Letter to the Editor: Toxic chemical plants and hurricanes don’t mix

Published 1:40 am Saturday, January 22, 2022

 

In 2020, Louisiana was impacted by five storms, and last year we had three–one of which was a Category 4. Media and those who have spent years studying these storms often use the conclusion of each season as some sort of benchmark. Headlines begin to read out as “Fourth costliest hurricane season of all time,” and “The sixth straight busier-than-normal Atlantic hurricane season is over.” You see, Louisiana is our home and we wouldn’t change it for the world. But we can’t ignore the fact that our weather is changing and Louisiana has one of the highest density regions of petrochemical plants and oil and gas refineries in the country. So, despite the season-ending, the danger is never really over.

Hurricane Harvey came in 2017, Laura came in 2020 and Ida came in 2021. All three storms hit the Gulf region and left dangerous pollution and destruction in their wake. A chlorine plant caught fire in Westlake after Laura. After Harvey, half a billion gallons of industrial wastewater mixed with stormwater surged out of a chemical plant in Texas. A plastic plant in Plaquemine lost power in Ida’s aftermath and emitted toxic ethylene dichloride.

What some people don’t know is that danger doesn’t just happen during storms. Just like the rest of us, petrochemical plants and oil and gas facilities have to prepare for these storms. They go into a shutdown mode which means they burn off extra toxic chemicals in order to clear their pipes and then again when they turn them back on. A giant plastics plant in Texas released about 1.3 million pounds of excess emissions, including toxic gases like benzene, when it restarted after Harvey. That plant is operated by Formosa Plastics, the same company that is planning a $9.4 billion chemical plant on the West Bank in the community of St. James and near the East Bank community of Convent.

Right about now, you may be asking yourself, “Why are we still building these dangerous, toxic plants and refineries in the middle of hurricane country?” Well, the answer probably won’t surprise you.

Our policymakers continue to offer the most generous tax breaks in the nation to oil, gas and chemical industries. This is happening even as promised new jobs fail to materialize and utilities, refineries and chemical plants lay off workers, many of whom do not even live in St. James Parish. Formosa’s St. James Parish proposal is counting on these tax breaks and hinges on the promise of a 100 % state property tax abatement for 10 years, a massive loss of revenue for St. James Parish.

No one needs a fancy degree or a title to know that toxic chemical plants and hurricanes don’t mix. Louisiana is our home by birth and it is others by choice. Let’s invest in ourselves and our future by not relying on a single, dying industry but rather diversifying our economy for a cleaner future. We may not be able to stop the hurricanes but we can stop Formosa Plastics. Let’s invest in our community of Convent and all communities within the Ascension Parish line to the St. John the Baptist Parish line and bring back clean water, air and soil. Louisiana must support industries that promote safety and improve public health – especially with our extreme weather already at play. We live in one of the most hurricane-prone states in America. It is irresponsible, reckless and negligent to continue building toxic chemical plants and refineries in a state that has been repeatedly destroyed and polluted. Tell the St. James Parish Council that we don’t need another toxic plant or refinery. What we need is a future.

 

Gail LeBoeuf, Myrtle Felton and Barbara Washington

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