Friday, March 29, 2013

XL Risks Harm To Houston Community: 'This Is Obviously Environmental Racism'

e XL Risks Harm To Houston Community: 'This Is Obviously Environmental Racism'

Posted:   |  Updated: 03/28/2013 10:56 am EDT
Plumes of smoke, billowing in various shades from white to black, frequently fill the skies over the Manchester neighborhood of Houston. It's no wonder, said Yudith Nieto, that local children grow up thinking oil refinery stacks are "cloud makers."
As they get older, added the 24-year-old Manchester native, the children discover that they don't like those clouds. "They'll say the clouds 'smell nasty' or are 'not good for me,'" said Nieto. "It's kinda sad. But these kids get it. We don't give them enough credit."
keystone nieto
Yudith Nieto worries Keystone XL would put the health of her low-income neighbors at greater risk.
The density of oil refineries and petrochemical plants has made this low-income, minority Texas community home to some of the country's most toxic air. Should President Barack Obama approve the Keystone XL pipeline -- a fiercely debated proposal to transport heavy crude from Alberta's oil sands deposits 1,700 miles to refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast, including in Manchester -- Nieto and other activists worry that the air will become even dirtier, and the community even sicker.
Compared to refining conventional crude oil, processing heavy molasses-like tar sands oil into useable fuel has been found to release more sulfur, heavy metals and other toxic pollutants.
"This is obviously environmental racism," said Nieto. "My family and friends here suffer the consequences of this whole greedy business."
Blas Espinosa shares Nieto's concern. When he's not in class at a nearby college, Espinosa spends his hours teaching kids how to garden and selling organic produce at a farmers market. Growing food locally and organically, he said, reduces the use of petrochemicals: Less gasoline is needed to truck the food to consumers, and fewer fossil fuel-derived pesticides are required to grow it. Similar insight has led him to join other activists in vocal opposition to the continued reliance on fossil fuels and toxic pollution he believes would come with Keystone XL.
"I've never been one to speak out. I've always been quiet and stuff," said Espinosa, 22, who has lived all his life near Manchester and the Houston Ship Channel.
keystone xl houston
Blas Espinosa stands in front of a youth baseball field on which he used to play. The field is in plain sight of a refinery.
Espinosa said that his biggest concern is the "health of my family and everybody, born and unborn, in the area." His mom suffers from asthma, heart abnormalities and tumors. He has friends with cancer.
In a December 2010 report, the Sierra Club linked tar sands refinery emissions to prenatal brain damage, asthma and emphysema. A recent Houston-area study found a 56 percent increased risk of acute lymphocytic leukemia among children living within two miles of the Houston Ship Channel, compared with children living more than 10 miles from the channel.
Manchester's local schools are ranked among the top one percent of the most pollutedin the country.
"If there's any place where we should not be adding more pollution, it would be these overburdened communities," said Danielle Droitsch of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Keystone XL will make their problems worse."
TransCanada, the Canadian company leading the pipeline project, argues that its pipeline would not add to refinery emissions. Rather, it would simply displace heavy crude oil now coming to the refineries from Venezuela and other countries, Grady Semmens, a TransCanada spokesperson, told The Huffington Post via email. "Since the sources of oil that will be pushed out of the Houston refining area are typically shipped by large water borne supertankers," Semmens added, "greenhouse gas emissions will decrease as a result of oil coming through these pipelines."
The U.S. State Department's Keystone XL draft analysis report, which sparked rampant criticism from environmentalists when it was released earlier this month, also concluded that the project would not significantly affect refinery activity on the Gulf Coast.
"That makes no sense whatsoever," said Droitsch. "There will be an increase in air pollution. It's not a matter of if, but how much."
Oil Change International has calculated that the 14 refineries in line to receive oil from Keystone XL processed less than one-third of Venezuelan crude oil imports in 2012. Nearly the same quantity of crude was handled by just two Venezuelan-owned Gulf Coast refineries. The pair may well pick up the slack for any oil being backed out of other refineries, predicted Lorne Stockman of the advocacy group.
Stockman told HuffPost that the State Department's conclusion is "disingenuous" and "misses the point."
"In the last five years, a lot of those companies have invested billions to equip refineries to process heavy oil in anticipation of XL," said Stockman. "With the project's delay, they're pulling in from everywhere they can get it because they haven't been able to get it from Canada."
Nieto and Espinosa would like to see the project delayed indefinitely. Both have been working to educate and empower their neighbors to help in the fight against the pipeline.
"These are poor people of color. Many don't speak a word of English. That doesn't help them in reading public information, participating in community meetings or talking to representatives," said Nieto.
"What people really want to do is get out of here," she noted, adding that she enjoyed a reprieve from her own health problems while attending college away from Manchester. "But it's not easy to get out of here. When you try to sell a home, there are no buyers."
Espinosa said he'd like to get out himself, "buy land somewhere in the hills of Austin, build a house and have a garden."
"But I also don't want to leave everyone here," he said. "With the tar sands and Keystone, now is not the time to stop and be comfortable. I'm pretty set on being, as they say, the solution to pollution."
This is the first in a series on people living along the proposed path of Keystone XL.

Friday, March 1, 2013

South Africans Outraged After Police Drag Man

South Africans Outraged After Police Drag Man

Protesters gathered outside the Daveyton Police Station, where a man who was dragged died of his injuries, on Thursday.
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JOHANNESBURG — The footage is shaky but unmistakable. A slender black man dressed in a red T-shirt, black pants and sneakers is tied to the back of a police truck. He kicks. He writhes. The vehicle pulls away, dragging the man behind it. Police officers run along with him. Cellphone cameras snap away.
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The Daily Sun, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
A video released by The Daily Sun showed the man, a taxi driver from Mozambique, handcuffed to the back of a police van.
“What did he do?” bystanders shouted.
“It was him who started it,” a police officer replied.
Late Tuesday night, the man, who has since been identified as Mido Macia, 27, a taxi driver from Mozambique, died of head injuries at the Daveyton Police Station, 27 miles southeast of here.
In South Africa, where violent crime, vigilante attacks and police brutality are daily fare, the video, captured on a cellphone and first published by The Daily Sun, a local tabloid, has incited outrage for its brazen and outsize cruelty.
“We come across a lot of cases of police brutality,” said Moses Dlamini of the Independent Investigative Directorate, which investigates police crimes, in a television interview. “The police don’t even care that people are watching.”
For many, the video was a reminder of the harsh treatment meted out to black citizens by white policemen under apartheid, when South Africa’s police force was notorious for its harsh tactics against the country’s black majority.
“If this was apartheid Police we’d riot,” wrote Zackie Achmat, a prominent social activist, on Twitter.
Back then, the officers were likely to be white and at the command of a racial dictatorship. Now they are almost entirely black, serving a democratically elected government.
Under apartheid, more than 70 percent of police stations were in white areas despite the fact that whites were less than 20 percent of the country’s population. The job of the white-led police was clearly to protect whites from blacks, said Gareth Newham, an analyst at the Institute for Security Studies and an expert on policing in South Africa.
After 1994, when apartheid ended and the African National Congress was voted into power in the country’s first fully democratic elections, reforming the police force was a top priority. Millions of dollars were spent on cashing out apartheid-era officials and recruiting new members to the force. Its emphasis was supposed to shift from controlling black South Africans to serving them.
But a fierce crime wave washed over South Africa in the years after apartheid. Violent crime increased by 22 percent. Murder, carjackings and armed robberies were endemic. South Africa’s reputation suffered.
The government, under intense pressure to clamp down on crime, enacted tough new policies. Huge recruitment drives added 70,000 officers and administrators to the force.
“You have thousands of people coming in, so the standard for recruitment dropped,” Mr. Newham said. “Training dropped from two years to one. You can’t do proper vetting.”
Supervisors found they were responsible for twice as many officers, many of them inexperienced and poorly trained. Discipline suffered.
Meanwhile, the national political debate around crime became more heated. In 2008, the deputy police minister, Susan Shabangu, exhorted the police to use maximum force in a speech at an anti-crime rally in the capital, Pretoria, telling them, “they have permission to kill these criminals.”
Her remarks courted controversy, but they were widely praised.
“I want no warning shots,” she said. “You have one shot and it must be a kill shot. If you miss, the criminals will go for the kill. They don’t miss. We can’t take this chance.”
She went on: “The Constitution says criminals must be kept safe, but I say no! I say we must protect the law-abiding people and not the criminals. I say that criminals must be made to pay for their crimes.”
Unsurprisingly, the number of people killed by the police skyrocketed. In 2005 and 2006, police shot and killed 281 people. Within three years, the number doubled.
The message went down through the ranks.
“You are expected to be tough, you decide who the criminals are, and you will not be held accountable,” Mr. Newham said.
The past year has been tough for South Africa’s troubled police force. In August 2012, officers opened fire on platinum miners engaged in a wildcat strike in the town of Marikana, killing 34 of them in the biggest mass shooting since apartheid ended.
The force suffered further embarrassment when one of its detectives, Warrant Officer Hilton Botha, bungled his testimony on the stand at the bail hearing for Oscar Pistorius, a track star who is charged with murdering his girlfriend, conceding several major errors. Officer Botha was removed from the case after it was revealed that he himself faces attempted murder charges.
Police officials promised a swift investigation. A press officer for Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega said that “the matter is viewed by the national commissioner in a very serious light and it is strongly condemned.”
And police brutality videos have surfaced in the past, an emblem of an era in which cellphones mean that digital material can be shared rapidly through social media. A 2011 episode in Vaalwater, a town in Limpopo Province, was also captured on a cellphone video, showing a police officer repeatedly kicking a man who appeared to be unconscious. In that case, the crowd seems to be egging on the officer.
“Hit him, but don’t kill him,” one bystander shouts.
“Someone is really getting the boot,” another says, chuckling.
A lonely female voice utters, “look at what is happening to God’s children.”
In the case of the dragged man, though, few of the bystanders appeared to support the police. A crowd of angry protesters gathered at the Daveyton Police Station on Thursday, demanding that the officers be prosecuted.
“They killed one of our brothers like he was a dog,” said one woman, speaking to a reporter of ENCA, a local news channel.