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We breathe the poisonous air, and can’t even afford to put our kids through college. I spend thousands of dollars on asthma medication for my son, and, right across the fence, the refinery that caused his problems isn’t even paying their full taxes. It’s like they’re robbing us.” Kelley’s activism often takes him to city hall, where he lobbies the city council and the mayor, Oscar Ortiz, on behalf of the Westside. Has Ortiz been sympathetic to such concerns? Kelley smiles, mutters something polite about “mutual respect,” and says ask the mayor. ayor Ortiz sits at a large polished desk at the end of a long empty room. His face is deeply lined and topped by graying black hair swept to the back. He speaks with a trace of a Texas twang in a practiced tone of dispassionate reassurance. Ortiz is Port Arthur’s first Hispanic mayor, but his only true allegiance seems to be to pragmatism. Although he is a Democrat, he voted for George W. Bush for governor and president. In the time it takes to walk across the room, he is on the phone finding the exact percentage of the tax base the refineries contribute to the town-64 percent. The petrochemical companies pay for most of the city’s services, he relates dutifully. Ortiz doesn’t see a problem with being out of compliance with ozone standards. It would only be an issue if the air got so bad that refineries were forced to stop expansion. “Then we would be in serious trouble,” he says. “Our economy would suffer immensely.” “I tell people, if you want jobs, you have to put up with pol You know, there is pollution from everythingpeople burning grass everything. I am not going to sit here and blame the refineries. Port Arthur mayor Oscar Ortiz lution,” he continues expansively. “If we had pollution that was harmful to the human body, the EPA and the TNRCC wouldn’t allow them to keep expanding.You know, there is pollution from everythingpeople burning grass everything. I am not going to sit here and blame the refineries.” Ortiz explains that Port Arthur’s high unemployment rate is not the fault of the refineriesnor apparently does the blame rest with his administration. He says that refineries promise to hire locals, but that the city lacks an adequate pool of applicants. “There are three reasons that the labor hasn’t been provided,” he explains in a resigned tone. “Our people can’t pass drug tests. They don’t have a college degree. They don’t have skills. It’s kind of hard to hire drug addicts without skills. “You have to want to achieve something in life and become an asset, not a burden, to society,” he continues. “We encourage people to get their GED, to go into drug rehabilitation. But as the old saying goes, `you can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.’ We have 14 percent unemployment, which is ridiculous for our city. It shows me that our people aren’t ready for the job opportunities, and that is kind of sad:’ Kelley scrunches up his face when he hears what the mayor said. “Everyone in the Westside is a drug addict? Come on,” he counters. “And as for advanced training, tell me, whatever happened to OJTOn the Job Training?” Kelley’s house, with the kitchen and back room blocked off for repair, feels more like an outpost than a home, and in some ways, that is exactly what it is. Kelley keeps a video camera and air sampling device on hand at all times to record releases which occur at the refineries. He picks up the camera and presses play. Inside the viewfinder, a roaring smokestack sends a bright flame and thick plume of black smoke pouring across a clear blue sky. He presses fast forward, the flame flickers and dances as the time marker moves from minutes into hours. Daytime releases are uncommon, he says. At night, when the TNRCC office isn’t open is when they most often occur. It is not unusual for the lawn to be covered with soot in the morning. “Last August, a valve blew open and a particularly noxious smell wafted through the neighborhood,” he recalls. “I got really sick. I felt a cool sensation deep in my lungs, like breathing ammonia. 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:’ Texas law is not at all ambiguous about air pollution stan -continued on page 17 311/02 DIE TEXAS OBSERVER 11