Suit claims state favors Shintech

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 20, 1998

By Leonard Gray / L’Observateur / April 20, 1998

BATON ROUGE – Opponents of the proposed Shintech plant near Romeville in St. James Parish filed suit this week to disqualify state officials fromruling on pending air permits.

The suit was filed in the 19th Judicial District Court by the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic on behalf of local citizens. It alleges bias,prejudice and personal interest by Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality officials favorable toward Shintech.

This bias, the suit alleges, prevents officials from making a fair and impartial decision on the air permits.

The groups include the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN), St.

James Citizens for Jobs and the Environment and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

The groups earlier filed an environmental justice complaint with the U.S.Environmental Protection Agency, the first of its kind. That complaint hasyet to receive a hearing.

It is contended the addition of Shintech to a parish already said to be highly polluted next to a low-income, minority neighborhood is “environmental racism.” A decision is expected to be rendered on thatcomplaint by the EPA in early June.

This latest lawsuit contends more than 50 instances of bias and prejudice by the DEQ, including threats of investigations by Gov. Foster against plantopponents and the law clinic; the DEQ allegedly withholding evidence of onsite soil and groundwater pollution in an effort to enhance community relations; an extensive, taxpayer-financed effort by the DEQ to organize and assist Shintech’s supporters; Foster calling the clinic “vigilantes” and saying plant opposition thwarts the will of the people; DEQ staff referring to plant opponents as “little Hitlers” and “outside agitators”; public hearings scheduled without sufficient notice and at times when DEQ knew plant opponents would be unable to attend; creating more stringent standards for the filing of documents by citizen groups; rendering decisions on permit applications without adequately reviewing the records; arranging private meetings between Shintech and plant supporters while refusing to speak to opponents; and withholding 30 documents pertaining to the permit applications and private meetings with Shintech.

Pat Melancon, president of the St. James Citizens for Jobs and theEnvironment, commented: “The governor and the DEQ have made it clear that no person or organization better stand in the way of Shintech, and it is obvious that DEQ officials will not even consider denying the Shintech permits.”

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