Fenceline Communities on Gulf Coast Face Mass Displacement & Toxic Pollution One Month After Harvey
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Fenceline Communities on Gulf Coast Face Mass Displacement & Toxic Pollution One Month After Harvey


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org,
The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. As many parts of the continental United States
and the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico recover from a devastating series of hurricanes—Harvey,
Irma, Maria—we end today’s show with an update from one of the hardest-hit communities
along the Gulf Coast: Port Arthur, Texas, a fenceline community with several massive
oil refineries that flooded during Hurricane Harvey. Just last week, a fire at the Valero oil refinery
in Port Arthur released nearly 1 million pounds of emissions into the air, prompting residents
to stay in their homes for hours. Meanwhile, the 3,600-acre Motiva oil refinery
in Port Arthur, that is run by Saudi Arabia, says it plans to continue a multibillion-dollar
expansion of its facility, which is already the largest in the United States. This comes as hundreds of displaced Port Arthur
residents, whose homes were flooded during the storm, continue to live in tents. And a number of Port Arthur residents who
were renting and had to evacuate have been evicted. For more, we’re joined by environmental
justice activist Hilton Kelley, up from Port Arthur. He made history in 2011 when he became the
first African-American man to win the “Green Nobel Prize,” the Goldman Environmental Prize. Kelley is the executive director and founder
of the Community In-Power and Development Association. His restaurant and home were both flooded
during the hurricane. We last spoke with him on the phone just after
the storm as he was helping save people. He joins us now in studio after attending
a climate summit here in New York run by the Hip Hop Caucus. Welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to meet you in person, Hilton
Kelley. HILTON KELLEY: Thank you for having me, Amy. I appreciate being here. AMY GOODMAN: What are you facing in Port Arthur? HILTON KELLEY: Well, what we’re facing in
Port Arthur, Texas, number one, is mass evacuations of our renters. We’re also facing Superfund sites. We’re also facing— AMY GOODMAN: Explain what Superfund sites
are. HILTON KELLEY: Well, a Superfund site is an
area that’s been deemed uninhabitable due to contamination of some type of toxin. And most of the time in our area, it’s petroleum
waste or petroleum material that has been discarded in some shape, form or fashion,
and it has rendered the land uninhabitable. AMY GOODMAN: Keep going. What else? HILTON KELLEY: And so, with that being said,
many of our people are being displaced. I mean, there’s a lot of danger when you
live in a situation like this. And also, we’re dealing with a situation
with our elderly, in our community and in other communities around Port Arthur, Texas,
where many people’s homes that were flooded, these folks were right at their 30-year mortgage
payment, where they was about to be done with that. And now they’re having to start over because
FEMA is offering them a loan instead of some kind of grant opportunity. And basically, most of the people in Port
Arthur has been abandoned by FEMA. The Red Cross has reached its limit. And many people were in lines trying to get
their $400 check, and now that’s gone. I mean, I’ve gotten thousands of phone calls
and emails saying that “We need help now,” to this day. And the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey is just
starting to show its ugly head. AMY GOODMAN: How many Superfund sites, how
many refineries are there in Port Arthur? HILTON KELLEY: Well, I think we have somewhere
around 15 to 16 Superfund sites in Port Arthur. And Port Arthur is— AMY GOODMAN: These are toxic sites. HILTON KELLEY: These are toxic sites, land
that you cannot build on anymore, and even some waterfronts. AMY GOODMAN: That flooded. HILTON KELLEY: Yes. And so, when you have a Superfund site that’s
already contaminated, and then it’s exacerbated by a hurricane, what you have is debris or
material that may spill into the communities and get into the floodwaters. And as you walk through those floodwaters,
of course, you’re being contaminated with petroleum products, as well. AMY GOODMAN: Explain what happened in Valero. I mean, we were showing your own video of
what took place there. HILTON KELLEY: Right. AMY GOODMAN: And what is Valero? HILTON KELLEY: Well, Valero is an oil refinery
located right in the historic African-American community. And what happened that particular day, from
my understanding, is that there was some kind of a spark that ignited this fuel storage
tank. It’s what you’re watching burning. And the fuel storage tank exploded. I mean, when it exploded, it rattled windows
for about a mile. My brother lives within a quarter of a mile
from that facility, and he called me immediately. He said, “Man, I believe one of the plants
just exploded.” And so I rushed to the scene, and, of course,
I pulled out my camera and started to film and take photos of the incident. But yet, this is—a storage tank exploding
is somewhat uncommon in our area, but there are constant emissions due to shutdowns and
startup emissions, and also due to incidents that take place whenever they lose power. We see a lot of black smoke. We see fire at night, all through the night
sometimes, 14-hour burns, or two- or three-day burns at the Motiva plant. Or if it’s not the Motiva plant, it’s
the Chevron chemical. AMY GOODMAN: This is the largest plant in
the United States? HILTON KELLEY: Yes, Motiva oil refinery is
the largest oil refinery in the Northern Hemisphere. These guys put out 625,000 barrels of oil
per day. So, on any given day, we’re going to get
our daily dose of sulfur dioxide, sulfuric acid, 1,3-butadiene, which is a known carcinogen. And we have a disproportionate number of people
in Port Arthur that are suffering with cancer, that are suffering with respiratory issues. AMY GOODMAN: This is plant run by Saudi Arabia? HILTON KELLEY: Yes, this is 100 percent Saudi-owned. And we want to encourage the Saudi prince,
the Saudi to come to Port Arthur and visit with the people that are living on that fenceline,
that are living at or below the poverty line, and answer the question: Why aren’t they
doing more to assist this community in its time of need? And why aren’t they doing more to assist
the people any time in that particular community that have to bear the brunt of them making
billions of dollars annually? AMY GOODMAN: You grew up across the street
from Motiva? HILTON KELLEY: Yes, I did. AMY GOODMAN: In the historically black community
there. HILTON KELLEY: Yes, I did. I was born at 1202E Carver Terrace housing
project in 1960 to a 17-year-old mother. AMY GOODMAN: You moved away from Port Arthur. HILTON KELLEY: Yes. AMY GOODMAN: But you moved back. Why? HILTON KELLEY: I left Port Arthur seeking
a better opportunity. I lost my mother, Bernadine Kelley, to domestic
violence. She was shot and killed by my stepdad. And I left Port Arthur just to get away, and
I joined the United States Navy, where I served for four years. I was a second-class petty officer by the
time I got out, E5. And when I got out, with an honorable discharge,
I decided to pursue a career in acting. I stayed in California for 21 years pursuing
that career. And I finally got into the Screen Actors Guild
in 1991. AMY GOODMAN: You were a stuntman? HILTON KELLEY: Yes, yes. I really—I really did the stunt thing. I enjoyed that. And I worked very closely with Mykelti Williamson. Mykelti Williamson is best known for his role
as Bubba in Forrest Gump and also Uncle George in ATL. And he and I are still pretty good friends
to this day. So, yeah, I mean, it was a great stint. AMY GOODMAN: So, you were doing fine. Why did you come back to Port Arthur? HILTON KELLEY: Well, I went home to Port Arthur
just to visit in 2000, just to go to a Mardi Gras and visit with friends and relatives. And so, when I got to Port Arthur in 2000,
February, I just sort of walked around, and I saw the dilapidated buildings. I saw a large number of kids playing in the
streets. There was no community centers. And the pollution was just as bad then as
it was back in the ’70s. And so, when I went back to California—I
was working on Nash Bridges at the time with Don Johnson and Cheech Marin—I kept thinking
about how someone needed to do something in Port Arthur to help bring some reprieve to
that community and help get the kids off the street. And so, by May of 2000, I decided that I had
to go back home, after an epiphany. I had a dream, as cliché as that may sound,
but I literally did. And it was so powerful to where it led me
to go back home to do what I’m doing today. AMY GOODMAN: Talk about negotiating a deal
with Motiva to pay the healthcare—of residents? HILTON KELLEY: Right. Well, Motiva had been having a large number
of issues in the city of Port Arthur. And they had been dumping tons and tons of
legal and illegal emissions. There are—there is such a thing. And so, they had so many events that had taken
place within a few years to where we got wind of all the emission data and found out that
they had been way out of compliance with the Clean Air Act laws and regulations. And in knowing that, we decided to file suit
against the Motiva oil refinery, which led to us coming into a large settlement, $3.5
million, which is unprecedented for any activist to achieve due to a lawsuit. And so, we got that funding for our community,
and it had been used to help spur businesses and also create services from other surrounding
areas for the community. AMY GOODMAN: You negotiated EPA regulations. You pushed hard for them. HILTON KELLEY: Right. AMY GOODMAN: One of the first things we heard
with Harvey was that they were rolling back EPA regulations. HILTON KELLEY: Right. AMY GOODMAN: Which meant that a lot of these
refineries could release even more toxic emissions, use this as an opportunity, Hurricane Harvey. You talk about—you know, people talk about
front-line communities. You talk about fenceline communities. What did this mean for Port Arthur? HILTON KELLEY: Well, what it means to Port
Arthur is almost a death sentence for thousands of folks. Under the Barack Obama administration and
his EPA, we were able to get a lot of great things done. As a matter of fact, we got the Motiva oil
refinery to put in flare gas recovery units, sulfur recovery units. Also, Valero— AMY GOODMAN: That would take in the sulfur,
the— HILTON KELLEY: That would take in the sulfur
instead of dumping it, emitting it directly into the air that we breathe. We also got Valero to do the same thing. And what Valero found, and they articulated
to me, was that it helped them to save fuel. I mean, it was a good thing to put those kind
of regulations in place and to push them to put in flare gas recovery units and sulfur
recovery units. But under Trump, he’s unraveling all the
great work that Obama administration had achieved. Lisa Jackson was very instrumental in helping
us to get a clinic built in the city of Port Arthur. AMY GOODMAN: The EPA administrator. HILTON KELLEY: The EPA administrator, Lisa
Jackson. And also, Gina McCarthy also is a friend of
the environment. They get it. They understand climate change is real. And we think it’s time for Trump to get
the message. It’s real. It’s happening now. And because of rollback, it’s going to hurt
and harm many communities, not only in Port Arthur, but around the state of Texas and
also around this world. AMY GOODMAN: Where is FEMA and the Red Cross? I mean, the Red Cross, I don’t know how
many millions of dollars that it got to deal with Texas, and everyone recognized the mass
crisis in Texas. What about how Port Arthur residents were
dealt with? HILTON KELLEY: Well, I’ve been getting hundreds
of emails since I’ve been here. I put out a poll just yesterday asking folks,
“If you’re not—if you’re not getting your FEMA services, let me know.” And I’ve had over 300-some people hit me
up, saying, “Hilton, FEMA has dropped me. Hilton, FEMA has not done anything. Red Cross is pulling out. They’re reneging on the $400.” My wife sat on the phone for two-and-a-half
hours with FEMA, trying to get an inspection of our home. We have yet to see an inspector, and yet the
phone hung up right after she got someone on the phone. So, I don’t know what kind of games they
are playing, but FEMA is not doing their job on the ground there in Port Arthur, Texas,
nor are they doing it in Houston and surrounding areas, like Baytown, Beaumont. They’re all suffering. And our elderly are being told that they have
to get a loan, because many of them are—they had a fixed mortgage, a 30-year mortgage,
and now they’re being told they have to get a loan to pay those off. AMY GOODMAN: What about renters? What about people who were told they’ve
got to evacuate— HILTON KELLEY: Yes. AMY GOODMAN: —got to go into shelters? Explain. HILTON KELLEY: A lot of the renters, like
in Louis Manor housing projects, Prince Hall, a bunch of the other apartment complexes there
around, like Cedar Ridge, these places evacuated everyone. And what they told many of these folks is
that they were being evicted—not asked to vacate until the place was renovated, but
they’re told that they were evicted. Now, usually, when you get evicted, it’s
because you’ve done something wrong, or you were negligent in keeping up with your
lease agreement. But these people were evicted so they have
no right to return. And so, we’re asking people—we’re working
closely with Legal Aid to help inform these citizens of their rights, that they have a
right to stay, that they have a right to return. And we’re asking them to stay in place until
someone comes to tell you directly. AMY GOODMAN: I mean, this is terrible, because
if someone thinks that they are going to be evicted if they leave their home— HILTON KELLEY: Right. AMY GOODMAN: —then that will endanger them
next time. They will not leave. HILTON KELLEY: That’s right. AMY GOODMAN: What were the grounds that they
were evicted? We’re talking about public housing now. HILTON KELLEY: We’re talking about public
housing. AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking about the federal
government. Ben Carson came to Port Arthur? HILTON KELLEY: Yes. I never got a phone call. I was waiting for a phone call from Mr. Carson
due to the large amount of work I have been doing. AMY GOODMAN: The head of HUD. HILTON KELLEY: Yeah, the head of HUD. AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Ben Carson. HILTON KELLEY: Dr. Ben Carson. And we were waiting for a call from him, but
he met with the mayor, I understand. Governor Abbott came to Port Arthur, which
I don’t remember him ever coming to Port Arthur. We had been pushing really hard to get our
congressman online to assist with this issue. And yet, these guys, they kind of pick and
choose some of the better apartment complexes to go to and brag about how this was used,
block grants were used. But yet, they didn’t hit the hard-line areas
where people were being thrown out on their ears with their kids, sleeping in cars because
they had nowhere else to go. Even people that are handicapped were sleeping
in their cars, sleeping in their mold-infested homes. This is not right. We’re being kicked to the curb. AMY GOODMAN: What about landfills that are
being set up as we speak? HILTON KELLEY: Well, there has been a landfill
set up on 19th Street and Nashville—dead smack in the middle of this low-income community. The mayor of Port Arthur, Derrick Freeman,
said that it was the most expedient place and that it was safe. I don’t see how in the world that that land
site, illegal land site, which we call it, could be possibly safe, because a bunch of
the debris there were torn out of mold-infested homes. It was filled with toxic water. And yet you’re dumping it in a community
where people reside. This is not right, and it should be removed. We’ve been campaigning and pushing to get
this relocated, but he said they’re going to sift through the material and relocate
it. But once the contractors that are there doing
the work are gone and the media lights go off, I can bet you that Derrick Freeman is
not going to have the money to move that trash from our community. AMY GOODMAN: This is—when you say “our community,”
you mean the black community of Port Arthur? HILTON KELLEY: I mean the black community
on the East End and the West End of Port Arthur. AMY GOODMAN: Recap for us the refineries in
your area. HILTON KELLEY: Yeah, well, the refineries
in our area, we have the Motiva oil refinery. We have Valero oil refinery. We have Total oil refinery. AMY GOODMAN: French. HILTON KELLEY: Total is French-owned. We have BASF, which is a German-owned chemical
company. We have Chevron chemical company. We have Flint Hills chemical company. We are inundated with petroleum industries
that dump daily. If one refinery or chemical plant is not having
an emission event, another one is. And we also have Oxbow Calcining, which is
a pet coke facility that takes the guck that’s left over from the refineries, and processes
it and dumps tons of sulfur dioxide into the air every day, all day. AMY GOODMAN: Puerto Rico is dealing with an
environment of catastrophe right now. You’ve been to Puerto Rico a number of times— HILTON KELLEY: Yes. AMY GOODMAN: —to help the people of Puerto
Rico deal with coal ash— HILTON KELLEY: Yes. AMY GOODMAN: —something they have been fighting
and resisting the dumping of for quite some time. HILTON KELLEY: Well, I’ve been working very
closely with Denny Larson with the Bucket Brigade in California. And he and I have worked together helping
those folks over there in Puerto Rico to get some results when it comes to reducing the
coal ash from a lot of the coal-fired power plants out there. And what they do, they’ve been dumping the
coal ash in dump sites, which is illegal. A lot of the dust and debris from that coal
ash flies through the community. It gets on the windowsills. And if it gets on the windowsills, you could
bet it’s in the very air that you’re breathing. And a lot of the people there, particularly
kids, are very impacted by those particles. And many of the people are suffering respiratory
problems because of that exposure to fly ash, and something needs to be done. And with this hurricane, I’m pretty sure
that much of that coal ash have been washed into the community. The people of Puerto Rico are in a serious
situation, and we need to do all that we can to get them the help and assistance they need. AMY GOODMAN: You were dealing with that coal
ash before the flood. HILTON KELLEY: Oh, yes. I mean, we’ve been dealing with the coal
ash issue for about— AMY GOODMAN: We only have 30 seconds, so what
would it mean with this massive flooding of the island? HILTON KELLEY: Well, with the massive flooding
of this island, it definitely means certain injury, definitely certain injury, and, in
many cases, death, because this high exposure to these kind of toxins with heavy metals
and stuff can contaminate the blood, and ultimately people can perish from this down the road. AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to continue the
conversation, post it online at democracynow.org. Hilton Kelley, environmental justice activist
in Port Arthur, Texas, a fenceline community on the Texas Gulf Coast that was hit hard
by Hurricane Harvey.

39 Comments

  • Lolo Uro

    sad and funny that the states w the most climate chaos deniers are hit hardest by climate chaos… guess they coal.rolled too many prius'… payback is a beeeatch. drill baby drill.

  • Cee Bee

    Ahhh, no wonder the repubs don't want to cover pre-existing conditions! They already know much of the public is being made sick by force due to the repubs buddy chemical corporations. Including the GMO's.

  • C Dream

    This stupid black guy called Amy "Yes sir" 12:41
    That's what you get for supporting blacks, insults.
    All this black guy cares only for is "black communities" in Texas impacted by the hurricanes. He doesn't give a shit about other races. So why should we care about blacks?

  • Dan Harris

    Hell they should be grateful they are not in Puerto Rico. The fascists still need Houston and it's oil processing. If not for that they would let you all die too.

  • Roni

    LMFAOOOOOO 5:50 my guy said "we want to encourage the Saudi King to come visit" lmfaoo is he mad? Why are people so naive? What part of Saudi Arabia or the Saudi monarchy makes him think they would be so humble and caring to come visit his community? Forget what they do to people within their own borders, just take a look at how they treat their own Arab "brothers" in Yemen, how concerned they've been about Syrian refugees, Or as leaders of the Muslim world what have the even said about the Rohingya genocide. WAKE THE FUCK UP!!! The oil plant may be Saudi owned, but they've got the money they'll build another one. It breaks my heart the victim mentality of black people at times and how naive they can be.

  • dood poop

    This guy is so dark that light can't even illuminate some of his darker areas.. : l… 9:02.. he's hard to see. Please interview him in a brighter room next time. Interviewing him in an underground lair is racist >: (

  • BiddieTube

    at 0:30 stay in their homes, We have heard this countless times, the air is dangerously polluted, and so, stay in your homes. And again, I guess they must think the air in homes is piped in under pressure from the moon.

  • hermenutic

    This environmental disaster will probably affect things that live in the gulf as well as to those which live on land I doubt it will be for the better. These corporate citizens are turning out to be bad neighbors when judged by the negative effects their choices have had on those in their neighborhood. I consider this an unacceptable situation, and intolerable. It happened. Yeah it happened. Now fix it.

  • V H S

    I live in Louisiana and last year we went through a 1000 year flood that destroyed Livingston and Ascension parishes. I can promise you that dealing with the Red Cross and FEMA was not a treat. For some reason we did not get much national media coverage.

  • John Davison

    Saudi Arabia cares nothing about average Americans as evidenced by their massacre of innocent Yemenis with the help of the US and Britain. Saudi royalty, who are neither Arabic or Muslim (look up their true history for those who don't know), own much of our outstanding bond offerings and flow of petro dollars (which is now giving way to Russia and China's new oil/gold backed currency). Long story short, the survivors of Harvey are witnessing the real intent of the hurricane, which is an aftermath to clear out undesirable humans and remake that area for the Saudis and their allies. Welcome to the ugly new world.

  • Candy Coat

    what the hell is Saudi Arabia elites doing owning that much land with a lethal facility inhabiting upon that land ,after 911 That shouldn't be allowed i dont care how many lab rats ,oh i men workers they employ they cant be trusted ,they hate everyone , just another way weve been sold out and thrown under the bus this has got to end no matter what neighborhood it affects , what affects one family affects us all that is the new true American way

  • Gas Axe

    Waiting in line for a $400 check. OMG!
    I guess the people can start rebuilding now.
    Should be able to buy some groceries and air mattress and a couple sheets of plywood. with all this money.

  • Michael

    The oil industry will socialize cost, as all corporations do. The public will pay, and the shareholders of the oil industry will still reap profit. It seems a fundamental question, and rhetorical in intent, but why do we allow those corporations that destroy our environment to get off Scott free for the crimes they commit against the citizenry and the long term sustainability of our environment? We need a revolution in this country that seizes control of reason and common sense, but it may not come until we have a revolution in the first place.

  • allrawpaul

    Industrial Chemical Civilization is an utterly corrupt, malignant, omnicidal heat engine.  The nightmare of petroleum dependency includes immediate human suffering and the absolute destruction of the biosphere through co2 induced, abrupt, runaway climate change.  WElcome to the insanity of unlimited growth, oil driven capitalism.  Human extinction highly likely by 2030.

  • Khismet

    The Hell, hasn't everyone discovered that this entire region will be depopulated?? It began w Katrina..then the oil spills, then the sink holes.. Now repeats. People just get the fuck outta there..obviously the elite have plans for the entire southern/southwest/gulf regions. Cut ur losses & leave!

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