ST. JAMES, LOUISIANA -- The State of Louisiana again affirmed that profits for out-of-state petrochemical companies come before the health of its most vulnerable residents. The Department of Natural Resources announced today that it has approved the coastal use permit for the construction of the Formosa Plastics plant in the 5th District of St. James Parish.
The 5th District sits in Cancer Alley, an area on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans known for its high cancer rates among its poor and black residents who have been targeted for industrial development. Formosa, a Taiwanese company with a long and well-documented history of pollution in Baton Rouge, Texas, Taiwan, and Vietnam, did not submit a single proposed alternative site in a non-black neighborhood.
The plant has faced fierce opposition from local residents who have been fighting against petrochemical development since the term “Cancer Alley” was first coined in the 1980s. Rise St. James, a local faith-based group opposed to the Formosa plant, recently hosted a revival headlined by Rev. Dr. William Barber that attracted hundreds of local residents.
“I’m highly disappointed because the authorities issuing these permits don’t care about the people who live in St. James,” said Sharon Lavigne, founder and director of Rise St. James. “People are suffering and we’re asking for help, but it seems like wealthy people and those in charge don’t care. They are only concerned about what they can get out of it.
“These are lives. These are human beings. God made us just like he made the people making these decisions,” Lavigne said. “It angers me because they grant these permits knowing that the people in the 5th District spoke out against the plant but they approved it anyway.“
At the hearing for the coastal use permit on December 6, dozens of people spoke out against the plant, with only one person speaking in favor of the plant. Formosa still needs approval from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) for its air discharge and Louisiana Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits. Ethane crackers like the proposed Formosa Plant are known for releasing a variety of cancer-causing toxins into the air. LDEQ has yet to release the public notice for the comment period or hearing for either the air or wastewater discharge permits.
The Formosa plant is part of a push to turn the byproducts of natural gas extraction into plastic feedstocks for single-use plastic packaging and consumer products. The fossil fuel industry plans to increase plastic production by 40 percent over the next decade, adding to the growing ocean plastic pollution crisis.
“It’s disappointing that Louisiana isn’t protecting its residents or environment from toxic pollution. Formosa is harming local communities as it makes more plastic that will end up in our oceans,” said Emily Jeffers, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Whales, sea turtles, dolphins and migratory birds in the Gulf and around the world are already choking on plastic pollution. This plant and others like it will only add to the crisis of plastic collecting in our oceans, landscapes and landfills."
Formosa will be gifted $1.5 billion in tax breaks for its new plastics plant through the controversial Industrial Tax Exemption Permit. But with plastic products being banned in Europe and municipalities across the U.S., the demand for Formosa’s output is likely to decline over time.
The plant will destroy more than 100 acres of wetlands, making flooding worse and increasing the risk of a chemical spill during a natural disaster. As a greenhouse gas emitter, Formosa will worsen climate change and increase the likelihood of devastating hurricanes. The Formosa project is therefore incompatible with the state’s $50 billion master plan to slow down the loss of its coast.
The Formosa project is also in violation of the State Constitution of Louisiana. Article IX, Section 1 states, “The natural resources of the state, including air and water, and the healthful, scenic, historic, and esthetic quality of the environment shall be protected, conserved, and replenished insofar as possible and consistent with the health, safety, and welfare of the people.”
Founded in 1994, Healthy Gulf aka Gulf Restoration Network is a nonprofit focused on empowering people to protect and restore the natural resources of the Gulf of Mexico region.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.