Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Activists led by members of RISE St. James rally and march against Formosa Plastics' $12-billion Sunshine Project in St. James Parish, Louisiana in this undated photo. (Photo: Story Center/YouTube)

Activists led by members of RISE St. James and Louisiana Bucket Brigade rally and march against Formosa Plastics' $12-billion Sunshine Project in St. James Parish, Louisiana in this undated photo. (Photo: Story Center/YouTube) 

175 Groups Urge Banks Not to Fund Massive 'Cancer Alley' Chemical Plant in Louisiana

"We want clean air, water, and soil. It is incumbent on any responsible corporation to listen to our community and cease all business relationships with Formosa Plastics Group."

Brett Wilkins

Calling a planned petrochemical manufacturing complex in Louisiana's "Cancer Alley" a "textbook case of environmental racism," 175 organizations from around the world sent a letter to financial institutions Tuesday urging them not to fund, underwrite, or invest in the project, which could cost up to $12 billion. 

 "Formosa Plastics will destroy our land, our homes, and the lives of our community. We're saying enough is enough, and we're standing up for a better, cleaner future for ourselves and our children."
—Sharon Lavigne, 
RISE St. James

The letter—led by the faith-based grassroots group RISE St. James—says that Taiwan-based Formosa Plastics Group's 2,400-acre Sunshine Project, which is slated to be built in a vulnerable floodplain amid intensifying climate-driven hurricanes and tropical storms,"presents an unnecessary burden for our already-polluted community."

"We are fighting to protect ourselves from Formosa Plastics' disastrous environmental and human-rights record in the United States and around the world," the letter states.

Residents of St. James Parish—nearly half of whom are Black—and environmental advocates strongly oppose the plant, which, if built as planned, will release carcinogenic chemicals and, according to one environmental watchdog, produce 13.6 million tons of planet-heating emissions annually.

Formosa Plastics has also come under fire for failing to follow through on a promise to alter the plant's layout to lessen the exposure of nearby residents and schoolchildren to toxins, and for its failure to notify the community of the discovery of a burial ground for enslaved Black people. 

St. James Parish sits in the middle of an 85-mile stretch along the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge known as Cancer Alley or Death Alley due to its nearly 150 oil refineries and plastics and chemical plants.

According to data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the cancer risk in predominantly Black areas of St. James Parish is as high as 105 per million, compared with 60 to 75 cases per million in majority white areas. The EPA's Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators database reported an 800% cancer hazard increase due to petrochemical facilities in the parish between 2007 and 2018. 

The Sunshine Project has drawn the attention and condemnation of environmental and racial justice groupsUnited Nations human rights experts, progressive lawmakers, and others. Last month, Democratic U.S. Reps. Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.) and Donald McEachin (Va.) urged President Joe Biden to deliver on his campaign promises to reduce pollution in frontline communities by blocking the project. 

Signatories of the RISE St. James letter urged banks and asset managers to avoid financing, underwriting, or investing in Formosa Plastics projects, and to divest from the "serial environmental offender." 

The letter continues: 

In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, Formosa Plastics' plan to construct a facility that would double or triple the toxic levels of cancer-causing pollutants in communities in St. James Parish represents a stunning, potentially devastating increase in our community's environmental burden. In addition to elevating residents' risk of cancer, asthma, and other serious diseases, this increase in toxic air pollution places residents at a higher risk from respiratory infections including a higher risk of death from Covid-19.

Study after study has demonstrated inextricable links between air pollution exposure and Covid-19 death rates. As of July 2020, three out of Louisiana's five parishes with the highest Covid-19 death rates were located in Cancer Alley, including St. James Parish, with averages up to 3.8 times the state's median. Our community simply cannot afford more air pollution—our survival depends on it.

It notes that Formosa Plastics has been hit with over $650 million in fines and penalties for violations at more than a dozen facilities around the world, including a 2016 spill of cyanide and other deadly chemicals that devastated marine life and livelihoods along a 125-mile stretch of  the central Vietnamese coast—the country's worst-ever environmental catastrophe.

"High-profile disasters have caused at least two dozen deaths, dozens more injuries, and tens of thousands of disrupted lives and livelihoods from evacuations, shelter in place orders, and long-lasting damage to ecosystems that communities depend on," Tuesday's letter states. 

The letter urges its recipients to follow the examples of financiers and entities like Norway's Sovereign Wealth Fund that have divested from or rejected investment in Formosa Plastics. 

"Formosa Plastics is not welcome by the local people of St. James," the letter declares. "We want clean air, water, and soil. It is incumbent on any responsible corporation to listen to our community and cease all business relationships with Formosa Plastics Group and its constituent entities, to avoid any association with the severe and unjust impacts its operations would have on us."

Sharon Lavigne, founder and president of RISE St. James, said in a statement that "Formosa Plastics will destroy our land, our homes, and the lives of our community. We're saying enough is enough, and we're standing up for a better, cleaner future for ourselves and our children."

"Banks shouldn't finance this level of pollution," she added, "and if they want to show that they can be responsible then they need to say no to Formosa."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Please select a donation method:

With Amazon Accused of Cheating, NLRB Official Says Workers Should Get Another Union Vote

"Amazon cheated, they got caught, and they are being held accountable," said the head of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union.

Jake Johnson ·


Biden, Pelosi, and Schumer Told 'Stop Playing the Blame Game' and Extend Eviction Moratorium

"Who are the adults in the room?" asked the Sunrise Movement's advocacy director. "Do whatever it takes to extend the eviction moratorium and end this eviction emergency."

Jessica Corbett ·


Report Outlines 'Crucial' Need for Biden Administration to Aid Climate Refugees

"Ready solutions are available to address root causes and displacement that are centered in human rights and humanitarian protection."

Brett Wilkins ·


Hundreds Arrested in DC Demanding Voting Rights, End to Poverty, and Death of Filibuster

Clergy and low-wage workers with the Poor People's Campaign are also calling on Congress to treat the nation's immigrants with respect.

Jessica Corbett ·


'He Should Resign': Women's Rights Group Denounces Violent Misogyny of Kevin McCarthy

"With Kevin McCarthy voting against the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, it is clear that his comments are reflective of his deeply held beliefs about how women should be treated."

Brett Wilkins ·