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Dirty Energy’s Threat to the American Landscape

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I have a piece out today at Alternet detailing the struggle to protect some of the United States’ most beautiful and unique landscapes from the scourge of dirty energy production. Ranging from the Sand Hills of Nebraska to West Virginia, upstate New York, the Louisiana marshlands, and the Powder River Basin of Wyoming, dirty energy production threatens to devastate (and is devastating) some of the this nation’s unique places.

I also focus heavily on the impact of energy production on the human body, particularly exploring east Texas and southern Louisiana:

A polluted ecosystem leads to sick people. This is the case on the Gulf Coast from east Texas into Louisiana, where the oil industry processes its raw material. The people who live near these plants, ranging from roughly Corpus Christi to the Mississippi River, are mostly poor and African American. Petroleum companies have intentionally sited their plants here, assuming that underprivileged people cannot resist a multinational corporation. Local residents have seen high cancer rates, birth defects and congenital health problems. Working conditions in these plants are notoriously poor. A 2005 explosion at a BP refinery in Texas City, Texas killed 17 workers and injured more than 170.

However, locals have fought back. Although environmental organizations have been reluctant to take on their cases, environmental justice movements have demanded protection from exposure to toxic chemicals. Steve Lerner’s book Diamond: A Struggle for Environmental Justice in Louisiana’s Chemical Corridor chronicles how the community of Diamond, Louisiana took on the town’s Royal Dutch Shell complex to stop the headaches, respiratory illnesses and cancers that afflicted residents. After years of organizing, Shell finally agreed to relocate their homes away from the plant.

That’s one limited success story, but thousands of poor people live their lives subjected to the environmental racism of the petroleum industry. Our energy future needs to include processing energy in a way that protects people’s health and spreads the burden of energy production more evenly.

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