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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Riding the Environmental Justice Bus

Air Date: Week of

Lawyer Monique Harden speaks outside a Louisville, KY, stop on the Environmental Justice 4 All Tour. (Photo: Hilton Kelley)

Lawyer Monique Harden helped organize a bus tour to raise awareness about environmental injustice in poor neighborhoods across the nation. Along the road from Port Arthur, Texas to Washington, DC, Harden meets the people fighting pollution in their communities and shares some of their stories in an audio diary.


HARDEN: Ghost towns. Ghost Towns. These are the words that keep repeating over and over in my mind as I board a large tour bus with people who come from communities in several southern states.

CURWOOD: The Environmental Justice 4 All tour took Louisiana lawyer Monique Harden and other advocates throughout America’s South. Their bus was one of three visiting some of the poorest areas in our country – most of which are communities of color - fighting for their right to environmental protection. Ms. Harden recently returned from the trip and brings us this audio diary.

Lawyer Monique Harden speaks outside a Lousiville, KY, stop on the Environmental Justice 4 All Tour. (Photo: Hilton Kelley)

HARDEN: The idea for this tour came from grass roots community advocates who wanted to break the isolation felt by people of color and the poor who live, work, study, worship and play in the places across America that are used as dumping grounds by both private corporations and our government. What they struggle against is legal. What they struggle against damages their health and threatens their lives. We visit the people who live in the shadows of incinerators and smokestacks and below the deep scars of mountain top removal.

There are no celebrities or politicians on our bus. Instead we have ordinary people who are attempting to do the extraordinary; restore their communities and protect the health of residents from a broad array of operations that damage their environment.

[MUSIC: Dollar Brand/Archie Shepp “ Fourtunato” From Duet: Archie Shepp/Dollar Brand (Denon)]

Sunday: our first stop on the tour was in Port Arthur, Texas and we went to the African American neighborhood on the west side of the city. This neighborhood is literally on the fence line of oil refineries owned by Shell and Chevron, as well as a number of petrochemical facilities. And this is a neighborhood where people are dying from cancer. And children as young as 2 years old have to use inhalers and breathing devices in order to cope with the pollution in their air. This is also a community that has organized to find solutions.

[MUSIC: Charles Lloyd “Prayer, The Crossing” From Lift Every Voice (ECM)]

Hilton Kelly, a resident of the Port Arthur neighborhood, learned how to use air-monitoring devices. And brought them in to his community to test the air in his neighborhood. And his air monitoring showed high levels of cancer-causing chemicals like benzene and taluine, which are emitted by these refineries. High concentrations.

[MUSIC: Charles Lloyd “Prayer, The Crossing” From Lift Every Voice (ECM)]

Monday: Mossville, Louisiana. The first thing that you see is a wide expanse of smokestacks and storage tanks that seem to just go for miles. And it’s in the midst of that where the community of Mossville is located. The bus rolled into Mossville the week after one of the facilities released a large amount of vinylchloride into the environment through an accidental leak. And vinylchloride is a very potent human carcinogen. And it’s one of the main chemicals that folks in Mossville are very concerned about because there’s so much vinyl production that goes on in their community by five facilities. And you gotta understand that these facilities operate, some of them, across the street from resident’s homes. They live under the constant threat that any accident could be the accident that does them in.

[MUSIC: Charles Lloyd “Prayer, The Crossing” From Lift Every Voice (ECM)]

Saturday: Whitesville, West Virginia. The folks there were white and they were poor. But their situations was not unlike the situations in the African American neighborhoods and communities that we visited in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. They too were being subjected to the environmental injustice of polluting operations. In their case coal companies that had ruined the water with the runoff from mountain top removal operations. And made it so residents could not even drink the water from their taps. We were able to go up in a plane where we saw the destruction of mountain top removal in the area.

[MUSIC: Charles Lloyd “Prayer, The Crossing” From Lift Every Voice (ECM)]

Sunday: Washington DC. Our tour demonstrated that for so many communities across America environmental protection is a myth. But each of these communities hold the answer for reforming our system and truly making environmental protection something that protects and values the lives of all people.

CURWOOD: Monique Harden is a lawyer and one of the organizers of this year’s Environmental Justice 4 All Tour.



Environmental Justice 4 All Tour


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