Minority Communities Suffer from Storms as GOP and Trump Admin Promote Oil and Gas

Pat Harris in her storm-damaged housing complex in Port Arthur, Texas

While victims in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico are still reeling from the devastation of three hurricanes worsened by a warming climate, the Trump administration and GOP senators in the Gulf continued to push fossil fuel extraction.

On October 18, two senators who reject the science of climate change, Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA), teamed up to introduce a bill to fast-track the regulatory process for exporting small-scale liquefied natural gas (LNG). And on October 24, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke proposed the largest ever sale of oil and gas leases in the United States. The plan would offer nearly 77 million acres of federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico for auction to the fossil fuel industry.

Port Arthur's Prince Hall Village Apartments across from a Valero refinery
Prince Hall Village Apartments across from Valero’s Port Arthur refinery on October 13, 2017.

FEMA interviewing residents of a housing complex in Port Arthur, Texas
FEMA interviewing residents at Prince Hall Village Apartments on September 20, 2017.

Rubio and Cassidy now both acknowledge that the climate has changed, but don’t think mankind plays a major role in the stronger and more frequent storms, droughts, heat waves, and floods documented by researchers. Both have touted the expansion of the natural gas industry as good for the climate, citing the fact that gas burns cleaner than coal. But they ignore scientific evidence showing that when accounting for the production of natural gas, from extraction to delivery, the fuel could be worse for the climate than burning coal.

Their proposed legislation, if passed, would likely lead to an expansion of the fracking industry to meet the needs of the global market, as DeSmog’s Steve Horn has reported recently. In his article, Horn explained the misnomer of “small-scale LNG,” writing that “small-scale LNG does not refer necessarily to the actual amount of LNG which will be exported from the site, but rather the size of the tankers carrying the natural gas.”

The new bill and lease sale are two of the many actions by Republican politicians and the Trump administration which show a willful indifference to climate change’s impact on America, as laid out in the Third National Climate Assessment in 2014. (The Fourth Assessment is slated to be completed by late 2018.)

That assessment confirmed that climate change is affecting people and the economy in every region in the United States. The report also focused on how minority and low-income communities are especially vulnerable to the forces of a changing climate.

While Senators Cassidy and Rubio are touting a bill that flies in the face of mitigating climate change, some their own constituents are victims of extreme weather made even more intense and frequent because of rising temperatures.

Those who suffered significant damage to or loss of their homes may be entitled to help from the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), but many of those I met in Port Arthur, Texas, had yet to meet with a representative when I visited on October 13.

Port Arthur resident Angela Andgelle pointing out mold growing on her apartment walls
Angela Andgelle pointing out the mold growing in her apartment in the Prince Hall housing complex in Port Arthur Texas, October 13, 2017.

Mold growing on cut-out walls of Angela Andgelle's apartment that was flooded during Hurricane Harvey
Mold in Angela Andgelle’s ground floor apartment in the Prince Hall housing complex in Port Arthur Texas, October 13, 2017.

There, I met with residents in the Prince Hall Village Apartments, a low-income housing complex located near the Valero and Motiva refineries. Most Port Arthur residents in the Prince Hall complex needed to be rescued from Hurricane Harvey’s rising waters by boat or helicopter during the flash flooding that followed the region’s 28 inches of rain on August 29.

Port Arthur resident Lionel Junior in a housing complex in Port Arthur
Lionel Junior in his apartment in the Prince Hall complex in Port Arthur, Texas. He is doing the best he can to keep the mold off the walls but said it is a losing battle. 

Cell phone photo of a snake Lionel Junior found in his apartment after Hurricane Harvey
Cell phone photo of a snake that Lionel Junior removed from his apartment in the Prince Hall complex in Port Arthur, Texas, following Hurricane Harvey.

Lionel Junior, who lives in one of the ground floor units — all of which flooded — showed me a photo of a snake he found in his apartment. Though the complex’s management removed the sections of drywall that were underwater, it didn't treat the apartments for mold, Junior told me, a concern echoed by the other Prince Hall residents I visited, many of whom showed me visible mold.

Jo Woodson in his apartment complex in Port Arthur
Jo Woodson in his apartment in the Prince Hall housing complex in Port Arthur Texas, October 13, 2017.

Mold growing in Jo Woodson's apartment in Port Arthur
Mold in Jo Woodson’s ground floor apartment in the Prince Hall housing complex in Port Arthur Texas, October 13, 2017.

Jo Woodson complained of an invasion of pests that included roaches and rats. I rescued a frog under a kitchen sink. The smell of mold in his apartment was overwhelming. There were areas of drywall which management did not remove, and his flood-damaged furniture remained in place.

Though he plans to get rid of the moldy furniture, like many of the others I spoke to, he worried that if he removed the storm-damaged contents of his apartment, he would not be able to prove to FEMA what he had lost.

Pat Harris and her father, who moved in after Hurricane Harvey flooded his apartment
Pat Harris with her father, who moved in with her after Hurricane Harvey on September 20, 2017. 

The young grandchildren of Pat Harris in her apartment damaged by Hurricane Harvey
Pat Harris’s grandchildren, Jerianna, 6, and Jonathan, 2, in her apartment in the Prince Hall housing complex in Port Arthur, Texas, on September 20, 2017 

Pat Harris is another resident of the Prince Hall complex. Her father moved in with her after his home was flooded even worse than hers, but she worries about his health and the health of her grandchildren. Still, she told me there is nothing she can do; she has nowhere else to go. Although Harris has faith the management will fix her apartment soon, she doesn’t think it is right that she and others in the complex are required to pay full rent when living in substandard conditions.

Port Arthur resident Percy Blacke in front of debris he removed from his home after Hurricane Harvey
Percy Blacke in front of Hurricane Harvey debris he removed from his house in Port Arthur, Texas, across from the Prince Hall Village Apartments on September 20, 2017. 

People are going to die from cancer and have mold for the chaser,” Percy Blacke, who lives across the street from the complex, told me. He gutted his home himself. Blacke pointed out that his community is already dealing with harmful emissions from Port Arthur’s nearby petrochemical refineries on a daily basis. Topping it off with excessive mold, he fears, could kill some of the elderly who live there.

He isn’t against industry, Black says, but he's certain the refineries could be operated without polluting the air as much as they do. Because the plants are located next to an African American community, no one is doing anything to protect them, he says. “Race plays a role in the bad air we breathe, and the slow pace of getting people back on their feet,” Blacke told me. “You won’t see too many Red Cross vehicles in this part of town giving stuff out.”

As Horn recently pointed out, the billionaire Koch brothers and others connected to the fossil fuel industry are key contributors to Cassidy and Rubio.

Not only are these two senators ignoring the overwhelming scientific consensus and the cries of people devastated by even more extreme weather, they are also ignoring the teachings of the religious leader Pope Francis. “You can see the effects of climate change with your own eyes, and scientists tell us clearly the way forward,” Pope Francis said when commenting on Harvey’s aftermath, stressing that leaders have a “moral responsibility” to act.

The Pope continues to rebuke the United States for pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord, praising the international agreement as a means to mitigate the destructive effects of global warming. But the GOP, a party that frequently boasts of its Christian values, doesn’t seem to hear.

Main image: Pat Harris in her apartment in the Prince Hall complex in Port Arthur, Texas. Credit: All photos by Julie Dermansky for DeSmog