Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Ahead of Hearing on Proposed Environmental Rollbacks, a Louisiana Couple Tells Their Story About Living With the Legacy of Cumulative Toxic Pollution
Press Release

RELEASE: Ahead of Hearing on Proposed Environmental Rollbacks, a Louisiana Couple Tells Their Story About Living With the Legacy of Cumulative Toxic Pollution

Washington, D.C. — Today, the Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform, Coming Clean, and the Center for American Progress released a new video highlighting the stories of Christine Bennett and Delma Bennett, longtime residents of Mossville, Louisiana, who have suffered from years of exposure to toxic pollution and environmental racism.

For generations, residents of Mossville—a town founded by former slaves and the site of more than a dozen permitted refining and chemical industry facilities—have been disproportionately exposed to toxic pollution. Studies show that residents of Mossville have higher levels of toxics in their blood than the average American

“A lot of it was asthma, respiratory problems, kidney problems. Then, all of a sudden, cancer came. They were killing us every day,” recalls Christine about her experience growing up with the cumulative effects of pollution in Mossville. “Our lives are in danger, and we need to start knowing what industries are doing to our people—especially our children.”

“It’s just a handful of people like my wife and myself who continue to try to make things better for themselves,” said Delma Bennett about Mossville residents. “There is no one looking out for us.”

On Tuesday, February 25, the Trump administration’s White House Council on Environmental Quality is holding the second of just two public hearings on its proposed rollback of regulations under the National Environmental Policy Act. One of the most harmful aspects of the proposal would remove the requirement that federal agencies have to analyze the cumulative effects of a project. This cut would enable more pollution across the country, as agencies would no longer be required to analyze how their projects would affect pollution over time or affect communities with an existing legacy of toxic pollution, such as Mossville.

“We hope that this story will help all of us dig deep into our moral courage to make sure that no community is ever left behind like Mossville again,” said Michele Roberts, national co-coordinator of the Environmental Justice and Health Alliance for Chemical Policy. “The Trump administration’s proposal would devastate a whole new set of communities across the country, while legacy communities like Mossville are still struggling for justice. We cannot let this happen, and that’s why we must build a just and equitable climate future.”

As the Bennetts will be unable to testify in person at the D.C. public hearing tomorrow, the following statement will be read on their behalf and submitted as a public comment.

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Statement of Christine and Delma Bennett

As we are unable to be with you today in Washington, D.C., and there are no additional public meetings scheduled, we would like to write this short statement to tell our story, and because of our experiences, to express our strong opposition to the Trump administration’s proposed rollback of the regulations for the National Environmental Policy Act. Our names are Christine and Delma Bennett, and we are longtime residents of Mossville, Louisiana.

Mossville is a town founded in 1790 by formerly enslaved people. Some of the founders were our family members. When our families first got here, they lived on the land. They fished, hunted small game, and farmed. There was no outside industry. We had clean water, and the land and the earth hadn’t been tampered with. When we drew the water out of that well to drink, it was cold. It was beautiful. And we thank god, because our fathers helped dig these wells in Mossville.

And then, in the 1950s, the Conoco plant came in. The facility became the new eastern neighborhood of Mossville. They bought up 690 acres of land, for pennies. And that’s what kept happening. Over and over again. Conoco, Arco, Citgo, Westlake Chemical, Sasol, Biolab, Firestone, PPG, Olin, and on and on. There are at least 18 industrial facilities that surround Mossville like a doughnut, and the pollution came with it, poisoning the residents of Mossville.

The cumulative impact of all these plants together, polluting day in and day out, has been devastating to our community. We have more than three times the amount of dioxin in our blood than the average American, and that’s just the beginning. Asthma, respiratory problems, kidney problems, cancer. When our niece was 15 years old, she went in for an asthma problem. They said something like, her nasal passage needed opening up. But when they went into her nasal passage, they ended up having to take half her face off because she had cancer in her nasal passage. At 15 years old.

It’s the cumulative impacts of these plants, refineries, and factories—on top of racism. Today’s proposal to undermine the National Environmental Policy Act takes away the requirement that companies have to consider how much their pollution added to the pollution of the plant next door affects us. Each of those plants on their own pollutes a significant amount of toxins—and together? That’s why we’re suffering. Our health, our families and our homes.

The National Environmental Policy Act’s passage in the 1970s was historic, but the whole point was for the government to start to think about people like us. Think about the impact that you can have before building a major project. This proposal is appalling and the exact opposite of the direction we need to be going in. You will end up with many more communities like us, when we’re already suffering!

We want to be made whole—to relocate, and not be in debt, and to be provided adequate health care. We don’t want to lose the policies that protect from these injustices happening in the first place! We want no community to ever be left behind like us. And we want justice for Mossville. Thank you for your time.

To speak with Christine or Delma Bennett or a policy expert, please contact Ari Drennen at zdrennen@americanprogress.org or 202-741-6372.