Neighborhood already home to many energy projects fears potential effects of proposed giant methanol plant

Originally published on Al Jazeera America – April 14, 2015

***This is the second in a three-part series on China’s inroads in Texas’ energy industry. The first part investigates the links between former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and the Chinese officials behind the proposed project. The third looks at Beijing’s recent push to “hunt down” escaped Chinese officials in the United States. ‘China’s Texas Hold ’em’ follows another series on another push by Chinese politician-investors and U.S. officials for a methanol plant in a predominantly black neighborhood of St. James Parish, Louisiana.

TEXAS CITY, Texas — Renetta Trylas had not heard about plans to build one of the world’s largest methanol plants less than 3 miles from her neighborhood, even though it has been more than six months since the land was leased by Chinese entrepreneurs behind the project.

Trylas, a 52-year-old black woman, blames the petrochemical plants and refineries that are already in her predominantly black, low-income enclave of Texas City for what she calls rampant public health concerns, including the cancer that has ravaged many of her loved ones. Situated on the Gulf of Mexico, Texas City offers plants a deep-water port and cheap production costs.

When a new plant is built or malfunctions, she said, she and her neighbors seem to be the last to find out. And they often learn about what she calls the fallout from the plants at the doctor’s office, she added.

“I guess it’s ’cause we’re poor and black that we’re dropping off like flies ’cause of cancer,” she said after being told about the proposed methanol plant at nearby Shoal Point. “American plants kill us now. I’ll be damned if a Chinese plant’s gonna come here too.”

Trylas said she has a lump in her breast that doctors told her could be cancerous. She still hasn’t had a biopsy because she can’t pay for treatment if turns out to be breast cancer.

White residents make up a majority of Texas City’s population, according to recent census data, followed by Latinos. Plants flank much of the port of Texas City, including Trylas’ century-old black community, which was settled just after the Civil War by newly freed former slaves and cowboys. A more affluent, majority-white part of the city is home to a flurry of mini-malls, franchises and chain stores, including Starbucks.

Should Fund Connell USA Energy and Chemical Investment Corp. — a Delaware-incorporated enterprise of Chinese politician-entrepreneurs Song Zhiping and Zhang Jun — decide not to build the plant in Texas City, according to local media reports, it has eyed an alternative location in Donaldsonville, Louisiana, another predominantly black community, which after the Civil War was one of the largest African-American communities in the United States.

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