As the massive refinery expansion projects at Total, Motiva and Valero are completed, industry and government officials have worked together to make sure the impact is felt beyond just enhancement of one of the largest concentration of petrochemical facilities in North America. The surrounding community is also seeing positive developments.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa P. Jackson visited Port Arthur on Aug. 13 to participate in the groundbreaking ceremony for the city’s Westside Health Clinic. The clinic is being funded through an agreement with Valero.
“Funding for the Health Clinic was approximately $1 million and was provided through a Supplemental Environmental Project that was finalized between the EPA and Valero on Aug. 29, 2011,” said Barbara Phillips, public affairs manager at the Valero Port Arthur refinery.
The location is adjacent to the Westside Development Center, constructed through a joint project of Motiva and the Port Arthur for Positive Action Committee. Together the facilities represent a positive change for residents of that community.
EPA has been working with community leaders, industry and government partners to reduce the overall health and environmental impacts of the area’s chemical plants and refineries. In 2009, the agency announced a national “Environmental Justice Showcase Communities” initiative to address environmental justice challenges in 10 U.S. urban areas. Port Arthur, Texas, was one of the 10 cities selected to participate in the initiative that sought to address, among other issues, the severe impact the city suffered as a result of hurricanes Rita and Ike.
Jackson’s visit sought to highlight progress on improving health outcomes and quality of life for area residents.
“The EPA’s first priority is to protect the health of American families and communities, and ensure that things like dirty air and contaminated water aren’t compromising quality of life and economic opportunity,” said Jackson. “This clinic is one example of how we can work together to address the impacts of pollution, and reach out to communities facing environmental challenges that affect not just their health, but their prosperity and their way of life.”
Port Arthur Mayor Deloris “Bobbie” Prince, members of the City Council, County Judge Jeff Branick and other local representatives also participated in the ceremony.
“The city of Port Arthur and its partners are excited to welcome Administrator Jackson,” said Mayor Prince. “EPA has worked tirelessly with us for three years to bring a number of improvements to our city, and we appreciate their efforts to improve the quality of life for Port Arthur’s residents.”
Greg Gentry, plant manager of the Valero refinery, participated in the ceremony and underscored his company’s commitment to the community. “Valero and our industry partners are committed to doing our part in Port Arthur by providing good paying jobs and being good stewards of the environment,” said Gentry. “We are also pleased to be part of the partnership that is moving Port Arthur forward.”
In addition to the health clinic, the EPA and its partners have sponsored several other projects in Port Arthur as part of the Environmental Justice Showcase Community project. These include providing information to residents on how to make their homes healthier, providing emergency response training to residents, and supporting revitalization through cleanup assessment grants.
Jackson’s appearance was the first here by the EPA chief. A native of New Orleans, she started with the EPA as a staff-level scientist in 1987 and spent the majority of her career working in the EPA’s Region 2 office in New York. In 2002, Jackson joined the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and was appointed commissioner of the agency in 2006 before being named as President Obama’s cabinet member in charge of environmental protection in 2009. A Tulane graduate, Jackson leads a staff of more than 18,000 professionals across the nation and was featured on Time magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People in the World.”
In her remarks, Jackson said she was “glad to have an opportunity to see what’s happening on the ground in Port Arthur. … You can indeed serve as a model for communities across the country.” She singled out the efforts of Mayor Prince.
“You have a great mayor, and when you say ‘yes,’ she asks for one more thing,” said Jackson, nodding toward the city’s blushing leader.
A previously announced, media availability for Jackson was canceled after travel delays caused a time crunch in her schedule. After the groundbreaking, she immediately left for a roundtable meeting at Lamar University in Beaumont that was not open to the public.
On her way from the podium to the golden shovels in Port Arthur, the Business Journal asked Jackson if she would remain with the EPA if Obama wins a second term. She grinned and appeared to nod before saying, “Of course, I serve at the pleasure of the president who appointed me.”
KBMT anchor and reporter Kevin Steele wasn’t so lucky. He attempted to follow Jackson to her waiting car with microphone and camera in tow, posing a legitimate question about lingering environmental and economic impact along the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of the BP oil spill. Jackson did not look up and Steele was deflected as he reached the car by a skillful hockey-style hip check executed by EPA press aide Bo Delp, Ph.D.
James Shannon can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 249, or by e-mail at james [at] beaumontbusinessjournal [dot] com.