Petroleum, Refineries, and the Future

Environmental Justice Movement as a History

The environmental justice movement arose during the Civil Rights Movement when people of color sounded the alarm of the inequalities of who faced pollution. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s website on environmental justice, the first time African Americans mobilized to fight environmental injustice occurred on February 11, 1968, called the Memphis Sanitation Strike which took action against the unfair conditions of Memphis garbage workers. The incident was even investigated by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (United States). However, Blodgett argues the environmental justice movement’s landmark case occurred in Warren County, North Carolina in 1982 when over 500 protesters went to jail after trying to prevent soil contaminated with PBCs from being dumped in a landfill located in a minority neighborhood. Even though the soil was still dumped in the landfill, the governor of North Carolina made a promise that no more landfills would be built in Warren County (Blodgett 648).  One of the most influential studies proving environmental injustice was written in 1987.

The United Church of Christ conducted a report in 1987 to prove environmental injustices occurring in the U.S. Blodgett describes how they found the minority population was double in communities with a hazardous waste facility compared to a community without such a facility. Even worse, the proportion of minorities with two or more hazardous waste facilities in a community was about triple of a community without (648). As mentioned earlier, Huber argues “Cancer Alley” is the epicenter of the environmental justice movement. 

"Cancer Alley"

Just as St James Parish is an area concentrated with environmental inequality, the parish has also taken action numerous times throughout its history. Blodgett asserts the most publicized community backlash occurred in 1996 when the Shintech Corporation wanted to build a poly-vinyl chloride (PVC) manufacturing plant in St James Parish. One of the most involved group in the fight against the Shintech Corporation was a group of about 100 St James Parish residents who formed St James Citizens for Jobs and the Environment (SJCJE). Multiple other groups were involved in the fight against the Shintech plant including the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic (TELC) which consisted of law students and licensed attorneys who represented clients with environmental problems. Blodgett describes how the TELC was vital in the legal aspects of the movement. Louisiana ended up having to form a commission to evaluate the situation and found African-Americans in St James Parish lived with a “disproportionate toxic burden.” In September 1998, due to the amounting pressure and the threat of lawsuits, Shintech decided to move the PVC plant to another parish (656-657). The Shintech struggle is just one incident where environmental justice organizers took action against the inequality taking place in their community. Even though the proposed PVC plant wasn’t a petroleum refinery, the mobilization of environmental justice organizers is a big step against the struggle of environmental injustice caused by the location of refineries, for the two go hand in hand. St James Parish's actions represent how if people organize to fight environmental injustice, results will follow. 

Works Cited 

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