PORT ARTHUR: Hilton Kelley, Texas Refinery Activist, Bringing National Attention to Pollution and Jobs Crisis
Port Arthur, Texas Selection as EPA Showcase City Already Making Waves
Community In-Power & Development Association – Global Community Monitor Media Release
Contact: Hilton Kelley, CIDA:
409-498-1088 and Denny Larson, GCM: 415-845-4705
(Port Arthur, TX) The
latest efforts of Environmental Justice leader Hilton Kelley to revitalize his
hometown of Port Arthur, Texas has resulted in a $100,000 commitment from the
US EPA over the next two years to help alleviate the environmental, human
health and economic development challenges in this refinery community.
The selection of Port
Arthur as part of the EPA Showcase Cities program is largely the result of
Hilton Kelley’s high profile work including winning a landmark Good Neighbor
Agreement with Shell Oil and defeating a proposal to burn toxic PCB’s imported
from Mexico. Kelley has already begun to define the key issues to be addressed
over the next two years including the need for an emergency siren warning
system, the relocation of neighbors too close to the toxic fenceline, a new way
to study the impacts of toxics on families, clean up of abandoned toxic sites,
and job creation and economic development.
About the EPA Showcase
Cities Program The Environmental
Justice Showcase Communities effort brings together governmental and
non-governmental organizations and pools their collective resources and
expertise on the best ways to achieve real results in communities. Currently the committees meet frequently and
must deliver specific plans by the summer of 2011. Hilton’s organization, Community In-power and
Development Association, the only Environmental Justice group in Port Arthur,
TX area, is the lead for EPA and the other agencies in the Showcase Communities
effort. Hilton serves on 4 of the 6
committees that have formed to address the key issues facing Port Arthur. Those issues include: environmental
pollution, emergency response and community alerts during toxic releases, contaminated
sites, health services improvement, economic development and job creation,
creating buffer zones between homes and industry and improving air monitoring
of industrial pollution.
Emergency Siren Warning
System The most pressing demand that
has been coming from Hilton and the community is for an emergency siren system
to warn residents of the frequent toxic spills.
The issue recently came
into focus when 462,000 gallons of oil spilled after a tanker collided with a
vessel pushing two barges in Port Arthur. Local law enforcement evacuated about 28 blocks due to the
higher-than-normal sulfur content in the crude oil. The current toxic spill warning system in
Port Arthur, an antiquated “phone ring down system” where land lines in
specific areas can be automatically called to warn residents, failed. However many industrialized areas have added
siren warning systems so residents can be more effectively warned and
immediately take action to protect themselves and their children in those
critical first minutes of an industrial accident.
Hilton Kelley donned a
respirator mask and warned residents to leave the area immediately because of
the danger. “The fumes were just
unbearable,” he said. “Our main concern is the number of people who might have
been impacted by the fumes and did not receive immediate warning because of the
lack of a siren system.”
In light of the accident,
Kelley is hoping to convince local industry to fund a Community Warning Siren
system similar to those widely used in other highly industrialized areas to
warn residents of toxic spills. Kelley’s
efforts are being supported by the Global Community Monitor
(www.gcmonitor.org), an international human rights non-profit that has helped
establish similar systems elsewhere.
Relocation of Families In addition Hilton is advocating the relocation of
fenceline homes that are too close to heavy industry and face daily air
pollution as well as the threat of illness from toxic spills, fires and
explosions at the plants. As part of the
Showcase project, working with experts from University of Texas Medical Branch
(UTMB) hotspot neighborhoods near the dozens of refineries and chemical plants
will be mapped. Kelley has surveyed a
number of homeowners in the area and found over 90% want to be relocated away
from the plants if they can get a fair price. He estimates as many as 400 homes could be documented through the
mapping project and targeted for relocation.
In addition, there is a
specific work group trying to relocate a major housing project, Carver Terrace,
where Kelley himself grew up. There are
several hundred families located in this hotspot area. The Showcase project is able to bring other
agencies to the table such as Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which
oversees public housing.
Cumulative Toxic Impacts Kelley is also pushing for a cumulative impact study
that would look at the combined effect of all the toxic emissions in the area
and come up with a plan to reduce overall exposures to the community. Current toxics exposure programs only look at
a single facility and its impacts at a time and don’t consider the combined
effects of living next to dozens of sources.
Cleaning Up Toxic Sites Cleaning up abandoned toxic sites is also high on the
list of what needs to happen on the West side of Port Arthur, according to
Kelley and CIDA. This also creates the
opportunity for appropriate economic development on large sections of land
sitting abandoned currently.
Economic Opportunity Job creation and economic development is a key issue
for Kelley as the unemployment rate is more than 15% in the area. Kelley started his own business incubator for
people looking to start up a business. CIDA Inc, provides an office and basic
services as a bridge for such efforts.