Along with Texas Attorney General candidate David Van Os and civil rights activist Rev. Peter Johnson, I attended a public hearing on the modification of a hazardous waste permit held by the ExxonMobil refinery in Beaumont. Hearings of this type are mandated by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality; this one was held at the Jefferson County courthouse Friday afternoon, September 9.
There about twenty or so in attendance; four of us out-of-town citizen activists, a handful of residents of the Charlton-Pollard neighborhood which abuts the refinery, and six representatives of ExxonMobil -- the community relations director and her assistant, three refinery executives, including at least one with the word 'environment' in his job title, and an ExxonMobil corporate attorney. None of whom made their names obvious enough for me to catch.
There were no members of the TCEQ present at the hearing, and no members of the media either (unless I count as one).
For over two hours, the oil company employees tapdanced around every single question posed to them with the most bewildering array of corporate doublespeak and rehearsed spin I have ever personally witnessed.
A couple of examples:
Q: We wrote a letter containing thirteen questions for ExxonMobil to answer at this hearing, and we sent them by certified mail. Did you receive them?
A: And we're here to answer your questions. And the questions of all the residents here.
Q: The first question is, has ExxonMobil conducted any environmental impact surveys in the neighborhood regarding the impact of the refinery's discharge on the residents' health?
A: Exxon Mobil has conducted numerous studies about the environmental quality of the neighborhood. We built the Family Resource Center and the park. We live and work here too, and have a great deal of concern about the neighborhood's environment.
Q: But have you done any studies of the health of the neighborhood's residents?
A: Those aren't environmental studies, sir.
David Van Os : Has ExxonMobil done any epidemiological studies of the neighborhood?
ExxonMobil Community Relations Director : What's that?
DVO: You mean to say you don't know what an epidemiological study is?
EM CRD: No, I know what it means... you might define the word for those in the audience who don't know what it means...
DVO : But they didn't ask. Could you answer the question please?
EM CRD : Would you define 'epidemiological'?
DVO : Could you please answer the question? Yes or no?
And so on and so on, just like that, for two hours.
When a resident described the black dust he has to power-wash off his house every few months, the oil company employees just looked blankly at him. When Rev. Johnson read the results of an autopsy of a female neighborhood resident, which revealed that her lungs were 'as black as those of a sixty-year-old coal miner' (according to her doctor), the ExxonMobil representatives tried hard not to look him in the eye. When another resident described how her three-year-old son had to have a liver transplant, and that benzene poisoning was a suspected cause, the corporate lickspittles studied their manicures.
As I've previously posted, I grew up in this area. I worked in that refinery one summer. I used to come home every evening from working in that refinery and blow black snot out of my nose.
I heard the stories of Lamar University coeds whose nylons dissolved on their legs as they walked across campus (which is a half-mile from the ExxonMobil chemical facility). I smelled the rotten egg scent of sulphur dioxode myself, as a college student, on several occasions. I knew people who lived near the campus who smelled odors inside their homes that would cause them to become sleepy, and when they woke up they would have a splitting headache.
And those stories are twenty-five years old.
There was one thirty-year neighborhood resident in attendance at the hearing, who had his own self-declared respiratory concerns, and he defended ExxonMobil in a sort of resigned way:
"Well, they ain't goin' nowhere, so we gotta try to get along with 'em..."
Let me call attention to the title of this post, and quote no less an authority than Benito Mussolini:
" Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of State and corporate power."
And also Franklin Roosevelt:
" The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to the point where it becomes stronger than the democratic state itself. That in its essence is fascism - ownership of government by an individual, by a group or any controlling private power. "