Opposing Viewpoints (The Formosa Project, Part 1 of 2): Louisiana Bucket Brigade – St. James residents oppose Formosa project

Published 5:30 pm Tuesday, January 14, 2020

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(Click here for the opposing view in Part 2 of 2)

The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality recently issued air-pollution permits for a massive petrochemical complex that Formosa Plastics wants to build in St. James Parish.

The permit allows Formosa to release thousands of tons of toxic air pollutants every year, more than doubling the air pollution for all industrial facilities in an area already known as “Cancer Alley” because of health problems related to industrial pollution. Formosa could also emit up to 13 million tons of greenhouse gases annually, the equivalent of three coal-fired power plants.

“The state of Louisiana is wholly unprepared to provide proper oversight of this monster,” said Anne Rolfes of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “This approval signals that our state government is willing to sacrifice our health, our clean air and water to cheap plastics. The good news is that we the people do not accept this decision. The fight has just begun.”

Formosa proposes to build one of the world’s largest plants for turning ethane from the country’s oversupply of fracked gas into plastic pellets, much of which will be turned into single-use plastic packaging. A federal judge in Texas found Formosa liable for polluting Texas waterways with billions of plastic pellets, calling the company a “serial offender” and in December approving a record $50 million legal settlement.

“We are fighting to protect our homes and our families from this monster, Formosa,” said Sharon Lavigne, president of RISE St. James. “We are not going to stop because of this bad decision by the state to grant air permits. We will work harder because we see that the state isn’t doing its job of protecting us. I believe it in my heart that Formosa is not coming here.”

These plastic plants can emit more than 100 different chemicals, including hazardous air pollutants like benzene, butadiene, acetaldehyde, and ethylene oxide, which are known to cause serious health problems. Air pollution from petrochemical facilities can lead to chronic conditions such as lung cancer, brain damage, and liver and kidney damage.

“This is a sad day for Louisianans. Formosa has a track record of polluting the environment and harming the communities surrounding their facilities,” said Raleigh Hoke, campaign director for Healthy Gulf. “We will continue to fight to ensure the state of Louisiana protects its residents over this international corporation.”

Formosa’s project is part of the industry’s plan to steeply increase U.S. plastic production over the next decade. More than 300 new petrochemical industry projects have been proposed since 2010, most of them in poor communities and communities of color along the Gulf Coast and in Appalachia.

“Louisiana is harming its own residents by inviting Formosa Plastics’ rampant pollution,” said Julie Teel Simmonds, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “St. James Parish will endure unacceptable pollution levels just so Formosa can create more throwaway plastic. This project is a travesty, and we stand with the local community in opposing it.”

The Louisiana Bucket Brigade is a nonprofit environmental health and justice organization based in New Orleans. RISE St. James is a faith-based organization fighting for the removal of harmful petrochemicals in the land, air, water and bodies, of the people of St. James Parish.