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Have Your Cake

Growing up I always thought that neighborhood segregation was a thing of the past.  This was something I read about in history books, which from all my experiences didn’t exist anymore.  Sure I was aware there are poor people living in poor neighborhoods who are mostly minorities, but aren’t they there because they are poor and not by virtue of race?  Our society values hard work and the rewards it brings so logically everyone is product of their own doing.

After visiting east Houston and Port Arthur, I would say there was not a paradigm shift in my life, but certainly an important part of how I conceptualize this notion of self-determination of economic success was imprinted upon me.  Here in the two locations we visited it was as if the struggle to end segregation had never occurred, but this time segregation meant exposure.  Exposure to unhealthy air and water pollution.  From this experience, I think one might conclude that access to capital is the new standard of segregation.  A situation has now been created where it’s perfectly acceptable to have unhealthy neighborhoods because we are a self-determining society and you can buy your way out of undesirable locations.

Most of us who’ve grown up in Texas know refineries bring money to our state.  We pride ourselves on having a better economy in this “Great Recession” than many other states.  Our political atmosphere allows environmental protection to take a back seat to the potential profits of polluting industries.  Mentioning tougher regulation on petroleum refinery emissions here and you will receive harsh criticism and be called a “job killer”.  True, there is no denying we can ensure more industry investment with pollutant friendly policy, but the real crux of the matter boils down to this question: would you live next door to pollution?

Certainly no one desires this, after all take a look around Houston and see that the best places to live don’t have a refinery nearby.  It is unethical for us then to allow the polluting industry we profit from to be placed in neighborhoods that don’t choose to have or profit from polluting industry there.  What happened to civil rights in places like east Houston and Port Arthur?  We need a place to put our refineries and it’s not a violation of civil rights to put refinery next to a housing project, is it?  Fundamentally we create neighborhoods segregated into exposure and non-exposure, which was very clear in the struggles of environmental justice activist in east Houston and Port Arthur.  If you don’t have to see, smell, hear, or live next door to the pollution your profitable business makes, than who cares? You can have your cake and eat it too. (Liska)


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