A majority Black community in south Louisiana is declaring a win after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ordered a full environmental impact statement for the US$9.4-billion Formosa Plastics petrochemical project, a massive undertaking that would double toxic emissions nearby and emit 13 million tonnes of greenhouse gases per year, the equivalent of three coal plants.
“The 14 separate plastic plants, spread over a gargantuan 2,300 acres of land in St James Parish, could also emit up to 15,400 pounds of the cancer-causing chemical ethylene oxide,” The Guardian reports.
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A memo from Jaime Pinkham, the Army Corps’ acting assistant secretary for civil works, said the new assessment would “thoroughly review areas of concern, particularly those with environmental justice implications”. The agency added it intended to “be a leader in the federal government’s efforts to ensure thorough environmental analysis and meaningful community outreach”, which The Guardian read as “an indication that the new review would be more comprehensive than the last.”
The Army Corps had suspended a previous permit for the plant in November, after admitting to errors in its initial analysis, the news story adds.
Local campaigners said the decision could delay construction permits under the U.S. Clean Water Act by years.
RISE St. James member Sharon Lavigne said the decision meant the Army Corps had “finally heard our pleas and understands our pain”. She added that “nobody took it upon themselves to speak for St. James Parish until we started working to stop Formosa Plastics. Now the world is watching this important victory for environmental justice.”
The Guardian says the plant site “sits in a heavily industrialized region between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, known colloquially as Cancer Alley. Earlier in the year, the United Nations called for the end of new construction in the area and branded pollution issues in the region a form of environmental racism.” President Joe Biden frequently called out Cancer Alley on the campaign trail in 2020, the paper adds, and toxic air pollution became a top issue in a Congressional special election earlier this year.
Last week, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) pointed back to its own report in March that looked at the environmental justice questions the project raised, determining as well that the plant was unlikely to be profitable for its investors. IEEFA said the project would exacerbate local pollution in a community whose air “reportedly has more cancer-causing chemicals than 99.6% of industrialized areas in the United States. The project would be located in a district with a 91% African American population.”
Last April, IEEFA notes, Moody’s Investors Service wrote that the “unequal position of the Black community in the U.S. is a salient and persistent feature of the inequality dynamic that exemplifies and exacerbates credit-relevant social risks.”