2011 Ride

Ground Zero for Environmental Justice Fight

Day 64: Today we got an up close and personal tour of the ravaged city of Port Arthur, TX, which sits in the shadow of some of the world’s largest oil refineries (this is the end of the line for Keystone XL — where TransCanada wants to pump their toxic tar sand slurry to be refined and shipped overseas). Bruce Walker donated yet more of his time to drive us into the city to scout the safest bike route from Beaumont (there really isn’t one), and to meet with Goldman Prize winner Hilton Kelley, who has dedicated his life to protecting his hometown from toxic contamination. Many thanks to Chris Wilson for arranging this important meeting.

What Hilton showed us was shocking. In my 49 years living on this planet, I have never seen a community more under assault than Port Arthur. The city is ringed by an industrial beast, belching out plumes of toxic smoke and oozing an alphabet soup of chemicals into the groundwater and soil, with neighborhoods and houses pushed right up to the fence line. This is the same beast that fuels the trucks and cars we drive every day.

Well over half the businesses in a once vibrant downtown were boarded up, the streets deathly quiet. Many homes we drove by were shuttered, others collapsed or burned to the ground. Yet others stood strong — one I saw was being freshly painted a bright yellow — as if reflecting the proud spirit of this resilient community. Hilton explained that for most residents, there was no escaping the toxic assault, and even if they could afford to move, this would mean leaving behind their family and friends. Schools are way too close for comfort, and a large number of the community’s children suffer from acute asthma. Hilton himself was living the good life in Los Angeles when a dream called him home to fight for the future of his people. I am filled with admiration for his commitment to his hometown and cannot imagine a more appropriate place to end the Keystone XL “Tour of Resistance” than Port Arthur, TX.

Don’t believe an American city in the 21st Century is being subjected to a 24/7 toxic assault of their air, water and soil in violation of U.S. law? Visit Port Arthur and see for yourself. Or save the travel fuel and watch this video: http://tinyurl.com/6t3afxh.

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