Hilton Kelley

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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.

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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.

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Mr. Kelley with President Obama

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.

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-Omar Navarro

Beaumont: From Garden To Plate

Our arrival in Beaumont means an arrival at Unity Southwest Texas!
First we stopped at the Giving Field, a donation garden which supplies the food bank Some Other Place with fresh produce. It also acts as an education opportunity for the neighboring school.
Doing some serious weeding while watching intently for fire ants and the potential angry bee.
Doing some serious weeding while watching intently for fire ants and the potential angry bee.
Quid Pro Quo: I trade my labor for some quality time with your chickens.
Quid Pro Quo: I trade my labor for some quality time with your chickens.
Next volunteer opportunity: at Some Other Place. We helped serve almost 200 people food in one day. Here we're rockin' the hair nets.
Next volunteer opportunity: at Some Other Place. We helped serve almost 200 people food in one day. Here we’re rockin’ the hair nets.
Really rocking them.
Really rocking them.
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Afterward Sharon brought us to experience the fresh cuisine in Katherine and Company’s.
And at last a relaxing evening in the pool of Rev. Sondra and Susan, our gracious hosts.
And at last a relaxing evening in the pool of Rev. Sondra and Susan, our gracious hosts.

Kaela Bamberger

A Pecan Paradise?

(By Ben Trolio)

Hot and moist. Those two words described the weather of Fayetteville on the Fourth of July.   Native Texans would hardly bat an eye at the oven worthy conditions we experienced between Fulshear and Faytetteville.  On the other hand, most New Yorkers would melt into a puddle of fatigue.  As a life long New Yorker or Yankee as I have sometimes been called this summer, I was proud to pass the 35 mile long test.  Our crew half pedaled, half staggered over brown treacherous gravel to find our relief. The first Ride for the Future team had barely survived the trek to the land of pecans and cattle.

By nightfall on the flat, rangeland adjacent to Rudolph Drive, my fatigue had been chased away by a satisfying combination of food and hospitality. Note to future Ride for the Future Teams, nothing beats a bad mood better than gracious hosts and we found no better hosts than the three fine fellows Edwin, Harvey Hayek and Jeff Cook. Harvey had taken the liberty of getting to know us even before we arrived.  Prior to our departure for Fayetteville, he had rescued Kelly and her grouchy bike from Fulshear.  Her curmudgeonly bike wouldn’t make the trip regardless of willpower, tire irons and brute force.  If it had not been for Harvey, our team would have been down a key member or at least delayed.  Rescuing a stranded biker and providing a feast for our team was more than enough to place our host trifecta permanently in the memories of our team.

After the bike rescue and wonderful barbecue, listening to Jeff’s musings on the late pecan trees was the least I could do to help my host.  Jeff explained how his pecan trees had fallen victim to an ancient murderer; the killer was “cheap coal.”  The sparse trees, now stretching their branches to the blue sky once bore so many pecans that their branches sagged towards the ground in full harvest. No such tree is left standing on the property anymore.  Harvey Hayek’s trees suffered the same fate.  Proud but beleaguered, the pecan trees were a tall, wooden reminder of coal’s cost. The Fayetteville Power Project had deposed trees and the livelihoods of our hosts, Harvey and Jeff.  I will carry the story of Fayetteville, a piece of luggage to share with people I met beyond my stay in this town. Sharing this story is the least I can do to pay it forward for the helpful folks in Fayetteville.

Bastrop Fires

by Skye Kelty

I grew up in Southern California. Every year the dry Santa Ana winds blow at up to 85 mph through the dry hills in our Mediterranean climate leaving the brush dry and easily ignitable. This fire season lasts from June to October. In combination with drought and hot weather, 770 mi2 of my state was on fire in a 3 weeks period during October of 2007. One of my childhood friends was among the 1,500 families that lost their homes and the 900,000 people that were displaced. These fires caused the largest evacuation in California’s history. 9 people were killed. 85 people were injured, including 61 firefighters. A state of emergency was declared by our Governator and President George W. Bush. 6,000 firefighters were joined by the United States Armed Forces, National Guard, and Mexican firefighters worked long days in extremely hazardous conditions to get the fire under control and save as many homes as they could.

I was playing in a soccer tournament in my hometown of Torrance during the weekend of the worst fires. We had an 8 AM game and when we got into the car to get to the fields, the vehicle was completely covered in ash. This is the closest thing to snow I have seen during my 20 years living in Torrance. Half of the girls on my team had asthma and could not make it through warm-ups. We were annihilated on the field and lost by 6 goals to a team that we usually would have beat. My best friend was on offense had a major asthma attack during the first quarter. I could do nothing to make her feel better as she wheezed and eventually gasped for air. After our game, the tournament was canceled and postponed until the fires ended.

Every year weeks occur when my friends with asthma cannot go outside because of the ash and terrible air quality that accompanies the fires. My cross country team would run 10 miles in the gym around the basketball practice (pretty boring). My sister has severe asthma and I cannot explain how terrifying it was to get a call from her running coach that she had passed out at a race because she could not breathe. Frequent fires cause major problems for everyone in the area, from the firefighters killed on the front lines to the 10 year old kids having severe asthma attacks downwind. People lose everything they own. Ecosystems can be severely damaged beyond their fire tolerance levels. Fires are very scary.

We biked through Bastrop on our way to Austin through a blackened forest. Loggers have been busy removing the dead trees, and some of the survivors, to create pulp for paper, mulch, and other products. Last summer, during the worst drought Texas has experienced, Texas was on fire. That summer was the worst fire season in Texas history with 3.5 million acres burned and 3,000 homes destroyed. All over Texas fires raged, threatening Houston and Fort Worth along with many rural communities. Texas, like Southern California, needs fires to keep the forests and prairies healthy and have historically faced many dry spells. The kinds of fires that cause communities to enter a state of emergency are not so normal for these areas and are becoming more frequent as the temperature rises and the humidity drops. People will lose their homes more often and get sick from the terrible air that follows the burn. Fire departments will be strapped and resources will be exhausted. Climate change is leading to extreme weather that is less predictable. Fire is part of that problem. Fire is a major part of that problem.

http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2011/US/09/05/texas.fires/story.bastrop.fire.raci.jpg Information about the wildfires of 2009 in TX.
http://texasforestservice.tamu.edu/main/article.aspx?id=12296

This summer fires are already pillaging American cities.

Map of fires going on today:

http://www.wunderground.com/wundermap/?lat=31.48489&lon=-100.41504&zoom=6&type=map&units=english&top=fire&rad=0&wxsn=0&svr=0&cams=0&sat=0&riv=0&mm=0&hur=0&fire=1&fire.sat=1&fire.smk=1&fire.day=1&fire.day=7&fire.hrmin=0&fire.hrmax=24&fire.opa=70&fire.mode=0&tor=0&ndfd=0&pix=0&dir=0&ads=0&tfk=0&ski=0

first hand experiences video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?list=PLDC8416A1D04D61AA&v=1EtXNUeBG8M&src_vid=14Jc088R6PU&annotation_id=annotation_748962&feature=iv&index=0

-Skye Kelty

Uncollected Debt to the Public -Sarah Sims

Uncollected Debt to the Public

In 1995, President Clinton signed the Deep Water Royalty Relief Act (DWRRA), effectively eliminating royalties on leases for drilling in most of the Gulf of Mexico water deeper than 656 ft1. In 2000, the Mineral Management Service continued royalty relief with a similar program.8 The Bush administration extended and added to the reliefs in 2005 and the federal government has never collected the royalties that would have been due on these offshore leases. The act financially incentivizes drilling in areas where the oil companies themselves would not otherwise risk drilling. As a result, oil companies involved with deep water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico have largely been on a royalty-free ride for the last 17 years.

The U.S. Public Trust Doctrine holds that federal lands and resources are to be entrusted to the federal government for the benefit of the American public.2 DWRRA worked as a sort of “sale” to oil companies, incentivizing an influx in deep water drilling for a set time-period, with the intent of following with a sunset clause and eventually reaping the benefit of collecting royalties from a more developed deep water drilling industry. However, the senate passed the energy legislation without the proposed bill of provisions such as a price threshold.3 As a result, despite how high the price of gasoline has reached, oil and gas companies with record profits continue drilling with the benefit of royalty relief in the Gulf of Mexico and without due return for the sale of resources extracted from public land. When compared to individual mineral rights owners, rarely is there no cost to those leasing the land or no benefits for whomever owns the land.

The Minerals Management Service (MMS) has estimated that from 1996 to 2000, royalty relief in deep water Gulf of Mexico may have cost the government as much as $80 billion in public revenue.3 However, due to the complexity of the royalty relief act and lack of transparency by the government and the oil companies, the exact figures are unknown3. Still, the fact remains that despite oil companies’ record profits, they are permitted to continue extracting from public land at little benefit to the American people. This royalty relief act appears to be in direct violation of the intent of the U.S. Public Trust Doctrine as there is certainly no benefit to the American public in the case of Gulf of Mexico deep water offshore drilling; in fact, the public actually bears a cost,

Additionally, the DWRRA holds that the more risky drilling in an area is, the more royalty relief is given to the oil companies. Surprisingly, while incentivizing riskier drilling in deep waters, the act also limits liability for damage to $75 million per incident.5 As a result, oil companies drilling in the Gulf of Mexico can effectively get public resources at no cost them and, if they cause damage, they are not liable to pay for it if it exceeds the capped amount. As the highly publicized and damaging BP oil spill in recent history has demonstrated, damages often exceed $75 million. There are many such spills the public never hears of.

The top two most profitable companies in 2011, Exxon Mobile and Chevron, profited $41.6 billion and 26.9 billion respectively.6 It is unconscionable that an industry with record profits continues to receive royalty relief from the federal government while education programs are being cut to balance the national budget. The integrity of the process is questionable when on one side of the fiscal scale, health benefits for elders are being cut and on the other side the public pays oil and gas companies to drill in risky places. In April 2005 President Bush urged action in regards to energy. He said, “With oil at more than $50 a barrel, by the way, companies do not need taxpayers’-funded incentives to explore for oil and gas.”7 Oil is now more than $80 a barrel. We agree with President Bush. It is time to end the royalty relief subsidy set exclusively for the oil and gas industry and for the American public to have their national resources managed in a more fiscally responsible way.

1 Outer Continental Shelf Deep Water Royalty Relief Act: report. 43 U.S.C. §§ 1331-1356. Washington, D.C.?: U.S. G.P.O., 1994. Print.
2 The Public trust doctrine. Albany, N.Y.: Government Law Center of Albany Law School, 1991. Print.
3 “U.S. GAO – Oil and Gas Royalties.” U.S. Government Accountability Office. N.p., 5 June 2008. Web. 17 June 2012. .
4 Humphries, Marc. Royalty Relief for U.S. Deepwater Oil and Gas Leases. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress, 2008. Print.
5 Alexander, Lynn. Recovering 600 Billion by Collecting the Rent on Our Public Lands. Resource Renewal Institute, January 2011
6 Keating, Caitlin. “20 Most Profitable Companies 2012.” CNNMoney: Fortune 500. Cable News Network, 7 May 2012. Web. 26 June 2012. .
http://dpc.senate.gov/dpcdoc.cfm?doc_name=sr-110-2-103
7 Will Senate Republicans Stand With the American Taxpayer or Allow Oil Companies to Reap a $60 Billion Giveaway from Offshore Drilling Leases?.” Democratic Policy Committee. N.p., 18 June 2008. Web. 20 June 2012. .
8 Hallwood, Paul. “Rent Sharing and Offshore Oil Production.” “A Note on US Royalty Relief, Rent Sharing and Offshore Oil Production” by Paul Hallwood. UC Department of Economics, 1 Apr. 2007. Web. 20 June 2012. .

-Sarah Sims