Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Dear Common Dreams Readers:
Corporations and billionaires have their own media. Shouldn't we? When you “follow the money” that funds our independent journalism, it all leads back to this: people like you. Our supporters are what allows us to produce journalism in the public interest that is beholden only to people, our planet, and the common good. Please support our Mid-Year Campaign so that we always have a newsroom for the people that is funded by the people. Thank you for your support. --Jon Queally, managing editor

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

Sharon Lavigne

RISE St. James founder and president Sharon Lavigne, who is among this year's winners of the Goldman Environmental Prize. (Photo: Goldman Environmental Foundation)

Frontline Foe of Formosa Plastics Plant in 'Cancer Alley' Among 2021 Winners of 'Green Nobels'

Sharon Lavigne, the North American recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize, is being recognized for stopping construction of a plastics manufacturing plant in her Louisiana community.

Andrea Germanos

Environmental justice activist Sharon Lavigne, who led a successful grassroots campaign to block a toxic plastics manufacturing plant in her Louisiana community, is this year's North American winner of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize.

The awards, sometimes referred to as the Green Nobels, were announced Tuesday to recognize "grassroots environmental heroes" on each of the planet's inhabited continents who have exhibited "sustained and significant efforts to protect and enhance the natural environment, often at great personal risk."

"Sharon is in an intense, ongoing fight for the life of her community and our planet."

Lavigne is a former special education teacher and founder and president of the faith-based grassroots group RISE St. James. The St. James Parish is located in a predominantly Black area along the Mississippi River known as "cancer alley"—a nickname in reference to the human impact of the toxic industries that have polluted, and are slating to continue polluting, the surrounding communities.

The 69-year-old has been leading efforts against such environmental racism, and Goldman recognized her advocacy to successfully stop the Wanhua plastics complex. As a statement from Goldman notes, St. James Parish Council gave the plant zoning approval, even though it would have produced "hundreds of tons of methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI)—a chemical used in the production of foam. MDI affects respiratory function in humans and is found to produce tumors in rats." It would also have released "carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, formaldehyde, benzene, and other toxic pollutants into the environment—directly next to residential neighborhoods and the Mississippi River."

By leading what the prize called "a master class in campaigning for environmental justice," including forming alliances with other environmental and climate justice organizations, Wanhua withdrew the project.

But, as she and her allies stress, the battle to stop the community from continuing to be a sacrifice zone to benefit polluting industries. At the center of that struggle is stopping Taiwan-based Formosa Plastics Group from building a $9.4 billion petrochemical plant.

Lavigne's group along with allies Louisiana Bucket Brigade and Healthy Gulf, filed a federal lawsuit last year to stop the plant, triggering a construction delay.

Following the award announcement, Lavigne's allies sang her praises and referenced her determination.

"When the governor of Louisiana came to St. James Parish and announced Formosa Plastics was coming to town, Sharon Lavigne was brave enough to stand up and say no. Sharon had a different vision for her historic Black community," Anne Rolfes, director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, said in a statement. 

"When parish officials told her that Formosa was a done deal, she insisted that it was not," Rolfes added. "Her leadership, courage, and vision are rewarded today by the Goldman Prize. And she would be the first to say that this is just the beginning. The fight has just begun.”

"These phenomenal environmental champions remind us what can be accomplished when we fight back and refuse to accept powerlessness and environmental degradation."

Julie Teel Simmonds, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, which represented the groups fighting Formosa Plastics, also celebrated Lavigne's achievement.

“Sharon is in an intense, ongoing fight for the life of her community and our planet," she said. "Sharon has battled through pollution-related illness and the loss of loved ones, and she keeps faithfully fighting environmental racism. Under the leadership of this amazing woman, we're going to stop Formosa Plastics and advance environmental justice in this country.”

Other Goldman Prize winners this year include Gloria Majiga-Kamoto of Malawi for fighting against plastics pollution; pangolin advocate Thai Van Nguyen of Vietnam; dam opponent Maida Bilal of Bosnia and Herzegovina; anti-coal activist Kimiko Hirata of Japan; and conservation champion Liz Chicaje Churay of Peru.

"These Prize winners," said Goldman Environmental Foundation vice president Susie Gelman, "have so much to teach us about the path forward and how to maintain the balance with nature that is key to our survival. These phenomenal environmental champions remind us what can be accomplished when we fight back and refuse to accept powerlessness and environmental degradation."

"They have not been silenced—despite great risks and personal hardship—and we must also not be silent, either. It takes all of us," added Gelman.


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

"I'm sure this will be all over the corporate media, right?"
That’s what one longtime Common Dreams reader said yesterday after the newsroom reported on new research showing how corporate price gouging surged to a nearly 70-year high in 2021. While major broadcasters, newspapers, and other outlets continue to carry water for their corporate advertisers when they report on issues like inflation, economic inequality, and the climate emergency, our independence empowers us to provide you stories and perspectives that powerful interests don’t want you to have. But this independence is only possible because of support from readers like you. You make the difference. If our support dries up, so will we. Our crucial Mid-Year Campaign is now underway and we are in emergency mode to make sure we raise the necessary funds so that every day we can bring you the stories that corporate, for-profit outlets ignore and neglect. Please, if you can, support Common Dreams today.

 

Abortion Rights Defenders Applaud Judge's Block on Utah 'Trigger Ban'

"Today is a win, but it is only the first step in what will undoubtedly be a long and difficult fight," said one pro-choice advocate.

Brett Wilkins ·


Scores Feared Dead and Wounded as Russian Missiles Hit Ukraine Shopping Center

"People just burned alive," said Ukraine's interior minister, while the head of the Poltava region stated that "it is too early to talk about the final number of the killed."

Brett Wilkins ·


Biodiversity Risks Could Persist for Decades After Global Temperature Peak

One study co-author said the findings "should act as a wake-up call that delaying emissions cuts will mean a temperature overshoot that comes at an astronomical cost to nature and humans that unproven negative emission technologies cannot simply reverse."

Jessica Corbett ·


Amnesty Report Demands Biden Take Action to End Death Penalty

"The world is waiting for the USA to do what almost 100 countries have achieved during this past half-century—total abolition of the death penalty," said the group.

Julia Conley ·


Pointing to 'Recently Obtained Evidence,' Jan. 6 Panel Calls Surprise Tuesday Hearing

The announcement came less than a week after the House panel delayed new hearings until next month, citing a "deluge" of fresh evidence.

Common Dreams staff ·

Common Dreams Logo