Port Arthur, Texas, is home to a tremendous number of hazardous waste incinerators, petrochemical refineries, and a myriad other toxic facilities. The city is also home to many low-income families and people of color, all stuck in this extremely polluted region and trying to cope with dirty air and water.
Hilton Kelley lives in Port Arthur and sees the realities of the pollution every day. “It seems as if there’s a toxic release every two months or so from one of the facilities,” said Kelley, an activist and Port Arthur native. “All these chemicals are being dumped into our air - some accidentally and some intentionally.”
Kelley’s been fighting for the community for 17 years now, taking on major chemical and fossil fuel companies and the politicians who try to protect them. When he heard of the severe budget cuts proposed by Donald Trump for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), he found another reason to worry.
“The EPA is important to me because I live in an industrialized community,” said Kelley, who won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2011. “The EPA has been an authority that can really reduce air toxins that we’re exposed to. The state of Texas is very friendly to industry, and the EPA is like that big brother we can go to when there’s a major issue in our town.”
He says the EPA and its pollution standards must become stronger, not a target for weakening by Trump and EPA administrator Scott Pruitt.
“Weakening is not what we need - it’s like taking three giant steps backwards every day,” Kelley said. “This will be detrimental to people living in impacted, vulnerable communities like Port Arthur.”
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Kelley says he knows too many people in his community who are fighting cancer - that the industry in Port Arthur is severely hurting people’s health. He and other neighbors are trying to get the local incinerators and pet coke facilities - which burn leftovers from refineries and chemical plants - to reduce emissions, but it’s an uphill battle.
Just this week a Port Arthur facility called German Pellet caught fire and released toxic smoke over the community. “A lot of people went to hospital yesterday due to smoke they inhaled the day before,” said Kelley.
Kelley said it’s hard to remain encouraged, especially now that Trump and Pruitt have so many EPA pollution standards in their sights for weakening or elimination. “They look at communities like ours as collateral damage. We’re just a sacrifice zone - that’s what this whole area has been deemed as.”
So he keeps contacting his local, state, and federal legislators about strong environmental safety standards, and he’s encouraging everyone else to do the same. “This president is going backwards and undoing a lot of good work, he’s putting many people in this country and around the world in a vulnerable, dangerous position,” said Kelley. “Write those letters to Congress, keep up the pressure on your senators. We have to keep pushing, protesting, and organizing.”
You can help defend the EPA against Trump’s drastic budget cuts - TAKE ACTION: sc.org/SaveTheEPA