Black People Are Being Poisoned in Alabama. Is Louisiana Next
Ten days of protests continue in Louisiana over crude oil pipeline preparations by residents and activists as big oil business stands to infiltrate and bring deadly toxins into Black communities like St. James — nicknamed “Cancer Alley.”
Tree sit-ins by protestors aim to stop the pipeline companies from tearing down trees to build the 162-mile, $750 million daily transporter of 480,000 barrels of crude oil into St. James.
St. James has been the hub for oil and chemical business.
“The community is already sick, suffering pollution from the eight facilities already in their community,” said Anne Rolfes, the founding director of the non-profit environmental health and justice group Louisiana Bucket Brigade (LABB). She also warned residents would be trapped in the small town if a pipeline fire or explosion occurred.
The Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) approved oil and gas infrastructure but failed to ensure safety and account for emergency evacuation measures for the residents.
Energy Transfer Partners, an all-white male led company and the lead developer backing construction of the pipeline, maintains that they would follow permits and procedures as they always do. Phillips 66 Refinery is also a partner with an all-white executive team.
But with memories of the 2010 BP oil spill, where more than half of BP’s sites for disposing of the spilled oil and 40,000 tons of waste were in communities of color, those promises mean little. Black lives have been at risk in terms of the environment and people not caring about their health.
In Lowndes County, Ala., Black and poor residents who have been voicing concerns about the lack of funding to clean up human waste and sewage surrounding them have been ignored for over a decade.
Baylor University researchers have found evidence of hookworm in over a third of Lowndes County residents — a tropical disease mostly relegated to underdeveloped countries.
Necessary new septic systems have not been funded, and previously, the local government criminally charged residents for the toxic waste. But residents couldn’t afford to fix the problem on their own.
Twelve states across the country have the same problem.
“People are literally being poisoned,” Booker told reporters during the National Baptist Conference USA meeting in Mobile, Ala., back in January, according to AL.com. “These are our children and elderly folks living in a toxic environment.”
For Louisiana, in April, state district court Judge Alvin Turner Jr. sided with residents who sued, arguing that with only one road in and out of town, a pipeline emergency would limit escape options and jeopardize their lives.
The judge also noted in his ruling that Louisiana’s support for fossil fuel industries seemingly comes at the expense of Black residents.
“It seems like the state agency didn’t think too much about the people who live here when it was giving Bayou Bridge. So we went to court, to somebody who we felt would listen to us, and he did,” said Harry Joseph, pastor of Mount Triumph Baptist Church and one of the lawsuit’s plaintiffs.
For Alabama residents and those in some of the other affected states, senators are on their side.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Alabama Sen. Doug Jones (D) and West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R) are appealing to the federal government for help. A federal grant they’re aiming to secure would assist in installing and maintaining new septic systems.