ST. JAMES PARISH, La.— A federal judge has approved Formosa Plastics’ agreement not to start construction work on its massive petrochemical complex in St. James Parish, Louisiana after opponents filed a preliminary injunction on July 14 to block work on the site.
The company agreed Thursday afternoon not to build a construction dock on the Mississippi River or work near wetlands or five areas that may contain unmarked graves of formerly enslaved people.
The agreement will largely protect the site until the resolution of a lawsuit challenging federal approvals that was filed in January by the Center for Biological Diversity on behalf of RISE St. James, Healthy Gulf and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. The groups will next file a motion for summary judgment asking U.S. District Judge Randall Moss to invalidate permits issued last year by the Army Corps of Engineers.
“Now that Formosa Plastics has agreed not to disturb graves and wetlands on the site through February 2021, we can focus on this project’s deeply flawed approval process,” said Julie Teel Simmonds, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This plant would sicken local residents, degrade wetlands, fuel climate change and send plastic pollution into our rivers and oceans. It violates federal law and should never have been approved.”
The proposed facility would be one of the largest plastics plants in the world. The company, which is based in Taiwan, is building the plant in a predominantly Black district that has already been sickened by exposure to industrial air pollution, which this project would more than double.
“Americans have been shouting ‘Black lives matter,’ and we need Formosa, the Army Corps and local officials to listen,” said Sharon Lavigne, founder of RISE St. James. “They should listen to the people of St. James. Why should we sacrifice our homes, our land and our lives so this huge company can make money? They just aren’t concerned about people and it angers me.”
Louisiana residents are still dealing with a severe COVID-19 outbreak that has killed almost 3,500 Louisiana residents, about 52% of them African Americans, who have been disproportionately harmed by the pandemic. A Harvard School of Public Health study finds that even a slight increase in air pollution results in increased fatalities from COVID-19.
"Those of us protecting St. James Parish have thankfully put the brakes on this monster,” said Anne Rolfes with Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “Formosa would be one of the largest plastics plants on the continent, and the Army Corps failed to give this project the scrutiny it deserves. We will not allow St. James Parish to be destroyed for the sole purpose of enriching a company from Taiwan."
The plaintiffs initially noticed that Formosa had started construction on March 23, the first day of Louisiana’s statewide COVID-19 stay-at-home order. The company halted construction after its activities, including failure to follow social-distancing guidelines, were exposed by project opponents.
Formosa Plastics’ massive proposed petrochemical complex would contain 14 plants on a 2,500 acre site along the Mississippi River, just one mile from an elementary school. By turning fracked gas into vast amounts of single-use packaging and other throwaway plastic products, the project would also worsen climate change and the ocean plastic pollution crisis.
"Louisiana's economy runs on our history and culture, so I am glad to hear that Formosa will not disturb the historic sites and gravesites on the property. Over the past week, I have seen vehicle tracks on an area that must be investigated for historical significance. That must stop,” said Scott Eustis, community science director with Healthy Gulf. “Formosa has misled St James Parish about the risks of its plant, and its permits should be rescinded."
Louisiana groups and national environmental organizations filed two lawsuits challenging the Formosa Plastics project earlier this year, one over its federal permits, represented by the Center for Biological Diversity, and one over its state air permit, represented by Earthjustice. Opponents also uncovered records of unmarked graves of enslaved people on the site and have urged Formosa Plastics to protect them and for parish officials to reconsider their approval of the project.
The project would emit 800 tons of toxic air pollution each year, doubling toxic air emissions in St. James Parish and more than tripling the levels of cancer-causing chemicals in the region.
Among the pollutants the Formosa Plastics complex would emit are ethylene oxide, benzene and formaldehyde — all known carcinogens. It would also emit more than 13 million tons of carbon pollution each year.