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Port Arthur pollution fight shows how Texas blocks citizen protests

A local activist went before a judge, arguing for lower pollution limits on two new liquified natural gas facilities. The judge sided with him, but the state environmental agency sided with the companies.

John Beard challenged the permit for a new liquefied natural gas facility in Port Arthur, Texas. (Pu Ying Huang for The Texas Tribune)

By Amal Ahmed When pollution is at its worst in Port Arthur, brownish-gray smog covers the sky and the smell of chemicals burns the noses and throats of residents. John Beard, an environmental advocate who grew up in the town and used to work in local refineries, is one of many residents who suffer from lung and respiratory issues he blames on the town’s poor air quality.

For the last few years, Beard has been battling the development of two multibillion-dollar liquefied natural gas plants in his predominantly Black and Hispanic coastal town. GoldenPass, funded by ExxonMobil, is already under construction. Port Arthur LNG, a subsidiary of a California energy company called Sempra, is still undergoing permitting and is expected to be built in Port Arthur in the next few years. Both plants will pipe in fracked gas from West Texas’ Permian Basin to process and export to countries across the globe — and they’ll increase the air pollution local residents breathe in daily.

“These companies, no matter what they say, are basically sacrificing communities of color in order to get wealthier, more affluent communities cheap fossil fuels,” Beard said. His organization, Port Arthur Community Action Network, has in recent years become the de facto face of the fight against these plants, representing Port Arthur residents who are tired of being on the receiving end of pollution.

This story co-published in The Texas Tribune.

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