Not so smooth…like Keystone XL

“It’s not the easiest thing on Earth for law-abiding folk to come to risk arrest,” –Bill McKibben Environmentalist/protest organizer

Born and raised in Southeast Texas I can attest that a new pipeline is hardly worthy of a headline. This is different, and even with a notable amount of national media attention it is still proving difficult to get the message across. I started on this campaign over a year ago when the State Dept. began holding hearings along the route of the pipeline. At the time several significant issues were brought to their attention including; strip mining in Alberta, chemical leaks to downstream communities, the proposed route’s passage over the Ogallala aquifer, the discrepancies between proposed job creation numbers and ultimately the impact on citizens living near refining sites like Port Arthur.

I am most concerned about the impact on the Port Arthur area which I consider the other ground zero in this debate.  It has already been under intense scrutiny by the EPA for air quality issues. In 2010 it was one of ten areas in the United States designated an Environmental Justice Showcase Community.  Chosen because “The city has many facilities including chemical plants, refineries and a hazardous waste incinerator.” The EPA lists some of its criteria:

Each Region throughout the country has communities with Environmental Justice concerns including:

  • multiple, disproportionate environmental health burdens
  • population vulnerability
  • limits to effective participation in decisions with environmental and health consequences
  • opportunities for multiple federal, state and local agency collaboration, with a focus on green development

Therefore, EPA will work to improve collaboration in the delivery of services to support communities with environmental justice issues.

Many local citizens are probably unaware that the ARMY incinerates VX nerve gas there after being run out of communities with the same capacity. The main issue is whether Port Arthur and Southeast Texans are getting the short end of the pipe in this deal. The sound bite is great, “more jobs” but how many? This chart shows the discrepancy between the numbers provided by TransCanada (the pipeline company) and the State Department’s estimates.

Today I spoke with a international award winning environmentalist and Port Arthur resident Hilton Kelley who has turned his attention to the Keystone pipeline.  He says he understands the need for good jobs in the area however he doesn’t see any evidence that this pipeline would “provide the numbers necessary to validate the people of Port Arthur inhaling additional toxic fumes.” I have met few people whose passion for SETX rivals my own and if the local economic positives out weighed the inevitable health and environmental costs we would both advocate on its behalf. There is a knee jerk protectionism of refineries, where criticism has been treated as taboo akin to attacking jobs. We must dismiss this myth and demand a balance with respect to the growth of our local economies. In fact with Port Arthur’s unemployment at over 16% and Beaumont’s near 10% its pretty fair to say the region has relied too heavily on industry when other growing cities in Texas like Austin, Dallas and even Houston have far more diversified economies.  If this pipeline is finally approved lets hope there is a true commitment to hire local for both construction and operation.

Please come to the State Department’s hearing in Port Arthur and express your concern about what the pipeline means to the community and the future of our national energy policy:

Monday, September 26, 2011
Bob Bowers Civic Center
3401 Cultural Center Drive
Port Arthur, Texas 77642
4:30 pm – 10:00 pm

You can keep up with deveolpments on the Keystone Pipeline on facebook:

Tar Sands Action

Texans Against Tar Sands

It is true that if we do not accept the keystone pipeline project they will just pipe it somewhere else but as evidenced in the VX nerve gas story, “Not In My Backyard” is sometimes really is in your best interest.


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