By Sherry Koonce
The News staff writer
From the moment Lauren Cerre stepped off the big Greyhound bus in Port Arthur, her nose for news got a good whiff of the city that lives and breathes in the shadow of the petrochemical industry.
The 25-year-old journalist from San Francisco was in Port Arthur this week to capture the concerns of young people across America. In Port Arthur, she interviewed young people, ages 18 to 25, on a variety of topics including air pollution in a city that is experiencing one of the largest industrial boons in the nation.
“From the taxi driver to the store clerk at the convenience store, everyone is aware the odor and air quality of Port Arthur. It’s just a matter of how they deal with it,” Cerre said during a telephone interview Thursday.
Port Arthur is one of 10 U.S. cities included in Current TV’s Vanguard Special, “The Great American Detour.” The show will air on Current TV in early October at a yet-to-be-determined date.
Launched in 2005, Current TV was created by Al Gore and Joel Hyatt. It can be viewed online at www.current.com as well as on cable.
During the 10-city, 2,289 mile broadcast from California to New York City, Cerre rode the Greyhound bus to save money, reduce fuel consumption and to take a voyage with a growing population of Americans forced to cut back in spending and consumption.
“We wanted to come to Port Arthur because of the pollution and environmental concerns we have heard about,” she said.
Hilton Kelley, local environmental activist and director of Community In-Power Development Association, provided a tour of the city, and introduced Cerre to some of Port Arthur’s young people.
Kelley said it was exciting to be selected for the show, and views the broadcast as a positive for the city.
“It will show that Port Arthur is being very progressive in cleaning up the environment, how people are concerned about what we are breathing and how industry is stepping up to the plate and working with City Council and our organization to address some of the concerns we have when it comes to environmental cleanliness,” Kelley said.
While here, Cerre talked with a group of young people about air quality issues, and their view of living in a city so rooted in the petrochemical industry.
“We learned the refinery is an enormous presence here. It is a provider of a lot a jobs, and has an enormous physical appearance in town,” Cerre said. “The glow of the refinery at night was an inexperience I have not had before.”
In addition to the refineries, Cerre talked with Port Arthur’s young people about other issues such as health care, the economy and the war in Iraq.
“With the enormous election just months away and extremely high gas prices, it is an important time to get a sense of the mood of young Americans,” she said.
During her visit, Cerre said she did have an opportunity to sample the region’s food.
“Being a fish lover from California, I don’t think I realized the south is know for fish. The fish here was just amazing. In fact, we missed our bus because we were eating Cajun food in Port Arthur,” she said.
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