Washington, D.C. March 17, 2021 – Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Rep. A. Donald McEachin (D-Va.), authors of the landmark Environmental Justice for All Act, wrote to President Biden today urging him to revoke Army Corps of Engineers permits for the proposed Formosa Plastics petrochemical complex located in St. James Parish. The site is in the heart of Louisiana’s Cancer Alley corridor, one of the most heavily polluted regions of the United States, and the community residents have expressly asked the federal government to protect them from further heavy industrial contamination.
The push to stop the Formosa Plastics project is consistent with the Biden administration’s commitment to environmental justice, the authors write:
On day one, your administration clearly signaled your resolve to combat the climate crisis while meaningfully addressing environmental justice. By taking swift action against the Trump administration’s environmental rollbacks and advancing a whole-of-government initiative to advance racial equity, you have offered the American people a small glimpse of what is to come. Your revocation of harmful permits that ended the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline also represented a historic victory for frontline communities across the country.
Suspending the Formosa permits, the authors write, would represent a similar commitment to protecting communities long treated as afterthoughts in federal environmental analyses. The full letter is available at http://bit.ly/38PkTs4.
A coalition of groups including the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, RISE St. James, Healthy Gulf and the Center for Biological Diversity filed an injunction to block construction of the plant, arguing that the Army Corps failed to consider the cumulative impacts of chemical releases, wetland destruction, and gravesite desecration. The agency’s environmental review had found no significant impact to the community, and the agency declined to complete a full environmental impact statement.
The Corps subsequently suspended the permit and is now conducting a full re-evaluation. Formosa remains barred from starting significant construction pending review by the Army Corps, which has said it incorrectly dismissed five sites in the predominantly white Ascension Parish from its initial review as alternatives to Formosa’s preferred site in St. James Parish.
The plant’s health impacts on nearby communities would be severe and are not a matter of scientific dispute. According to a November 2019 analysis by ProPublica, the Formosa site is already “more toxic with cancer-causing chemicals than 99.6% of industrialized areas of the country,” and Formosa’s permit application indicates that the complex would release an additional 26 million tons of cancer-causing chemicals annually.
If Formosa is allowed to operate, the analysis estimates that the residents of St. James Parish would be exposed to “more than triple” the current level of toxic chemicals, including carcinogens such as benzene, formaldehyde, and ethylene oxide, a harmful chemical linked to breast cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and lymphocytic leukemia. If the complex emits all the chemicals it proposes in its permit application, it would rank in the top 1 percent nationwide of major plants in America in terms of the concentrations of cancer-causing chemicals in its vicinity, according to ProPublica.
“If we’re truly going to build a better economy and a healthier, more livable world, we have to stop treating large chunks of the country as sacrifice zones,” Chair Grijalva said today. “Millions of Americans today are expected to breathe polluted air, drink polluted water and live on polluted land as the price of other people’s prosperity. President Biden knows that we can’t keep living like that, and I know he’ll do the right thing here.’
“The residents of St. James Parish – and in fact, all Louisianians – deserve to breathe clean air, drink clean water, and live in community free to toxic pollution,” Rep. McEachin said. “It is imperative that we protect people’s health over polluters’ profit, and revoke the Army Corps’ permit for the proposed Formosa Plastics petrochemical complex. I look forward to working alongside the Biden administration to promote policies and projects that protect public health and our environment.”
“When President Biden was elected I had hope that he would change things, that he would save the lives of people in St. James Parish and stop the Formosa project,” said Sharon Lavigne, founder of RISE St. James. “It lies in his hands. He can stop it. Our governor wants it, our politicians want it, but they are not listening to the citizens. We are asking President Biden to save our lives.”
“Formosa Plastics is an opportunity for President Biden to take bold action on environmental justice and climate change, two issues that are important to him and important to us,” said Anne Rolfes, director of Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “There has been so much wrong on these issues, not just in the last four years but in the last fifty. Now is the moment to change things. President Biden can create a lasting legacy and stand up for the values of equality that we know he believes in.”