Julie Dermansky's blog

Exxon Refinery Catches Fire Day After Government Settles Over Pollution From Other Gulf Plants

ExxonMobil’s refinery and chemical plant in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Early morning skies Wednesday in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, were alight from a fire that started around 2:30 a.m. at an ExxonMobil refinery. The blaze, though contained before the sun came up, is a reminder to the surrounding community of yet another danger of living next to refineries and chemical plants.

Exxon’s refinery is located along the stretch of Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans known as “Cancer Alley” due to the high number of chemical plants and refineries — and illnesses possibly connected to emissions — along the river’s banks.

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.

Why Is a Dump for Hurricane Harvey Debris Next to an African American Community?

Port Arthur resident Tami Thomas-Pinkney and her daughter Trinity Handy, with a hurricane debris dump in the background

Tami Thomas-Pinkney’s house in Port Arthur, Texas, was not damaged when Hurricane Harvey soaked the city with up to 28 inches of rain on August 29. But now, a month and a half after the storm, she is preparing to move. Across the street from her family’s home is a temporary dumpsite for storm debris, which she says is endangering her family’s health and making her home unlivable. 

Countless trucks haul the debris —ruined building material ripped from storm-damaged homes and household belongings previously submerged in floodwater but now covered with mold — past her house. Each day they rattle down the streets around Thomas-Pinkney, dumping their loads about a hundred feet from her front porch. 

From Homes to Refineries, Finding Pollution and Loss in Harvey's Path

Mobil station with floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey

When Harvey’s rain, for the most part, stopped falling on August 30, I started making my way from Louisiana to Texas to document the pollution inevitably left in the storm’s path. That day I got as far as Vidor, a small town in southeast Texas where the floodwaters were still rising. 

Getting there was no easy matter. I was forced to drive west in the eastbound lane of the interstate because the lanes I should have been driving in were flooded up to the top of the highway divider. All the while, I tried not to worry about the water rushing through cracks in the cement divider, which had the potential to give way.

Hurricane Harvey Hits Home for Texas Environmental Hero Hilton Kelley

Hilton Kelley in front of his flooded home in Port Arthur, Texas

Hurricane Harvey's floodwaters were still receding from Port Arthur, Texas, on September 4, when Hilton Kelley and his wife Marie returned to their home and business for the first time since evacuating. 

Port Arthur is located about 100 miles east of Houston on the Gulf Coast. The heavily industrialized area rivals Louisiana’s Cancer Alley, with an even greater concentration of hazardous waste and petrochemical facilities.

Kelley is intimately familiar with the town’s refineries. He spent the last 17 years fighting for clean air and water in the Port Arthur community adjacent to those refineries. His work earned him the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, which is awarded to “grassroots environmental heroes” ― something of a Nobel Prize for environmentalists. 

12 Years After Katrina, Hurricane Harvey Pummels Gulf Coast and Its Climate Science-Denying Politicians

Debris from people's homes in the street sit across from Press Park, a housing project abandoned after Hurricane Katrina

As the remnants of Hurricane Harvey (now a tropical storm) continue to flood Houston — just days before the 12th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina — I visited Shannon Rainey, whose house was built on top of a Superfund site in the Upper Ninth Ward of New Orleans. Rainey is worried about family members in Houston. She knows all too well how long it can take to get back what is lost in a storm. “I still live with Katrina every day,” she told me.

New Orleans remains threatened by bands of rain extending from Harvey, causing many residents with fierce memories of Katrina to remain on edge.

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