Hometown Hero Fights Against Toxic Pollution As Congress Begins to Fight For It

ToxicRisk map of toxic polluters near schools in Port Arthur, Texas

Years ago I had the honor of getting to know and work with Hilton Kelley when he came back to his hometown of Port Arthur to form the Community In-Power and Development Association to start organizing to protect his community from the deadly toxic pollution dumped into the air by the many nearby refineries and chemical plants.

Today, Hilton is being recognized with the Goldman Environmental Prize his achievements over the last decade. As the Goldman prize website explains:

As a result of Kelley’s community outreach campaign and advocacy, Motiva installed state-of-the-art equipment to reduce harmful emissions. Kelley negotiated a now-famous “good neighbor” agreement with Motiva that provided health coverage for the residents of the West Side for three years and established a $3.5 million fund to help entrepreneurs launch new businesses in the community. He also led a campaign beginning in 2006 that prevented Veolia Corporation from importing more than 20,000 tons of toxic PCBs from Mexico for incineration at its Port Arthur plant.

This terrific, two minute film explains Hilton’s story and conveys the terrible price that is paid by communities deluged by toxic pollution.


Port Arthur is at one end of the extreme when it comes to toxic polluters in our neighborhoods. This map gives you an idea of the toxic terrors that Port Arthur residents have been exposed to over the years – the red marks and orange balloons are polluters, the blue icons are nearby elementary, junior and high schools. (The website I pulled this from, ToxicRisk.com, is a great resource that makes it easy to find toxic polluters near schools in every neighborhood in the US.)


This makes it all the more awful that Port Arthur’s Congressman Ted Poe has been introducing proposals and voting for others that would increase pollution, including toxic air pollution.

Thankfully most of us don’t have major toxic polluters right across the street from us, but the sad fact is that there’s hardly anywhere in the US where we don’t have big sources of toxic pollution.

Which makes it all the more bizarre that some members of Congress are continuing their attack on our clean air and health by picking a fight over whether or not to stop the EPA from updating clean air safeguards to protect public health from the toxic pollution spewed by refineries and chemical plants (like those of Port Arthur), power plants and other sources.

As E&E News (subscrip required) reports today,

In a series of hearings this week, Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee will keep pushing for several curbs on environmental rules that were added to a House spending bill last month but were apparently stripped last week from the final deal between the White House and the divided Congress.

The hearings, which are scheduled to take place on three consecutive days this week, will mainly focus on recent U.S. EPA steps toward stricter limits on industrial air pollution and more careful handling of the ash from coal-fired power plants.

While it is depressing that some members of Congress don’t give a hoot for communities like Port Arthur or the need for air that isn’t laden with toxic pollution, it is heartening that there are fighters like Hilton Kelley out there, organizing and campaigning to empower their communities to get polluters to do the right thing. Even when Congress won’t.   

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