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Welcome to Manchester

Tar Sands Blockade has been thinking about the recipients on the end on the Keystone XL pipeline quite a lot lately. To that end, we’ve been visiting the Houston neighborhood of Manchester, which is nestled firmly against the toxic Valero refinery to where much of the tar sands to be carried through TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline will flow to be refined and then exported.

Valero Energy Corp’s refinery emits life threatening poisons and pollutants that directly impact Manchester residents. Valero fills the air, water, and land in and around the community with toxic chemicals linked to terrible rates of cancers, asthma, and lung and skin ailments, with the full knowledge that the impacts of its pollutants will disproportionately affect the people of Manchester. With a nearly 90% Latino population, this is an obvious example of environmental racism.

Manchester is completely surrounded by industry. To the north and east is the Valero refinery with the Lyondell-Basell refinery to the southeast, Texas Petro-Chemicals plant to the south, a Rhodia chemical plant and a trash shredding facility to the west, a wastewater treatment facility to the east, a Goodyear Tire plant to the southeast, along with the Interstate 610 overpass bisecting the community and an industrial rail yard forming the community’s southern perimeter.

Valero recorded $2.09 billion in net profits in 2011, while the residents of this community received cancer, asthma, nosebleeds, headaches, and skin rashes. William R. Klesse, CEO of Valero, took in $11,027,067 dollars in 2011 alone, more than the combined average household income of every family in the Manchester community. Corporate enrichment at the expense of community health is yet another glaring indication of the inherently exploitative system that favors profits over people.

On a daily basis there are at least eight identified known human carcinogens in the air. Acrolein, chromium V1, diesel particulates, formaldehyde, benzene, chlorine, 1, 3-butadiene, and hexamethylene diisocyanate are just a few of the dangerous chemicals entering people’s lungs every day.

What’s more, the refinery regularly burns off excess gasses in open flares that produce terrible spikes in the levels of harmful chemicals. These, along with other dramatic and illegal increases in toxic emissions, known colloquially as “incidents,” go unpunished by the governing body tasked with ensuring regulatory compliance, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Children Playing in the Manchester Refinery Community In Houston

Adding insult to injury, the community regularly faces harassment at the hands of Valero’s private security and the Houston Police Department. The psychological effects of living near such a toxic, high-security facility like this can be devastating.

Most Americans are ignorant of this type of behavior by Gulf Coast refineries like Valero, allowing for those who are conveniently out of sight and out of mind to suffer at the hands of a lawless industry and the corrupt regulators that continually look the other way.

All of this adds up to the common perception that the Gulf Coast is America’s energy sacrifice zone.

On Thursday, November 14th, when filming near the Valero refinery in Manchester, TSB organizers were stopped and approached by two officers of the notoriously violent and corrupt Houston Police Department. E.T. Ramirez, badge number 8407, and D. Jimenez, badge number 8105, claimed that it was against the law to film near Valero, but when questioned which law that was, neither officer could name it. Upon further questioning one officer simply stated, “9/11.”

The police continually harassed the organizers demanding that they produce ID’s. One of the organizers refused to cooperate, to which an officer replied, “If you’re not doing anything wrong and you don’t have any warrants or anything then you shouldn’t have any problem giving me your ID.”

This is emblematic of the repression directed at anyone that attempts to speak out against the corporations that are systematically poisoning their neighbors. Valero, their private security, and the Houston Police Department sends a clear message to the community: if you question Valero, they’ll question you.

After continued resistance to their requests to produce identification, the police retreated to their vehicle for a few minutes before coming back to let the TSB crew know they could leave, but not before asking one last time if they were “sure” they didn’t want to show them some ID…

Later that same day, the crew was interviewing a Manchester resident who lives right next to the Valero refinery and who wanted to raise her voice and speak up about Valero’s egregious practices. While filming the interview in a public park –the only park in Manchester– and not five minutes into the process, Valero’s private security approached the scene. The security guard, much like the police, proved once again that Valero will do everything in its power to silence anyone attempting to expose the injustice and abuse it perpetrates daily.

This video documents these interactions with Valero security, which would be comical if it weren’t so tragic for the residents who have to deal with this type of police harassment on a daily basis.

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