People over Plastic is dedicating a special series of stories to America’s Gulf South. This is a region where some of the nation’s most pressing environmental injustices play out every day. The Gulf Coast in particular is a crucial petrochemical hub consisting of at least 55 major chemical plants. This is also where one-fifth of total crude oil is produced in the U.S..
With its smattering of offshore oil and gas infrastructure, refineries, liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals, ethylene cracker plants, and chemical and fertilizer plants, this is a part of the country that is home to some of the biggest, most polluting industries. Yet, it is also home to Black, Brown, Indigenous and low-income communities that sit adjacent to these industries. These BIPOC communities continue to endure devastating health and environmental effects: staggering cancer rates, poor air quality, environmental degradation and other harmful effects which have long been scientifically documented but largely ignored.
As the author Tressie Cottom recently explained in her New York Times column,
“Nothing about the future of this country can be resolved unless it is first resolved here: not the climate crisis or the border or life expectancy or anything else of national importance, unless you solve it in the South and with the people of the South.” Focusing on this region, and uplifting the voices of the people who live here is the aim of this special People over Plastic series. The focus of our reporting is that all eyes will be on the Gulf, and that crucial stories about the people championing for environmental justice here are brought into focus.
As a reporter from the South, I have deep ties to this heartland. Right now I’m in Selma, Alabama and this is where I would spend my summers as a kid.
I’ve been told that my grandfather, going back four generations, was an enslaved person who was later able to acquire this land - about 400 acres. My family, like a lot of other black families, survived off this land. Which is probably why conservation practices are such a big part of my family’s history and more generally, so integral to Black southern culture.
My grandma would fish in these ponds and would cook whatever she got. Sadly a lot of water sources in Alabama are now at risk. A few years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ranked Alabama fifth in the country in terms of toxic releases in waterways.
My uncle here in Selma raised and continues to raise chickens. Back in the day, those eggs would feed his family, as well as their local pastor. You could see a lot of families like mine living off the land. But not far from here, north-west of Birmingham, waste (even toxic waste) is shipped from all over the country into landfills that are right next to black communities.
These are just some of the environmental injustices affecting Black people here in the South. These are the types of stories I'm going to be covering in the next few months as part of the “All Eyes on the Gulf” series. I’m eager to share these stories with you, and give you a glimpse of a part of the country that is my home.
Alexis Young is an environmental reporter for People over Plastic based in New Orleans, Louisiana.