Black residents of Diamond win fight with Shell Chemical for relocation 1989-2002

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Timing
Time Period:  
1989
to
11 June
2002
Location and Goals
Country: 
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
Diamond, Louisiana
Location Description: 
The fenceline community of Diamond is located in Norco, Louisiana. Diamond refers to the four streets closest to the Shell Chemical plant.
Goals: 
To have Royal/Dutch Shell buyout all four streets of the Diamond, LA community.
 

In the early 1950s, Royal Dutch/Shell purchased land in the community of Diamond, Louisiana and built a chemical plant. Margie Richard, a Black resident of Diamond, founded Concerned Citizens of Norco (CCN) in 1989 after two large-scale accidents at the Shell/Motiva Chemical plant. A pipeline explosion in 1973 killed two Diamond residents, while another event in 1988 killed seven workers.

Diamond was the Black community within Norco, Louisiana and unlike its 98 percent white neighbor, residents of Diamond did not support Shell. Located in “Cancer Alley,” Diamond residents suffered from illnesses and diseases associated with the 156 industrial facilities that lined the Mississippi River. Richard created Concerned Citizens to bring attention to the environmental injustices that plagued her fenceline community.

Shell Chemical employed many residents from the white community, and to maintain community relations between Norco and Diamond, Shell hosted annual events, like the Shell/Norco neighborhood fair and “plant day.”. According to Richard, Shell only employed three percent of Diamond residents, and most worked janitorial jobs.

Many Diamond residents admitted fearing for their lives. In 1973, a gas leakage from the plant killed two local residents, Leroy Jones and Helen Washington. Jones started up a lawnmower that ignited the gas, engulfing him and Washington in flames. After the explosion, Richard slept in her clothes in case she had to run from an emergency in the middle of the night. Vernice Miller-Travis, a resident of Diamond, described the Shell/Diamond controversy as “a heinous thing...people are offered a choice between jobs and a shorter life.”

Richard led the group, whose core had approximately 12 Diamond residents, including some of her immediate family members. After a number of weekly meetings held at members’ homes, the group created the Community Organization Focus on a Practical Action Plan. The plan outlined CCN’s goal for Shell Chemical to fund the relocation of Diamond families by purchasing homes at market value.

Between 1970 and 2001, Shell purchased homes for approximately $27,000; the company preferred to deal with individual homeowners rather than groups. Residents complained they were being low balled and claimed homes directly outside of Norco were selling for nearly $110,000. Community members found it difficult to sell their homes because of their proximity to the refinery.

In 1993, 250 Diamond residents filed a lawsuit against Royal Dutch/Shell demanding relocation; however, the group’s attorney asked for monetary compensation at the 1997 trial and lost the case after only two weeks of testimony. Many residents blamed the attorney for the failed relocation lawsuit. After the trial, Beverly Wright, a member of CCN, hosted workshops titled “How to Choose a Lawyer.”

Other actions in 1993 included the Sierra Club’s toxic tour campaign of Diamond, which highlighted resident narratives. The largest tour involved approximately 50 visitors and occurred on a tour bus. During the tour, visitors stopped at the homes of residents to see first-hand what a fenceline community looked like. Throughout the years, other environmental organizations and community groups participated in toxic tours. The National Council of Churches of Christ visited in 1998, and the Sierra Club’s National Board toured in 1999. Ministers from the National Council recalled the “haunting sight of children playing in the shadow of the Shell complex.”

Maura Wood, an activist from the Sierra Club, secured a grant to teach Diamond residents how to become citizen scientists. The unofficial “bucket brigade” took air quality samples with DIY monitoring devices and sent the results to be tested at a lab. Wood also installed a video camera of the refinery to capture chemical flares. The “flarecam” live streamed to the Sierra Club’s website and depicted 15-minute flares. Community members received aid from other groups, such as the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), whose members visited Diamond prior to a December 1998 conference in Baton Rouge.

On 7 April 1999, Richard attended the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva, Switzerland with a grant from the Sierra Club. She testified in the U.S. Environmental Justice Delegation about the Shell/Diamond controversy and environmental racism. At the UN meeting, Richard wore buttons that read, “U.S. Environmental Racism Must Stop” and handed out over 500 leaflets explaining the controversy.

During 1999, Richard also testified before Congress and pushed for equitable environmental legislation under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Richard founded the National Black Environmental Justice Network (NBEJN) in December 1999 at an emergency strategic meeting of Black scholars and activists; this network increased awareness about environmental racism and secured economic justice and civil rights for Black Americans.

Environmental justice activist Anne Rolfes founded the Louisiana Bucket Brigade in 1999 to gather data for a yearlong study sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). With aid from Rolfes and the Subra Company, citizen scientists found 20 different chemicals in their samples. Two Motiva officials and a representative from Loyola University included the results in a report on accidental releases.

On 5 November 1999, CCN released the “Shell Norco Toxic Neighbor” report that called out polluting industries in Texas and Louisiana. The release coincided with an EPA-sponsored meeting at the downtown New Orleans, LA Holiday Inn, during which Rolfes booked a large conference room for fenceline activists. Scientists, activists, Diamond residents, environmental organizations, and high-ranking Shell officials attended.

During the conference lunch break, activists held a press conference in the reserved room with coverage from local newspapers and television stations. The Times-Picayune published the story on its front page the next day. Rolfes remembered “Shell people were huddling; they ran into this room and...were talking and fuming.”

The Toxic Neighbor report outlined recommendations, such as: more refinery tours, coalition building with residents and community organizations, and increased employment opportunities for residents. In addition, approximately 75 residents revived requests to be relocated; they asked Shell to purchase their homes at market value and relocate families as a group. At the end of the meeting, Shell and Motiva officials agreed to hire more Diamond residents and improve outreach efforts in Diamond; however the officials reasserted that their current buyout procedure was adequate.

Although Royal/Dutch Shell did not employ violently repressive tactics, many people believed they used exclusivity and intimidation to dissuade Diamond residents from pursuing the company. In July 2000, Shell held an invitation only meeting that excluded Concerned Citizens of Norco’s vice president, Rosemary Brown. During a 22 August 2000 news report featuring Richards, numerous cars parked outside her home and a police car drove by at least three times.

Shell’s first formal offer to relocate two streets of Diamond occurred on 17 September 2000. The offer constituted a small victory since half of the community didn’t qualify for the buyout. Residents were unhappy with the exception and the low prices offered by the company. On 2 October 2000, Rolfes wrote a critical report that addressed Shell’s buyout policy; it specifically called out the Motiva manager by including a picture of his home on the back page, which was far from Diamond. The report also included narratives from three Diamond residents and outlined the Diamond subdivision and property records.

After CCN and Communities for a Better Environment published a report titled “Shell Games”, Shell raised its buyout price from $26,000 per home to a minimum of $50,000. Additionally, residents hosted a press conference on the plant fenceline. Denny Larson, a toxics activists, explained they “were sending a message directly to him [the Motiva manager]...that these guys are playing hardball, they are making it personal, and they’ve got my address.” The 16-page report demonstrated Shell’s tumultuous and unstable relationship with Diamond residents.

Larson publicized a 1 November 2000 debate in the St. Charles Herald Guide. He challenged Shell officials to a faceoff with CCN regarding the company’s contested buyout plan. Shell declined the invite, and residents hosted the one-sided debate without the company. To keep Diamond’s story alive, Larson contributed to 61 stories about the controversy in various newspapers, magazines, and television broadcasts. In spring 2001, Rolfes funded a community gathering to celebrate Diamond’s work against Shell. At the “Celebrate and Agitate” event, CCN members honored older residents through limousine rides across the neighborhood.

The help of Danny Larson and Anne Rolfe proved useful when Shell spokesman David Brignac released a statement in the early 2000s. He believed Rolfe was adept at working with the community and stated that “in terms of getting us to work with the community she has been real helpful.” Brignac’s statement demonstrated that the community’s efforts affected Royal Dutch/Shell decision making processes.

On 20 November 2000, Richard received funding from Amit Srivastava of CorpWatch to attend the UN climate treaty negotiations (COP6) in The Hague. Richard took advantage of her trip to the Netherlands to visit the Royal Dutch/Shell headquarters and meet with the Shell director to convince the company to relocate Diamond. A documentary film crew accompanied Richard on her trip. At the end of Shell’s presentation at the conference, Richard pushed the Diamond controversy into the spotlight. She waved a bag of polluted air from a Shell fenceline community in Nigeria and asked officials if they wanted to breathe the air in the bag.

At the 20 November conference, Richard successfully gained the attention of Shell corporate officials. She spoke with the Shell Climate Change Manager, Robert Kleiburg, and asked him, “what are you going to do about Diamond?” Two weeks after the conference, Titus Moser, a top Shell official from London, visited her trailer. On 11 June 2002, Royal/Dutch Shell agreed to buyout Diamond.

Shell offered to buyout 350-400 residents, which included 160 houses and mobile homes and 30 vacant lots. The company planned to relocate all four streets of the Diamond community and pay residents a minimum of $80,000 for their homes; Shell offered trailer owners a minimum of $50,000. For residents who did not want to relocate, the company offered home-improvement loans. Overall, Royal/Dutch Shell spent $30 million on the Diamond buyout.

Research Notes
Sources: 
Anon. (ND). “Who we are.” Web site: National Black Environmental Justice Network. Retrieved 29 March 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170330033424/http://www.nbejn.org/who.html).

Anon. (ND). “What we do.” Web site: National Black Environmental Justice Network. Retrieved 29 March 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170330033453/http://www.nbejn.org/what.html).

Anon. (2000). “Norco citizen heads to Shell headquarters in Holland: Plans to face Shell director.” Web site: Louisiana Bucket Brigade. Retrieved 29 March 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170330033502/http://www.labucketbrigade.org/blog/norco-citizen-heads-shell-headquarters-holland-plans-face-shell-director).

Biers, John M. (1999). “EPA puts La., Texas chemical plants on notice” The Times-Picayune. 6 November 1999. Web site: News Bank. Retrieved 28 March 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170330033609/http://www.labucketbrigade.org/sites/default/files/1999_nov6.pdf ).

Dorceta, Taylor E. (2014). Toxic Communities: Environmental Racism, Industrial Pollution, and Residential Mobility. New York, NY: New York University Press.

Dunne, Mike. (1999). “Norco residents want Shell/Motiva to buy them out.” The Advocate. 5 November 1999. Web site: Louisiana Bucket Brigade. Retrieved 28 March 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170330033631/http://www.labucketbrigade.org/sites/default/files/nov5_99.pdf).

Gale, Thomson. (2007). “Margie Eugene-Richard” 21 June 2007. Web site: Encyclopedia. Retrieved 28 March 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170330033512/http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/eugene-richard-margie).

Konigsmark, Anne R. (1999). “Louisiana residents want oil giant to buy out homes.” Cox Newspapers. 4 November 1999. Web site: Louisiana Bucket Brigade. Retrieved March 28 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170330033711/http://www.labucketbrigade.org/sites/default/files/nov4_99.pdf).

Lerner, Steve. (2006). Diamond: A Struggle for Environmental Justice in Louisiana’s Chemical Corridor. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Rolfe, Anne. (2000). NP. “Shell Games: Divide and Conquer the Diamond Community.” 2 October 2000. Web site: Amazon S3. Retrieved 29 March 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170330033726/http://s3.amazonaws.com/corpwatch.org/downloads/norco.pdf).

Rosen, Ruth. (2005). “The Toxic Terror of Diamond, Louisiana.” 20 February 2005. Web site: Alternet. Retrieved 28 March 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170330033524/http://www.alternet.org/story/21286/the_toxic_terror_of_diamond,_louisiana).

Swerczek, Mary and John M. Biers. (1999). “”Report: Shell should reach out to Norco.” The Times-Picayune. 5 November 1999. Web site: Louisiana Bucket Brigade. Retrieved 28 March 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170330033744/http://www.labucketbrigade.org/sites/default/files/Nov_6_99.pdf).

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Shayla Smith 29/03/2017