Day 70: This morning, pedaled the final two miles from downtown Port Arthur to the Carver Terrace public housing project, where I was warmly greeted by 2011 Goldman Prize winner Hilton Kelley and members of his community. Media turnout was a grand slam. All four major television networks (ABC, NCB, CBS & FOX) were there, as well as the local papers, and all ran stories. Really appreciate Bruce Walker & Bruce Drury making the trip down to be part of it. Want to give a special shout to Tyson Sowell, Program Director of Texas Campaign for the Environment, for videotaping the press conference. You can watch it in its entirety here: http://tinyurl.com/btt65wo.
I chose to end the ride at a playground in the largely African American West Side neighborhood of Port Arthur for a reason. This is where TransCanada wants to refine much of their toxic tar sands slurry before shipping their product overseas. The American people need to know children live and play in the shadow of petrochemical facilities spewing streams of toxic emissions from their smokestacks. The EPA notes Port Arthur as having some of the highest levels of toxic air releases in the country (the companies operating the plants have been cited with hundreds of state air pollution violations). The West Side’s asthma and cancer rates are among the highest in Texas, with income levels among the lowest. The citizens of Port Arthur have suffered enough. They don’t need insult added to injury in the form of toxic tar sands emissions raining down on their community.
The end of ride press release was entitled, “2,150 Miles Later, Keystone XL ‘Tour of Resistance’ Ends With Demand for President Obama to Reject Keystone XL Without Delay.” Here are some key quotes from the release:
Ride endorser Paul Hawken, author of The Ecology of Commerce and Blessed Unrest, joined the call for Obama to immediately reject TransCanada’s permit, or be challenged on the campaign trail until he does: “If America does not draw the carbon line in the Athabasca tar sands, then the question is: who are we, and why are we here? Of all the environmental follies that have occurred in time, surely this is the greatest.”
Texas landowner and founder of Stop Tarsands Oil Pipelines, David Daniel: “My message to every politician, from President Obama on down, is if you plan to put my family’s life and water at risk by supporting this pipeline, you need to be the first one to step foot on my property to try to take it.”
Nebraska fourth generation rancher, Teri Taylor, appealed to Obama: “Keystone XL is not right for America. It puts America in danger. Deny this permit for your daughters and my grandchildren.”
2011 Goldman Prize winner and Port Arthur resident Hilton Kelley: “The people of West Port Arthur have suffered enough. We cannot tolerate the additional toxic emissions Keystone XL would rain down on our community. Poor people also have a right to clean air and water.”
Oglala Lakota matriarch and 2011 Indigenous Woman of the Year award winner Debra White Plume: “President Obama faces a truly historical moment.The world will soon see if he caves in to the tyranny of big oil, or if he is a sensible human being with a heart on fire for life, for the future generations. I hope he denies the permit right away, as game over for big oil, and the first stroke of painting a beautiful path for our generations to walk on.”
Let’s be real: President Obama has shown zero leadership to date on Keystone XL. TransCanada’s toxic tar sands project is not only un-American, it is a direct threat to the American people. Anyone paying even the slightest bit of attention can see this. Yet our president can’t seem to bring himself to reject this project on “national interest” grounds. Obama needs to be challenged on the campaign trail until he does. Alternatively, he needs to lay out a green energy plan for America that will revive our ailing economy and put millions of unemployed Americans back to work. On Keystone XL, there is no middle ground. Barack Obama is either with us or he’s with a foreign corporation.
After the press conference, Hilton escorted Bruce Walker and I to his restaurant, Kelley’s Kitchen, where his wife, Marie, treated us to some wonderful soul food. If you’re ever in the area, do yourself a favor and stop in for an unforgettable meal. A glutton for punishment, I then set out to pedal across the Martin Luther King Bridge for a better view of the port and the refineries surrounding the community. Felt the burn in my legs on the long, slow uphill climb. Climbing the back side, felt the burn not only in my legs, but also in my lungs, which was a first. Only later did it dawn on me this was due to the sulphur and other airborne chemicals I was breathing in. The difference is I get to leave. The people living here don’t.
Spent the rest of the afternoon doing a driving tour of the community with Hilton, learning more about the challenges facing his hometown. I am in awe of this person who gave up a successful Hollywood acting career to move home and fight for his people. Literally acting on a dream, he returned to Port Arthur and founded the Community In-Power & Development Association, for which he was honored this year with the Goldman Prize. The Goldman Environmental Foundation chose very wisely in honoring this man who gives so generously of his time, spirit and soul to protect our future: the children.
I want to take this final opportunity to thank David Blittersdorf, CEO of AllEarth Renewables; Stefanie Spear, Executive Director of EcoWatch; Casey Sheahan, CEO of Patagonia; and all my other wonderful sponsors for their extremely generous support and unquestioning faith in me. I couldn’t have done this without them.
2,150 miles later, the “Ride for Renewables: No Tar Sands Oil On American Soil!” has ended, but the fight to defeat Keystone XL and ecodical tar sands mining has only just begun. It is time now to contemplate next steps, SO STAY TUNED…