New Orleans When some people talk about the “Golden Triangle” they are referring to places in Asia, often where people are growing and exporting their drugs of choice. Along the US Gulf Coast, some of us think about how the local promoters and chambers of commerce used the term to refer to the three cities hard on the Texas border near Louisiana and Lake Charles, which are Beaumont, Orange, and Port Arthur. I was thinking about this while talking to Hilton Kelly from Port Arthur who is the sparkplug behind a local organization there called CIDA, Community In-Power Development Association, about an upcoming community organizing training event where ACORN is collaborating with CIDA and the Anthropocene Alliance to share our methodology.
This area of the Gulf Coast from Lake Charles through the Golden Triangle house some of the largest petrochemical plants and refineries in the world, not just in the country, and have become a hotspot for expansion of export terminals for liquified natural gas or LNG to the rest of the world. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has ramped up the demand for additional sources to add 9.7 bn cubic feet to the 11.4 bn cubic feet a day the US is already producing. Five more projects have been proposed for this area and the Gulf Coast to fill the replacement needs, mainly in Europe. Community organizations like CIDA have been repeatedly raising the issues of the impact of the existing plants on their neighborhoods and families from emissions and pollution, making them none too friendly about the claims of new developers that the next generation of operations will be any better or cleaner than the last.
Local organizations are calling out “environmental racism,” as they contend with these industry plans and the role of government in promoting them as opposed to protecting the communities, especially in this time of climate concern, where we’re calling for cutbacks in fossil fuel dependence out of one side of our mouths and expanding the plants out of the other side. An excellent report in the Financial Times interviewed activists around Sulphur, Louisiana, and Port Arthur, Texas, who doubted the claims to cleaner petrochemical facilities and referred to their communities as “sacrifice zones” for corporate and federal policy. They noted that “These facilities are overwhelmingly sited in or near low-income people of color communities…that don’t even have their basic needs.”
Trying to develop new tactics, some campaigners are targeting the financial backers of these developments around the world. The French bank, Societe General, backed out of a deal to finance an LNG project in Brownsville after they heard demands from local, indigenous leaders. Nonetheless, the company, NextDecade, continues to greenlight the project.
Communities are facing long odds and a lot of bull, with the industry claiming, “We will continue to collaborate with local leaders to support fair treatment and meaningful engagement with environmental justice concerns.” Maybe I’m wrong, but that doesn’t seem like much of a cure for asthma, cancer, and a host of maladies or really anything but blah-blah spin. These projects can cost gazillions and bring huge profits, but offer few permanent jobs or community benefits. Something has to give, and I’m hoping to discover it won’t just be the communities and their families again, but I’m doubtful. These are fights worth following.