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Formosa Plastics Group has agreed to pay $2.85 million in federal fines for injuring its workers and endangering public health during a series of explosions, fires and toxic chemical releases from its Point Comfort, Texas, petrochemical plant.
This latest agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency follows a $50 million civil settlement with Texas residents in 2019 over the discharge of billions of plastic pellets into Texas waterways from the same plant. The judge in that case called the company a “serial offender” for Clean Water Act violations spanning decades.
Groups and activists who fought to stop its plastic pollution in Texas and who are fighting to prevent Formosa Plastics from building one of the world’s biggest plastic-making plants in St. James Parish, Louisiana, say this latest settlement is more evidence the company is a menace to communities where it operates.
“Personally, I am at a loss of words for this too late, too little settlement,” said Diane Wilson, the lead plaintiff in the successful water pollution lawsuit against Formosa Plastics. “This settlement is a joke. Pocket money for Formosa Plastics, who has made billions of dollars off the resources of Calhoun County, Texas, and the backs of the workers. I have heard these stories for years and years. How many worker deaths, worker injuries and communities destroyed do we have to witness at Formosa?”
EPA officials investigated Formosa Plastics following a series of accidents between May 2013 and October 2016. Its workers were hospitalized with third-degree burns and chlorine inhalation, and extremely hazardous chemicals were released into the community and environment. The settlement of the case was announced by the Justice Department late Monday.
“This dangerous pattern of behavior by Formosa Plastics is exactly why we don’t want this in our community,” said Sharon Lavigne, executive director of RISE St. James. “These same things happening in Texas are going to happen here in Louisiana. But this penalty is just a drop in the bucket for Formosa. We need to stop Formosa Plastics from building big new polluting plants.”
The Louisiana facility is proposed for a low-income, predominantly Black community known as Cancer Alley or Death Alley because residents are already sickened by industrial pollution. It would emit 13.6 million metric tons of greenhouse gases each year — the equivalent of the pollution generated by 3.5 coal-fired power plants. It will also produce 800 tons of toxic air pollutants annually, doubling air emissions in St. James Parish, to produce plastic for single-use packaging and other products.
“This fine is good news, but the fact is this facility should be shut down and it should be shut down now,” said Anne Rolfes, executive director of Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “If an individual behaved like Formosa does — consistently flouting the law, dumping plastic and pollution in the air and water — that person would be in jail. The company clearly has no regard for the rule of law. Enough of the settlements, fines and negotiations. Close them down. We would all be better off.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last month ordered a full environmental impact review of the proposed Louisiana project. The new review is a major victory for plant opponents, who sued to block the project in January 2020 and convinced the Army Corps to suspend its permit to Formosa Plastics late last fall. RISE St. James, Louisiana Bucket Brigade and Healthy Gulf were represented by the Center for Biological Diversity in the litigation over this permit.
“Formosa Plastics can’t be trusted to protect its workers or the communities where it operates, let alone our oceans and climate,” said Julie Teel Simmonds, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This serial offender has exposed people to dangerous levels of chlorine gas and filled Texas waterways with plastic pollution. Formosa Plastics can’t be allowed to build an even bigger plant in Louisiana and endanger another community that is already suffering from industrial pollution and extreme hurricanes. The bottom line is we must stop building industrial cities just to produce more throwaway plastic. The price is too high.”
The groups are asking the Army Corps to do a deep analysis of the air, water, wetlands, public health, environmental justice, climate and cultural resource impacts of what would be one of the world’s biggest plastic-making plants. They’re also urging the Corps to consider the upstream harms of increasing plastic production from fracked gas and the downstream pollution impacts of the resulting plastic produced.
The growing chorus of project opponents includes the attorneys general of New York, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts and New Jersey, who also called on the Corps to conduct this more rigorous review, and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, which called the project “environmental racism” in March and urged U.S. officials to reject the project.
By turning fracked gas into the building blocks for a massive amount of single-use packaging and other wasteful plastic products, the project would worsen climate change and the ocean plastic pollution crisis.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
RISE St. James is a faith-based organization working to protect the land, air, water and health of the people of St. James Parish from the petrochemical industry.
The Louisiana Bucket Brigade collaborates with communities adjacent to petrochemical plants, using grassroots action to create an informed, healthy society and hasten the transition from fossil fuels.
San Antonio Bay Estuarine Waterkeeper is a grassroots organization committed to preserving and protecting the health of San Antonio, Lavaca, and Matagorda Bays.