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I.C. MURRELL — Industry has enough scares already

The air is a little different down here.

I noticed that when I first came to Port Arthur in August 2015.

It wasn’t in the smell, because I know what the smell of business — I won’t say money — is like. Growing up in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, the stench of paper mill production traveled west from the port side of town to the backwoods just north of the city border. There was not a darn thing the pine trees could do to filter it out.

These days, the stench is hardly noticeable. International Paper sold its mill there in 2006, and another paper mill operates closer to the backwoods where I grew up. The paper mill closer to my street isn’t quite as big a playmaker in the city’s economy as IP was, but it helps people stay employed and probably gives graduates from the nearby university much-needed employment.

That’s how one would want any industry to operate on a local basis.

Since being promoted to editor last year, I’ve written about the importance of business to Port Arthur many times in this spot. I’ve also heard the socioeconomic and environmental concerns of those who hold industry responsible, and I’ve written that on more than one occasion as well.

It’s hard to believe 11 months have passed since a petrochemicals factory in Port Neches exploded — twice — and rocked surrounding cities. The smoke plumed well into the Port Arthur sky and reached a community that was still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Harvey and the German Pellets fire, both of which occurred two years earlier.

I’ve never stood in such amazement over such dark plume during such a dark aftermath.

What became of that travesty, however?

Readings of elements I wouldn’t know where to find on an element table becoming a daily norm (if only for a few weeks, anyway), lots of research and interviews just to get a clue of how much the explosions impacted our neighborhoods.

Rightfully so, a community environment advocacy group has stood up and voiced out for those whose health may be compromised when unregulated substances come into our air.

In similar fashion, a legal team representing the advocacy group has intervened in a hearing over a Port Arthur petroleum coke factory’s recent motion to seal important documents from an arbitration hearing it won over a now-shuttered steam energy plant to which it delivered waste heat. At issue is whether data of sulfur dioxide emissions are being made available to the public.

Certainly, some elements we’d like to do without otherwise will come into our coastal air. On the other hand, what comes into the air should be monitored as much as how often we eat a bag of potato chips.

That’s the nature of doing business with the world through industry, and it’s a conundrum we’ve faced locally for more than a century.

That said — without endorsing or rejecting any presidential candidate or party — the idea of transitioning away from the oil industry was a scare not needed.

(In fairness, presidential candidate Joe Biden did clarify to The Washington Post he meant no federal subsidies to the industry would be distributed.)

Americans face enough conundrums as they head to the polls to see what government locally up to federally will look like in the coming weeks. Whether Donald Trump or Joe Biden comes out on top, let’s be very certain a well-regulated industry of any kind need not be abandoned at the stroke of a pen, just so an economic downtown can plague our community.

Texas is big enough to provide oil and gas energy as well as clean energy to those who need it. Our industries, as big an environmental and social responsibility they own, and the people they serve, have endured enough adversity in 2020.


I.C. Murrell is the editor of Port Arthur Newsmedia. He can be reached at 409-721-2435 or at

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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