People We Love: Hilton Kelley

A local hero steps up to help save the environment and his community.
pwl hilton kelley bw

Hilton Kelley didn’t know much about the oil refineries in Port Arthur, Texas, when he grew up there—just that the air often smelled foul. His neighborhood was low-income but thriving when he left at 19 to join the Navy.

He returned 20 years later to find illness, poverty, and pollution—all of which he traced back to the refineries. “I wondered why no one was doing anything,” he said. “Then I looked at the man in the mirror and said, ‘What the hell are you doing about it?’”

Kelley created the Community In-power Development Association (CIDA) to empower residents to assert their environmental rights. He pushed the refineries to decrease pollution, hire local workers, and stop expansion.

CIDA’s landmark case against the Motiva refinery won a $3.5 million settlement for community economic development, job training, and medical visits for residents. Kelley won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2011 and is now training the next generation of activists.

  • A historic new ordinance bans natural gas drilling while elevating community decision making and the rights of nature over the “rights” associated with corporate personhood.

  • For advice about life after graduation, students at Worcester Polytechnic wanted to hear from peak oil scholar Richard Heinberg instead of Exxon's CEO. Here's what he told them. 
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