Since the discovery of oil in 1901 Port Arthur, Texas has been a hub for the world’s largest oil refineries. Hilton Kelley, who grew up in Port Arthur, explained to the team how this dependency has been one of the major factors leading to the city’s current deep recession. He clarified how the temporary employment offered during refinery construction is NOT a sustainable job creation source. After construction the petro-chemical companies mostly hire experienced non-locals for the long term positions.
Hilton hasn’t always been highlighting the industry’s impact on his hometown. After serving in the U.S. Navy and working in the acting industry Mr. Kelley found a new calling during a visit home. He noticed how many of his friends from high school and different community members were dying of cancer and how they had contracted other respiratory illness. Residents were also moving away every year in search of better economic opportunity. He asked his friend who was working on ameliorating these problems. More needed to be done. It was then Community In-power and Development Association (CIDA) was founded in 2000 with the belief that chemical polluters should be held accountable for the chronic, systematic poisoning of low-income communities living along the “fence line” of their operations. The organization has had many victories since then. One major accomplishment includes accountability for the companies releasing toxic chemicals into the air and the enforcement of air permits. Another includes a fund by petro-chemical companies for local entrepreneurs to participate in the revival. These have been acknowledged by the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2011. It is granted to one environmental hero from each continent. The work of Goldman Prize recipients often focuses on protecting endangered ecosystems and species, combating destructive development projects, promoting sustainability, influencing environmental policies and striving for environmental justice.
The team was lucky to be able to meet with Mr. Kelley. We learned a lot about Port Arthur and the refineries impacts on the communities that live in that city.