ST. JAMES PARISH, La.— The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has issued a Clean Water Act permit for Formosa Plastics’ massive proposed plastic plant in St. James Parish, La. This federal permit authorizes the company to dredge and fill sensitive wetlands along the Mississippi River.
“Louisiana is in an existential crisis from land loss and climate change. It’s the definition of insanity to fill in coastal wetlands for a project that will make the climate change threat worse,” said Kendall Dix, a campaign organizer with Healthy Gulf. “Wetlands are essential for retaining rainwater where it falls. After the historic floods of 2019, any filling in of our wetlands is like fighting fire with gasoline.”
The permit comes despite strong local opposition to the project and a federal judge recently finding Formosa liable for polluting Texas waterways with massive amounts of plastic pellets and powder from its Point Comfort plant.
“We’re tired of being targeted with all this industrial pollution, and we’re not going to take it anymore. We’re going to rise up because we’ve got to do something about this,” said Sharon Lavigne, director of Rise St. James, which formed in opposition to this and other industrial projects proposed for the parish. “Our people have been dying left and right because they’re funneling all this pollution into our neighborhood. Our lives matter and we’re tired of being poisoned.”
Formosa’s plastic plant was approved by St. James Parish officials in December and still needs state air- and water-pollution discharge permits. Local groups have decried the project’s pollution and its location in a low-income, mostly African-American community where a high concentration of industrial polluters already threatens public health.
“The painful lesson of Hurricane Katrina is that we need our wetlands — every inch of them — to protect us. It makes no sense for the state of Louisiana to allow billion dollar companies like Formosa to destroy the wetlands that make it possible to live here,” said Anne Rolfes, director of Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “The lives of those of us in Louisiana are much more important than the plastic forks and knives that this needless plant would create.”
The Center for Biological Diversity and other national environmental groups support local environmental-justice concerns while also opposing the petrochemical industry’s plans to increase plastic production by 40 percent over the next decade. Formosa and other companies are turning the oversupply of fracked natural gas in the United States into plastic for single-use plastic packaging and consumer products.
“Destroying wetlands to build a massive plastic plant is a reckless move that will pollute neighborhoods and choke our waterways with plastic,” said Emily Jeffers, an attorney at the Center. “We’re not going to stand by and let the Trump administration fast-track petrochemical pollution without a fight. Ocean wildlife will pay a terrible price for the fossil fuel industry’s plan to turn fracked natural gas into a massive mountain of throwaway plastic.”
Formosa “intends to produce massive quantities of plastics that will exacerbate worldwide plastic pollution and climate change, emit toxic air pollutants, harm vulnerable communities, and further damage sensitive ecosystems,” the Center, Louisiana Bucket Brigade and Gulf Restoration Network wrote to the Army Corps on Sept. 28, 2018 in a formal comment letter opposing the project.