Fighting Big Oil in a Black Neighborhood’s Backyard

May 9, 2011  |  

(Bloomberg) — When Hilton Kelley takes me to see the Port Arthur, Texas, housing project where he was born, it isn’t to complain about the usual eyesores. There’s no graffiti, no broken windows, no trash on the ground.  “People care about the neighborhood,” Kelley says.  The problem is next-door. Adjacent to the property are oil and gas refineries, petrochemical plants and toxic-waste incinerators. Companies such as Chevron Phillips Chemical Co., Shell Oil Co. and Valero Energy Corp. (VLO) have been part of the Port Arthur skyline for decades.  “Almost every day we’re getting some weird odor oozing through the community,” he says.  Bad as it is, though, it would be a lot worse if Kelley hadn’t come back after years away from his hometown and decided to fight the filth. His efforts won him the Goldman Environmental Prize last month, along with its $150,000 award.

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