Formosa protest

The faith-based environmental group RISE St. James, which opposes the Formosa Plastics complex planned for St. James Parish, Louisiana, was founded by Sharon Lavigne, a 2021 recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize.

(Photo: Goldman Environmental Foundation)

'Victory for Environmental Justice': Review Ordered for Proposed Cancer Alley Plastics Complex

"I am hopeful that this is the nail in the coffin of Formosa Plastics in St. James Parish," said the head of Louisiana Bucket Brigade.

Environmental justice and climate campaigners celebrated after a federal official on Wednesday ordered a detailed review of the impacts of a massive Formosa Plastics complex set to be built on over 2,000 acres in an area of Louisiana long known as "Cancer Alley."

"Today's announcement is the ultimate David v. Goliath victory."
--Anne Rolfes, Louisiana Bucket Brigade

"Today's announcement is the ultimate David v. Goliath victory," declared Anne Rolfes, executive director of Louisiana Bucket Brigade. "We were not scared of Formosa Plastics and its $9 billion project, or the fact that our governor has been cheering for Formosa all along."

"St. James Parish residents are the ones who have shown leadership and wisdom," Rolfes continued, calling the order for an environmental impact statement (EIS) of what would be one of the world's biggest plastics plants "common sense."

"Our state and federal officials should have demanded it from the outset," she added. "I am hopeful that this is the nail in the coffin of Formosa Plastics in St. James Parish. And don't try to build somewhere else. Pack up and go home."

The directive for an EIS--long demanded by local groups representing Black and low-income communities that would be affected by the $9.4 billion petrochemical project, which a global credit rating agency said last year could cost up to $12 billion--comes after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suspended a permit for it in November following a legal challenge.

The Associated Pressreports that "Jaime Pinkham, the Army's acting assistant secretary for civil works, ordered the review after a virtual meeting with opponents of a Corps wetlands permit that allowed Formosa Plastics Group member FG LA LLC to build 10 chemical plants and four other major facilities on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans."

Pinkham, in a two-page memo on Wednesday, wrote that "as a result of information received to date and my commitment for the Army to be a leader in the federal government's efforts to ensure thorough environmental analysis and meaningful community outreach, I conclude an EIS process is warranted to thoroughly review areas of concern, particularly those with environmental justice implications."

"The tweet and accompanying letter from the acting assistant secretary of the Army posted today online provide little detail on EIS procedure the Corps intends to use in its additional evaluation of the project," Janile Parks, a spokesperson for FG LA LLC, told The Advocate on Wednesday. "As a result, the company will continue to work with the Corps as we receive more guidance on the additional evaluation and has no further comment at this time."

Sharon Lavigne of the local faith-based group RISE St. James said in a statement responding to Pinkham's memo that "the Army Corps has finally heard our pleas and understands our pain. With God's help, Formosa Plastics will soon pull out of our community."

"The Army Corps has finally heard our pleas and understands our pain."
--Sharon Lavigne, RISE St. James

"Nobody took it upon themselves to speak for St. James Parish until we started working to stop Formosa Plastics," added Lavigne, who earlier this year was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for her advocacy work. "Now the world is watching this important victory for environmental justice."

Previous analyses have shown the local and global effects of the complex, which would emit 13.6 million metric tons of greenhouse gases and hundreds of tons of toxic air pollutants annually.

The Center for Biological Diversity highlighted that in addition to ignoring the project's water, air, climate, and health impacts, the Corps "failed to properly evaluate and protect burial sites of enslaved people discovered on the property."

"This long-overdue review will show the unacceptable harm Formosa Plastics' massive petrochemical complex would inflict on this community, our waterways, and our climate," Julie Teel Simmonds, a senior attorney at the center, said of the forthcoming EIS.

"This terrible project shouldn't have been rubber-stamped and it should never be built," she added. "Climate action and environmental justice mean we have to stop sacrificing communities and a healthy environment just to make throwaway plastic."

Myrtle Felton, director of Inclusive Louisiana, noted that "our region is already full of toxic, polluting plants."

"If Formosa Plastics is allowed to build, it will be a death sentence for us," Felton said. "We can't breathe already so we say no to Formosa and its pollution."

Jane Patton, a campaign manager for the Center for International Environmental Law, put Formosa's so-called "Sunshine Project" in the context of environmental justice issues on a national scale.

"The race to massively expand plastics and petrochemical infrastructure is putting communities across the U.S. at risk, with disproportionate and overwhelming impacts on communities of color," Patton toldDeSmog. "The Army Corps of Engineers' initial approval of the Formosa Plastics megacomplex in St. James without adequately assessing these or other impacts was a grave mistake. It should be the last such mistake."

"In the end, we expect the Army Corps of Engineers to uphold their obligations to human rights and environmental justice by revoking Formosa's permit, once and for all," Patton added, "and by ensuring that other proposed facilities that could create similar risks are never approved."

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