoods that any parent would feel safe to raise their families in.

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