Opponents of Louisiana Plastics Plant Sue Over Permit

WASHINGTON (CN) ― A permit that will allow a Taiwan-based conglomerate to launch a factory of single-use plastics in Louisiana drew a federal complaint Wednesday from four environmental watchdog groups.

“The Trump administration rubber-stamped this project instead of disclosing how Formosa Plastics would damage wetlands, poison communities and pollute water,” Emily Jeffers, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement announcing the suit. “Formosa has a terrible record of spilling plastic pellets and releasing toxic pollutants. The federal government is long overdue in regulating the plastics boom and holding this company accountable.”  

Plastic pellets from the Formosa Plastics plants line Cox Creek in Texas. (Photo by Diane Wilson/San Antonio Estuarine Waterkeeper via CNS)

Formosa ranks as one of the world’s largest chemical companies, and the Center for Biological Diversity said the industry has previously touted a plan to increase plastic production in North America by at least 35% by 2025.

A new Formosa in St. James is allegedly part of this larger trend. “An oversupply of cheap fracked gas in the United States is driving a boom in domestic plastics production, with $204 billion of new investments announced for hundreds of new and expanded projects by 2025, with more investment on the horizon,” the complaint states. “By 2025, domestic production capacity of the chemical components needed to manufacture plastic is expected to increase by more than a third. As a result, it is estimated that by 2050, plastics could outweigh fish in the oceans. This new infrastructure would lock in generations of plastics production, undermining public efforts to reduce plastics consumption to reverse the plastic pollution crisis.”

Filed Wednesday in Washington, the complaint quotes a federal judge in Texas who called Formosa a “serial offender” in a decision last year that later led to a record $50 million settlement over the company’s discharging of plastic pellets into state waterways. 

Much of the same can be expected at a new Formosa plant in Louisiana, according to the complaint. 

“The plastics facility is expected to discharge pollutants that are carcinogens and endocrine disruptors, as well as plastic pellets and other materials, into the Mississippi River,” the 36-page complaint reads. “This pollution would harm wetlands, wildlife, and public health. Nearly one million people downstream from the proposed site rely on the Mississippi River for drinking water. In addition, the plastics facility will create the building blocks for single-use plastic products that already litter our oceans and choke marine life.” 

Formosa’s challengers note that the world’s oceans already see an estimated 8 million tons of plastic waste every year. They say the greenhouse gas emissions from the Louisiana plant would exceed 13.6 million tons per year, with the new complex emitting “thousands of tons of soot, smog, and other toxic chemicals” each year.

“If they allow this plant to come into St. James, it’ll more than double the pollutants in our air,” said Sharon Lavigne, the president of Rise St. James, a group that represents residents who live near the project, in a statement. “We are already breathing toxic air and it’s making us sick. If this plant comes into our community we won’t be able to breathe the air. We can’t live with this chemical plant, it’ll kill us.”  

St. James is part of a stretch of land by the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans nicknamed Cancer Alley for the high rates of disease that residents see due to the carcinogenic chemicals emissions from nearby petrochemical plants. 

While Formosa is touting purported economic benefits from a new plant, challengers say that residents can expect property values to plummet. What’s more, the facility would receive $1.4 billion in local property tax exemptions in an area where schools and hospitals are sorely in need of financial support. 

In addition to environmental concerns, the suit says the location of the site on a pair of 19th century sugarcane plantations that host slave burial grounds implicates a violation of the National Historic Preservation Act.

Representatives or the Army Corps of Engineers did not respond to an email seeking comment Wednesday.

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