A Struggle for Environmental Justice in Louisiana's Chemical Corridor
328 pp., 6 x 9 in, 15 illus.
- Published: February 17, 2006
- Published: December 10, 2004
The story of how a mixed-income minority community in Louisiana's Chemical Corridor fought Shell Oil and won.
For years, the residents of Diamond, Louisiana, lived with an inescapable acrid, metallic smell—the "toxic bouquet" of pollution—and a mysterious chemical fog that seeped into their houses. They looked out on the massive Norco Industrial Complex: a maze of pipelines, stacks topped by flares burning off excess gas, and huge oil tankers moving up the Mississippi. They experienced headaches, stinging eyes, allergies, asthma, and other respiratory problems, skin disorders, and cancers that they were convinced were caused by their proximity to heavy industry. Periodic industrial explosions damaged their houses and killed some of their neighbors. Their small, African-American, mixed-income neighborhood was sandwiched between two giant Shell Oil plants in Louisiana's notorious Chemical Corridor. When the residents of Diamond demanded that Shell relocate them, their chances of success seemed slim: a community with little political clout was taking on the second-largest oil company in the world. And yet, after effective grassroots organizing, unremitting fenceline protests, seemingly endless negotiations with Shell officials, and intense media coverage, the people of Diamond finally got what they wanted: money from Shell to help them relocate out of harm's way. In this book, Steve Lerner tells their story.
Around the United States, struggles for environmental justice such as the one in Diamond are the new front lines of both the civil rights and the environmental movements, and Diamond is in many ways a classic environmental-justice story: a minority neighborhood, faced with a polluting industry in its midst, fights back. But Diamond is also the history of a black community that goes back to the days of slavery. In 1811, Diamond (then the Trepagnier Plantation) was the center of the largest slave rebellion in United States history. Descendants of these slaves were among the participants in the modern-day Diamond relocation campaign.
Steve Lerner talks to the people of Diamond, and lets them tell their story in their own words. He talks also to the residents of a nearby white neighborhood—many of whom work for Shell and have fewer complaints about the plants—and to environmental activists and Shell officials. His account of Diamond's 30-year ordeal puts a human face on the struggle for environmental justice in the United States.
Hundreds of communities worldwide are being poisoned, living and dying in the shadow of petrochemical giants. Most of them remain powerless and anonymous. Steve Lerner has artfully captured the story of one community that fought back and refused to be made expendable. The story of Diamond is one of hope, tenacity, and the hunger for justice.
Gary Cohen, Environmental Health Fund and Health Care Without Harm
In an oil-driven society, Steve Lerner deftly shows the power of the African-American residents of Diamond to overcome the injustices created by Royal Dutch/Shell. Their victory is an inspiration to all of us, especially to communities around the world located in the shadows of hazardous industrial developments.
Monique Harden, co-director and attorney, Advocates for Environmental Human Rights
Steve Lerner passionately weaves together the story of the Diamond community in a way that allows the reader to gain a telling picture of the people involved while resisting the temptation to romanticize either the residents or their cause. This book is not only an excellent read, but an important contribution to the growing body of work that connects space to racial equity. Perhaps equally important, Lerner has forged a path of new possibilities by documenting the potential for change created by collaboration across the traditional boundaries between environmentalists and racial justice movements.
John A. Powell, Director, Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, Ohio State University
Steve Lerner's patient, thorough telling of the Diamond story provides such detail that you feel you are there as events unfold. He understands and relays eloquently the spiritual cornerstone of this historic African American victory—the powerful faith that propelled David over Goliath.
Anne Rolfes, Founding Director, Louisiana Bucket Brigade
Steve Lerner has provided a masterfully measured look at what it means to live across the fenceline from chemical processing plants. Calm, nuanced, compelling, and written from multiple perspectives, it will put real people on your front doorstep: the people who live there, the heroes that emerged out of one suffering community, employees within Shell who realized the status quo was not enough, and the eclectic team that assembled from around the country to support the fenceline community at risk. Diamond's narrative is an important story of environmental justice for the 21st century, one that Shell's leaders would do well to heed.
Pete Myers, co-authors Our Stolen Future
This book expertly captures the many facets of the struggles of the environmental justice fenceline community as its members attempted to survive in the toxic plume of air emissions from nearby industrial facilities. The strategies for the relocation of Diamond residents will serve as a comprehensive and realistic model to guide other environmentally affected communities.
Wilma Subra, Subra Company, techincal advisor on eonvironmental justice issues
Diamond is an important, ultimately inspiring book.
The Times-Picayune (New Orleans)
Lerner does an excellent job of explaining concisely both the scientific and the legal issues involved...a compelling story.
Steve Lerner's story of Diamond, Louisiana, is one of the most remarkable tales that has ever been told about the environmental justice movement.
There are thousands of communities all across America just like Diamond, where poor people share a fence line with polluting refineries, chemical plants, or waste dumps operated by multi-billion dollar corporations. Many of these communities also have homegrown heroes and heroines who have stood up to the powers that be and insisted, enough is enough! What Diamond has that other fenceline communities do not is a brilliant writer like Steve Lerner to tell its tale and cull the invaluable lessons for the rest of us. Diamond is a must-read for anyone concerned about the environment, civil rights, or their intersection in environmental justice.
Ken Cook, Environmental Working Group