Manchester: An Environmental Battleground

31 Dec

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On Thursday, December 27th, in Houston, TX, residents of Manchester gathered with allies to issue new demands on Valero. “We demand to know what you are forcing us to breathe!  ¡Exigimos saber lo que nos están obligando a respirar!”  The community came together in a celebration of unity and strength.  Manchester is populated almost completely by Latin@s, and surrounded on all sides by industry.  A massive Valero refinery looms over the community’s only park and its smokestacks poison the people who live there 24 hours a day 365 days a year.  Manchester is plagued by a long list of diseases and ailments including asthma, respiratory disease and inflammation, infertility, birth defects, and a myriad of deadly cancers.  The National Disease Clusters Alliance reports (pg. 2) that children living within two miles of the Houston Ship Channel have a 56% higher likelihood of developing leukemia than those who live more than ten miles away.

Anarchists and Tar Sands Blockaders helped to facilitate the gathering based on principles of mutual aid and solidarity. A barbecue was held less than one block away from the Valero refinery that poisons the neighborhood.  A sign proclaimed, “EVERYONE WELCOME! TODⒶS BIENVENIDⒶS!” accompanied by a free store containing many warm clothing items, books from Tony Diaz’s project, Librotraficante, live music from an Occupy Wall Street member, and toys for children collected and donated by Cherri Foytlin. Cherri, an indigenous woman, and mother of six, chained herself to a Keystone XL Pipeyard gate on October 24th, a Tar Sands Blockade action.

mariajimenez“The neighborhood of Manchester and other neighborhoods within the East End of Houston are living examples of environmental racism.  Segregation is still alive, but alive in a different way than when I arrived [from México] in 1957.  But today, segregation means that income inequality has forced people to live in certain areas of the city in which air, water, and noise pollution are much more pronounced, the impact is much more unequal regardless of whether it’s in the immediate [effects] or the long term chronic illnesses. And, all of those things, we understand,  become the essence of the experience of environmental racism and injustice in certain communities.” -María Jiménez, TEJAS Board member, life-long resident of Houston’s toxic East End 

“From destructive tar sands development that destroy indigenous sovereignty and health at the route’s start to the toxic emissions that will lay further burden on environmental justice communities along the Gulf of Mexico, this pipeline not only disproportionately affects indigenous front-line communities but its clear that it will bring death and disease to all in its path.”-Cherri Foytlin

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Manchester is populated almost completely by Latin@s, and surrounded on all sides by industry.  A massive Valero refinery looms over the community’s only park and its smokestacks poison the people who live there 24 hours a day 365 days a year.  Manchester is plagued by a long list of diseases and ailments including asthma, respiratory disease and inflammation, infertility, birth defects, and a myriad of deadly cancers.  The National Disease Clusters Alliance reports that children living within two miles of the Houston Ship Channel have a 56% higher likelihood of developing leukemia than those who live more than ten miles away.

“The neighborhood of Manchester and other neighborhoods within the East End of Houston are living examples of environmental racism.  Segregation is still alive, but alive in a different way than when I arrived [from México] in 1957.  But today, segregation means that income inequality has forced people to live in certain areas of the city in which air, water, and noise pollution are much more pronounced, the impact is much more unequal regardless of whether it’s in the immediate [effects] or the long term chronic illnesses. And, all of those things, we understand,  become the essence of the experience of environmental racism and injustice in certain communities.” -María Jiménez, TEJAS Board member, life-long resident of Houston’s toxic East End

Given the absurd number of EPA violations that Valero has committed here it is obvious that this refinery cannot operate within federal emissions limits. Not only are EPA and TCEQ (Texas Commission for Environmental Quality) regulations not good enough, but for the most part, petrochemical industries in Houston go almost completely unchecked. The government leaves people without protection, and thus, vulnerable to corporate interests whose only concern is the growth of capital by means of the exploitation of those most traditionally marginalized.  Manchester is a textbook case of environmental racism- the intentional targeting of minority communities by industries who seek to benefit from their suffering and lack of political voice. Many people living in Manchester are also undocumented, making it dangerous for them to speak out against human rights abuses.

“There is a need for people living in communities like ours to be able to breathe quality air, drink quality water, and to have peace of mind with respect to the environment. We must join in the struggle with people worldwide for an earth that can sustain communities, and allow us to grow to our full human potential, not just one determined by others that have imposed these inequalities upon us.”

-María Jiménez, TEJAS Board member, life-long resident of Houston’s toxic East End

Valero has continued to deny that they will have any involvement with bringing tar sands to Manchester despite the fact that the refinery is already equipped with a ‘hydrocracker’ and ‘coker’. These are very expensive specialized machines used in the production of, “high acid, heavy-sour Canadian crude” aka, tar sands. The Keystone XL pipeline has been scouted within 8 miles of  Valero’s refinery in Manchester to a switching terminal of which one pipeline is headed straight  towards the community.

“The Keystone XL pipeline would probably not have gotten off of the drawing board without Valero. The refining company has the biggest single commitment to the pipeline guaranteeing TransCanada a customer for at least 100,000 barrels per day, or 20 percent of Keystone XL’s initial capacity.”

-Exporting Energy Security, Keystone XL Exposed – Oil Change International Pg. 7

Members of the Manchester community have reported harassment by not only Valero security guards (Securitas) but the Houston Police Department who have been seen patrolling the neighborhood inside vehicles clearly marked as being owned by Valero. Security guards and police have created an atmosphere of paranoia, questioning residents about their involvement in the operations of a free grocery distribution project. Any display of mutual aid or act of solidarity has sparked interest from police investigators. Valero has been known to buy property from landlords, kick out the residents living there, and then build parking lots on top of the spaces that once housed families.  From the neighborhoods only communal space, Hartman Park, these parking lots can be seen sitting empty and overgrown every day.

THE DEMAND

En Español:

William R. Klesse,Como CEO y Presidente de Valero, consideramos que usted es la persona responsable por el abuso de derechos humanos que su corporación está cometiendo en comunidades como la nuestra. No necesita más que visitar el vecindario de Manchester en Houston para darse cuenta que aquí el aire está peligrosamente contaminado; distintos monitores de aire han registrado niveles de 1,3-butadieno, lo que sugiere una contaminación 11 veces mayor a lo que es permitido para desperdicio tóxico.Casi todos los niños en esta comunidad padecen de persistente tos, y los adultos de constantes dolores de cabeza y distintos males. Hemos estado documentando un sin número de historiales médicos que muestran las enfermedades que estas personas padecen, tales como asma, leucemia y una variedad de cánceres, todos atribuidos a la presencia de su corporación en esta comunidad. No permitiremos que ustedes continúen envenenando nuestro aire y pulmones sin penalidad alguna.La comunidad Manchester es casi en totalidad Latina y la familia promedio vive debajo del nivel de pobreza. En el 2011, usted ganó US$11,027,067 al explotarnos a nosotros y a comunidades como ésta. A un residente de esta comunidad le tomaría 368 años para ganar lo que usted ganó durante únicamente un año. Lo que usted nos está haciendo es, sin duda, racismo ambientalista.Usted tiene cinco días para demostrar responsabilidad por la siguiente información:

  1. ¿Qué está poniendo en nuestro aire?
  2. ¿Cómo afectan estos químicos a nuestra salud?
  3. ¿Qué otro tipo de violaciones se han realizado aquí de las que no estemos al tanto?
  4. ¿Cuáles son los limites de emisiones para cada químico que ustedes emiten y cuáles son las medidas de emisión que ustedes tienen para estos químicos?

Sabemos que su refinería no puede operar bajo la ley federal, y creemos que es tiempo que el mundo también lo sepa. Exigimos transparencia de parte de su empresa y queremos que estén al tanto de que no estamos de acuerdo con la presencia de su refinería en nuestra comunidad.Somos en solidaridad con el Tar Sands Blockade, TEJAS, y con todos aquellos que luchan por la verdad y la justicia. Nos oponemos a todos aquellos que estén buscando explotar a personas para bien propio.No solo lo hacemos responsable a usted, William, sino a todos los accionistas de Valero y a todos los Americanos quienes han puesto sus ojos en nuestra comunidad y sólo proveen apoyo de forma pasiva. Nosotros no seremos sus sacrificados.

In English:

William R. Klesse,As CEO & President of Valero you must be held accountable for the human rights abuses your corporation is committing in communities like ours.  One need not do anything more than visit Houston’s Manchester neighborhood to know that the air here is dangerously polluted; air monitors have recorded 1,3-butadiene levels measuring 11 times greater than what is allowed in a toxic waste dump.Nearly all children here have persistent coughs, and adults are plagued with sickness and headaches. We have come forward and documented countless stories of illnesses and disease such as asthma, leukemia, and a variety of cancers all of which we attribute to the presence of your refinery.  No more will we allow you to poison our air and lungs without question.Manchester is almost completely Latino, and the average family here lives below the poverty line.  In 2011, you earned $11,027,067 by exploiting us and other communities like ours.  It would take the average resident in our community 368 years to earn what you do in one.  What you are forcibly doing to us is without a doubt environmental racism.You have 5 days to be accountable to the following information:

  1. What are you putting into our air?
  2. How do these chemicals affect our health
  3. What kind of violations have happened here that you haven’t told us about?
  4. What are the annual emissions limits for each chemical you emit, and what are your measured emissions of these chemicals?

We know that your refinery can not operate within federal law, and now it’s time that the rest of the world know as well. We demand transparency from you, and want you to know that we do not consent to the presence of your refinery in our community.We are in solidarity with the Tar Sands Blockade, TEJAS, and all those who fight for truth and justice. We oppose all those who seek to exploit others for their personal gain.Not only do we hold you, William, personally accountable, but we hold all Valero shareholders and the American people who lay eyes on our community and only provide passive support.  We will not be your sacrifice.


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2 Responses to “Manchester: An Environmental Battleground”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Houston Community fights Tar Sands Criminals « The Free - January 1, 2013

    [...] Manchester, Houston: An Environmental Battleground [...]

  2. Los reyes magos siguen recorriendo Tuxpan « Veracruzanos - January 13, 2013

    [...] Manchester: An Environmental Battleground (earthfirstnews.wordpress.com) [...]

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