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Last August, a valve blew open and a particularly noxious smell wafted through the neighborhood. I got really sick. My heart rate kicked up. I broke out in chills. I went to the hospital, but they are largely funded by the refineries and they just told me it was something I ate. At left: Hilton Kelley Photos by Michael May nothing but a concrete desert, with a bar and liquor store for the lost and thirsty. He strides purposefully through this wasteland, a black leather jacket draped over broad shoulders. His shaved head is uncovered. He talks with a deep, resonant voice, his words well-practiced and full of conviction. Arriving at his destination, what appears to be a vacant building, he stops and opens the door. Inside a group of kids in karate uniforms, led by Kelley’s younger brother, Warren, practice their moves. Kick. Exhale. Kick. Exhale. This is a community center that Kelley opened a year ago. “When I first got here, I was entirely focused on opening the center,” Kelley says. “I figured the most important thing was for kids to have an alternative to the streets.” He quickly realized there wasn’t going to be much of a community left to save without confronting the pollution problem.This is a difficult task in an area struggling with high unemployment and a political system that has favored industrial development over people for more than half a century. Most activists in Port Arthur are passive in the face of these obstacles. Others have grown so full of rage at the injustice around them that their confrontational style has alienated potential allies. While Kelley does not retreat from confrontation, he is seeking a third way. For example, he urges people at the center to contact the Texas Natural Resource a smell like rotten eggs or paint thinner. Since the TNRCC can’t afford to monitor the air at all times, Kelley believes the more complaints they receive, the more likely they are to enforce the law. “I am not trying to put the refineries out of business,” he says. “We need oil. But oil can be processed more cleanly and efficiently.” At times, air pollution regulation in the Lone Star state can seem like a Texas two-step: Industry takes a step back with its right foot, while leading with its left. The Texas Legislature has finally closed the infamous “grandfather” loophole that allowed refineries and power plants built before 1971 to avoid federal clean air standards. But George W. Bush, who left the loophole open when he was Governor, is pushing to weaken the federal laws that govern grandfathered facilities. And in 2001, just as the EPA was on the verge of forcing Texas to make significant reductions in the levels of ozone in the Beaumont/Port Arthur area or lose federal highway funds, the TNRCC saved industry by insisting that ozone drift from Houston is partly to blame. The EPA agreed, and excused Beaumont/Port Arthur from further regulation until 2007. One step forward. One step back. Kelley takes a visitor to Carver Terrace, the housing project where he grew up. Carver Terrace could be mistaken for part of the Premcor refinery yardits neat rows of standardissue brick townhouses are surrounded on three sides by the complex. One side was, until recently, home to a “tank farm,” where crude oil, jet fuel, and other petroleum by-products sat in rows of squat holding tanks waiting to be transported. A recent court ruling forced the refinery to move the tanks away from the neighborhood, and the field now sits barren and quarantined, with crop circle-like markings where the tanks once sat. On the other side of the field is Lincoln High School. “When I was growing up, the school band used to practice right there,” Kelley says, pointing to a grassy area adjacent to the former tank farm. “It’s a good thing there was never any accident, because the whole school and housing 3/1/02 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9