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Sharon Lavigne

Sharon Lavigne, founder of community group RISE St. James in Louisiana, was the 2021 Goldman Environmental Prize winner for North America. (Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize)

Locals Celebrate 'Tremendous Victory' Against South Louisiana Methanol Petrochemical Complex

The company "finally threw in the towel having learned that our community will not back down in the fight to protect our health and well-being from more industrial pollution," said Sharon Lavigne of RISE St. James.

Jessica Corbett

Community organizers and their supporters are celebrating that after years of local resistance, South Louisiana Methanol won't complete a stalled $2.2 billion petrochemical complex in a region known as "Cancer Alley."

"It took hundreds of residents banding together to force LDEQ to recognize how overburdened the community is with industrial pollution, and to show polluters that we will not accept another plant moving in."

In a statement Friday, the environmental law organization Earthjustice and groups it has represented in challenges to the project—RISE St. James, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Healthy Gulf, and Sierra Club—highlighted a letter to the company from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ).

As the letter details, the LDEQ in July notified South Louisiana Methanol (SLM) that its application to modify permits for the complex in St. James Parish would be withdrawn from review unless the company provided the department with necessary information by August 19.

"No response from SLM was received. Accordingly, LDEQ hereby withdraws the aforementioned application from review," the letter states, adding that new authorization would be required to start or resume construction.

Corinne Van Dalen, senior attorney at Earthjustice, noted Friday that "St. James Parish was targeted by a petrochemical industry accustomed to breezing through the permitting process that has ignored community concerns and allowed toxic plants to move into predominantly Black neighborhoods."

Sharon Lavigne, founder of RISE St. James and a winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize, declared that "South Louisiana Methanol finally threw in the towel having learned that our community will not back down in the fight to protect our health and well-being from more industrial pollution."

"Today is a tremendous victory, but we will never stop fighting against polluters who think our health is less important than their dirty profits," said Lavigne, whose group sent members to Washington, D.C. for Thursday's major mobilization of frontline organizers and residents.

Anne Rolfes, director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, also welcomed the development, charging the that proposed complex "has been a hazard since its conception" and SLM "bungled this project for over a decade, as demonstrated by its ongoing starts and stops."

"It should have been obvious to the state that the company was in no shape to run such a hazardous facility," she added. "It took hundreds of residents banding together to force LDEQ to recognize how overburdened the community is with industrial pollution, and to show polluters that we will not accept another plant moving in."

The celebrations Friday came after the St. James Parish Council earlier this month rejected a zoning ordinance that would have allowed other industrial use of the company's property.

As The Lens reported:

The proposed ordinance would have rezoned a residential neighborhood in the parish's 5th Council District—a low-income, majority-Black district on the parish's west bank that is already home to a large number of industrial sites—to a "residential/future industrial" designation.

The council's rejection of the change effectively precludes SLM—a joint venture between the New Zealand-based Todd Corporation and a Houston-based subsidiary of the Saudi Arabian company SABIC—from selling the property to any entity with designs for industrial development.

The ordinance, introduced by Councilmember Donald Nash, never went to a vote, as no council member seconded a motion to consider it.

"We saw humanity there tonight," Barbara Washington, a resident of St. James Parish and a founding member of the nonprofit Inclusive Louisiana, told The Lens of the council meeting. "It seemed like all the time that we've been talking, they haven't been listening—but tonight, it seemed like they were actually listening, and that's hopeful for us."


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