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Port Arthur community hopes new EPA strategy will improve air quality in minority communities

"What we’re seeing on the ground is a disproportionate number of our kids with asthma, bronchitis, liver and kidney disease, and God forbid, cancer as well.”

PORT ARTHUR, Texas — Members of the Port Arthur community are relieved to learn about a new enforcement set to help those most impacted by pollution from area plants.

The Environmental Protection Agency has announced a new enforcement effort aimed at the Gulf Coast Petrochemical Industry. The enforcement is designed to help minority communities.

Members of the Port Arthur community have felt the negative impacts of pollution. They are hoping that the new enforcement can create stricter guidelines and improve air quality in their community.

“What we’re seeing on the ground is a disproportionate number of our kids with asthma, bronchitis, liver and kidney disease, and God forbid, cancer as well,” Hilton Kelly, environmental activist, said.

Kelly has fought pollution in Port Arthur for more than 20 years. The activist may now receive help from the federal government.

In January of 2020, the EPA announced a series of enforcement actions to address air pollution, unsafe drinking water and other problems affecting minority communities in Southeast Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

After touring the region, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in part, “we are amping up our aggressiveness and when facilities are found noncompliant, the EPA will use all available tools to hold them accountable."

Kelly and Regan met in Houston. The activist believes in Regan and hopes he will change things for the better.

“I believe he is right on point with his mission,” Kelly said. “It's about time that the Environmental Protection Agency get up off their duff and do their job, which is, protect disadvantaged underserved communities from the disproportionate amount of toxic fumes and chemicals they are being exposed to on a daily basis.”

A part of the new enforcement includes high-tech air pollution monitoring which will be first installed in three Louisiana parishes. Kelly feels monitoring should be done in Port Arthur as well.

"Tons and tons of benzene, 1,3 butadiene, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, and other toxic gases and chemicals that we don't even know about are going into the air that we breathe,” Kelly said.

Kelly trusts the Regan will do what he has set out to do.

“It's going to help clean up our communities and put people to work in that regard as well, and this is going to reduce the pollution we've been pre-exposed to for years," Kelly said.

12News reached out to Motiva and Valero in Port Arthur for comment on their strategies to reduce pollution but we have yet to hear back.

Kelly said change will not happen until people take action. The activists recommends reporting pollution events to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the EPA.

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