Sierra Club ally Hilton Kelley has been awarded this year’s prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, considered the “Nobel prize for environmental activism,” for his landmark environmental justice work to improve air quality in one of the most polluted areas in the nation. Kelley led the movement to clean up his largely African-American west side neighborhood of Port Arthur, TX after seeing his town sickened by industrial pollution, plagued with crime and teetering near economic collapse. Over the last decade, Kelley has worked to educate and empower residents of his community and reduce emissions from the eight major petrochemical and hazardous waste facilities in the area.
“Hilton Kelley is an inspiration for grassroots activists everywhere,” said Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club. “One person with determination and commitment like Hilton can make an incredible difference, even against what may seem like insurmountable odds. Faced with environmental injustice, poverty and illness caused by dirty air, Hilton’s work has brought his community back from the brink. This is an extraordinary day for the Sierra Club family.”
Born and raised on the west side of Port Arthur, Hilton Kelley returned to his hometown after a successful 21-year career in Hollywood to find his community ravaged by air pollution, crime and poverty. To combat the air pollution at the heart of their social and economic problems, Kelley established the Community In-powerment Development Association (CIDA) and began training local residents to monitor air quality.
“Hilton Kelley and CIDA have successfully elevated their local environmental justice issues nationally and internationally and leveraged their advocacy to benefit many other similar environmental justice communities,” according to Leslie Fields, the Sierra Club’s Environmental Justice and Community Partnership Director.
Kelley’s community outreach campaign and advocacy led to the installation of state-of-the-art equipment to reduce harmful emissions at Motiva, the largest petrochemical facility in the U.S. Kelley also negotiated a now-famous “good neighbor” agreement that provided health coverage for the residents of the west side for three years and established a $3.5 million fund to help entrepreneurs launch new businesses in the community. He recently led a successful campaign beginning in 2006 that stopped Veolia Corporation from importing more than 20,000 tons of toxic PCBs from Mexico for incineration at its Port Arthur plant.
”It has been a pleasure to work with Hilton to fight air pollution in Port Arthur,” said Dr. Neil Carman, PhD chemist and Clean Air Program Director for the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, who assisted in the successful effort to stop Veolia. “Hilton is a wonderful advocate for his community and for everyone in the Golden Triangle region of Texas. His dedicated efforts are making a big difference on air quality and on the lives of his neighbors.”
Kelley continues to advocate for stronger environmental protections on the Texas Gulf Coast and serves on the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council. Thanks to his leadership, Port Arthur has recently been selected as an EPA national showcase city, breathing new life into the community. Last year, Kelley and his wife opened Kelley’s Kitchen, a soul food restaurant that employs West Side residents.
“It’s good to have someone like Hilton Kelley working in our community to help make the conditions better,” said Port Arthur resident and CIDA activist Tashiica Miles. “For too long our communities have been dumped on and there needs to be more for our youth as well – like recreation centers. CIDA is working on all of these issues and we’re glad that they’re here.”
The Goldman Environmental Prize, now in its 22nd year, is awarded annually to grassroots environmental heroes from each of the world’s inhabited continental regions and is the largest award of its kind. It has been awarded to 145 people from 80 countries and winners are selected by an international jury from confidential nominations submitted by a worldwide network of environmental organizations and individuals. Previous Goldman Prize winners have been at the center of some of the world’s most pressing environmental challenges, including seeking justice for victims of environmental disasters at Love Canal and Bhopal, India; leading the fight for dolphin-safe tuna and fighting oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
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