Groups against Formosa launch

News Examiner - enterprise

Environmental Groups opposing Formosa locating and building a $9.4 Billion plastic making facility in St. James Parish recently launched a national advertising campaign calls on the St. James Parish Council to rescind Formosa’s land use application and put a stop to the project. According to a press release issued, the Ad campaign titled Protect Our Parish, highlights the tragic impact the toxic chemical plants have had on local families, and urges the Parish Council to stop the Formosa Plastics plant. The television Ads feature St. James Parish resident Sharon Lavigne, who says she has lost more than 30 friends and family members over the last five years, and feels the toxic plants are to blame. Lavigne is the founder of RISE St. James, a faith-based coalition of St. James Parish residents that formed to protect the community from cancer-causing chemical plants, and advocate for investment in healthier, longer-term industries. The release says the goal of the Protect Our Parish campaign is to expose just how dangerous the Formosa Plastics plant would be, and to urge the Parish Council to stop it. The ads are set to air during prime-time and daytime television on top-rated television stations including CNN, FOX, and CNBC. The Protect Our Parish campaign will also be featured in print ads, on billboards, and on radio and digital platforms including Facebook, YouTube, iHeartRadio, and on WWL during upcoming Saints games. The ads will also be coupled with extensive and ongoing direct voter contact.

Article originally published in the St. James News Examiner-Enterprise

Campaign calls for halt to St. James chemical plant construction

The Louisiana Weekly

A new, community-based activist group in St. James Parish last week launched a massive, nationwide marketing campaign, including a powerful television advertisement, aimed at blocking the construction of a proposed, $9.4-billion chemical plant in an area dubbed “Cancer Alley” because its abnormally high risk rates for cancer exposure are the highest in the country.

Protect Our Parish released the TV ad last Thursday, with scheduled airings on such highly-rated networks as CNN, Fox and CNBC. According to the activist organization, the Protect Our Parish campaign will also include print and billboard ads, as well as placements on radio and Internet outlets like Facebook, YouTube and iHeart Radio. Ads will also be broadcast on WWL radio during Saints games.

The one-minute ad released last week features narration by longtime St. James Parish resident and educator Sharon Lavigne, who recounts the death of her husband, Oliver, from COPD. In the ad, Sharon says that “there’s no doubt that the pollution killed him.”

Like many residents – the majority of them African American – who have been affected physically and psychologically, Lavigne and her family have lived for years in the parish’s Fifth District, where numerous chemical plants are located.

In the ad, Lavigne relates that in addition to her husband’s death, she has attended the funerals of more than 30 friends and relatives in St. James Parish who have died from cancer or similar terminal illnesses over the last five years.

Lavigne’s narration is accompanied by images of her family, including some of Oliver, as well scenes from across Gramercy and St. James Parish. The promo spot features religious imagery, including scenes of Lavigne praying inside of her church.

The ad urges the St. James Parish Council and other civic leaders to rethink the decision to approve the plant, which has been proposed by international company Formosa Plastics.

“It’s too late to bring back Oliver,” Sharon says in the spot, “and I don’t want our children and grandchildren to be next.”

In an interview with The Louisiana Weekly, Lavigne said the goal of the advertisement and the Protect Our Parish effort overall is to prevent the proposed Formosa plant from being constructed, and convince government officials to block further chemical plants being placed in the parish.

“The big step is to see no more are coming in,” Lavigne said. “We want to stop them from ever coming in. We are people. We deserve to live here. We deserve to live.”

Lavigne stressed the stark urgency of stopping the Formosa plant from coming. “If this is built, it’s going to be a death sentence for us,” she said. “We will not be able to live, to breathe the air.”

The St. James Parish Council initially approved Formosa’s land-use application for the proposed plant in January 2019, but RISE members and other community activists say that vote came before news reports broke revealing that the plant would double the community’s permitted toxic emissions.

That revelation, say activists, constitutes a dishonest and evasive effort by Formosa to convince parish politicians that the plant would be safe and allowable.

As a result, Lavigne said, “[w]e want the parish council to rescind their decision. We want them to go back, weigh the facts and re-do it.”

She added that “[t]hey should have evaluated all the plants we already have in the area before they put this one in.”

Representatives of the St. James Parish Council did not respond to inquiries for comment by The Louisiana Weekly.

Lavigne is a member of RISE St. James, a faith-based coalition that came together to protect local residents from the crippling health diagnoses and deaths from cancer and other long-term medical conditions members say have resulted from the pollution from existing chemical plants.

Through the new Protect Our Parish campaign, RISE St. James also wants to “advocate for investment in healthier, longer-term industries” in the parish, according to a press release.

According to the Protect Our Parish press release, more than 150 chemical processing plants already exist in Cancer Alley, a fact advocates say has resulted in cancer rates as much as 50 times higher than average Americans.

The new advertising campaign sharpens RISE’s efforts on the proposed Formosa Plastic plant, which would cover hundreds of acres of land for its production of single-use plastics, which critics note have been banned in more than 120 countries. While Formosa representatives say such plastics continue to contribute to the globe economically, technologically and culturally, critics assert that single-use plastics have outlived their usefulness and become outdated and have seen a decrease in use.

Representatives of the Taiwan-based Formosa Plastics Group, of which the St. James project is a part, said Protect Our Parish and its new ad distort the track record of the company and fail to adequately represent the scope and impact of the proposed facility. The company has dubbed the proposed facility “The Sunshine Project,” or “FG” for short.

Janile Parks, director of community and government relations for FG LA LLC, said in a lengthy statement to The Louisiana Weekly that Protect Our Parish’s marketing campaign presents the company and the proposed plant in an inaccurate, misleading light. Parks said the company has continually complied with all relevant government requirements and regulations, and will keep doing so in the future.

“FG LA LLC’s (FG) is committed to protecting the health and safety of its employees and the community as well as the environment,” Parks said. “The company will continue to follow all rules and regulations set forth by federal and state agencies and will continue to work to build a brighter future for the people who live and work in St. James Parish and across Louisiana. While we recognize there are some who are doing everything they can to stop progress in the parish, including spreading fear and confusion about The Sunshine Project, FG will continue to invite cooperation and truth as well as listen to and work with the St. James community to address real concerns.”

Parks added that the firm has done extensive research of its own showing that the proposed plant will not harm the community and citizens, and that the existing chemical plants in the parish have not caused the harm opponents say the facilities have.

“Simply stated,” Parks said, “there is no scientific proof that cancer rates in the Industrial Corridor, including St. James Parish, or District 5 where The Sunshine Project is located, are higher due to industrial activity. In fact, cancer rates and deaths are lower than, or there is no significant difference from, the rest of the state. Reports issued by the Louisiana Tumor Registry, the state’s cancer data aggregator, clearly establish this point.”

Parks asserted that plans for the facility include measures designed to prevent excessive, dangerous levels of by-products, and that such emissions will not only be closely monitored, but also reused and recycled by the plant.

Parks continued by saying that Formosa, especially the staff, employees and executives involved in the Sunshine Project, has gone the extra mile to reach out to the citizenry of St. James Parish and the larger region. That outreach includes a public open house and the creation of a project Web site.

“The company has also maintained open communication and continues to reach out to local project stakeholders, St. James Parish residents, local ministers, educators, workforce leaders and others to seek feedback and address questions and concerns as the project moves forward,” she said. “As a result, FG has developed and implemented community out each programs that meet real needs in the St. James community.”

Parks said that the plant will also provide an economic boost to the parish by creating hundreds of new jobs, and added that the cutting-edge production technology used by the plant will benefit the world as a whole.

However, Lavigne and other members of RISE St. James dispute such assertions by the company. Lavigne said the Protect Our Parish campaign will tell the general public – and its elected leaders – the truth about the proposed Formosa plant and the devastating, toxic effect the chemical industry has had on the local community.

Lavigne told The Louisiana Weekly that in addition to raising public awareness of the situation in her parish across the country, another targeted group is the government at all levels. Not only does she hope the ad will help persuade parish officials to rescind their initial approval of the Formosa plant, but she wants incoming President Joe Biden, Louisiana Congressman Cedric Richmond (who has announced he will step down from Congress to take a position in the impending Biden administration), and representatives of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, to view the promotion and learn about the plight of the residents of Cancer Alley.

“I would like them to take a tour of St. James to let them see first-hand how this industry has hurt our community,” she said.

In particular, Lavigne said, hopefully Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards will become aware of the situation in St. James Parish and take measures to block the Formosa facility’s construction. Lavigne said state government officials, especially Edwards, have failed to protect Louisiana’s citizenry.

“If [the ad] is shown nationally, it will make him look pretty silly for not stepping up to help the citizens of his state,” she said of Edwards.

She added that Edwards “should have stopped [the plant] before it got this far.”

Lavigne said that the Formosa company’s alleged distortions and cover-ups can no longer hide that the machinations of the chemical industry have had a particularly ruinous impact on people of color and majority-Black communities like the Fifth District of St. James Parish. She said such disproportionate negative impacts on communities of color amount to environmental racism, and she asserted that parish leaders have rejected proposals for similar projects in white communities and allowed the chemical industry to locate its activities overwhelmingly among Black populations.

“They figured that the Black community is poor, so we’re not going to speak up,” she told The Louisiana Weekly.

However, she added, she and other citizens devastated by the chemical industry and its toxic effects have decided to band together and stand against what they view is a system that allows polluting companies to do as they wish, a trend reflected by the number of industrial facilities in the area.

“We won’t let any more [plants] come in,” she said. “Not where I live. Not in St. James Parish.”

Read the article in Louisiana Weekly

Court rulings stall controversial plastics factory in Louisiana

National Catholic Reporter

Formosa Plastic Group’s plan to build a $9.4 billion plastics manufacturing complex in Louisiana has suffered notable setbacks after federal and state permits for the project were put on hold, pending reevaluation of impacts on wetlands and Black-majority neighborhoods.

Sharon Lavigne, a St. James resident and founder of Rise St. James, a faith-based community group fighting construction of the plant in St. James Parish, believes the recent actions signal the eventual demise of the Formosa project, although that outcome is far from certain.

“This is the beginning of the end for Formosa,” Lavigne told EarthBeat upon learning that a federal permit for the project had been suspended.

On Nov. 18, Judge Trudy White, of Louisiana’s 19th Judicial District Court, returned air permits to state environmental regulators so they can conduct a more thorough evaluation of the impact of the complex’s projected emissions on Black residents living nearby.

That move came days after the Army Corps of Engineers suspended a permit that would have allowed Formosa to build in wetlands. In a notice filed Nov. 13 in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., the Corps said that a portion of its permit required reevaluation and that a more extensive review was also possible.

The pause on permits presents new legal obstacles to construction of one of the world’s biggest petrochemical facilities, which has already been delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nevertheless, some work continues at the site. A company spokesperson said Formosa hopes the permit issues are resolved expeditiously.

FG LA LLC, a Louisiana affiliate of Taiwan-based Formosa Plastics Group, plans to build its 14-plant complex, known as the Sunshine Project, in the western district of St. James, within an 85-mile corridor along the Mississippi River that is home to at least 140 petrochemical plants.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards and many state and local lawmakers support the project, which they say will bring much-needed jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenues to southern Louisiana.

But local residents, community groups and environmental organizations have persistently fought its construction, saying the complex would pollute a predominantly Black community already overburdened with industrial toxics, and that it would degrade wetlands and add to the ocean plastic pollution crisis.

The recent discovery of an unmarked burial site for enslaved people on the border of the Formosa property has intensified their concerns.

Early this year, Formosa opponents filed lawsuits challenging federal and state permits critical to the project’s construction. In January, the Center for Biological Diversity, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Healthy Gulf and Rise St. James sued the Army Corps of Engineers over its approval of a permit for building in a wetland.

The plaintiffs argued that the permit violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the Rivers and Harbors Act, the Clean Water Act and the National Historic Preservation Act.

Rather than defend its permit in court, the Corps opted for suspension. In its statement to the court, the agency acknowledged that during its review of alternative locations for the Formosa complex, it had incorrectly eliminated for consideration five sites in neighboring white-majority Ascension Parish. Although that reason alone was sufficient to suspend and reassess the permit, the Corps said it “may also consider additional issues as appropriate during the re-evaluation.”

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit have since asked the Corps for a public hearing and expanded analysis of the plant’s environmental justice, wetlands and pollution impacts.

“At a time when Americans are recognizing the role of systemic racism and unconscious racial bias in our country, it is problematic that a predominantly white parish was eliminated based on erroneous information and a flawed analysis in favor of a predominantly Black district in St. James Parish. The project deserves a far deeper and more probing environmental justice analysis than what the Corps has provided,” the plaintiffs wrote in a letter signed by more than 20 groups.

In mid-February, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Rise St. James, the Sierra Club and other groups challenged the air permits that the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality had issued for Formosa a month earlier.

Those permits allow the Formosa facility to emit more than 800 pounds of toxic pollutants, nearly 6,500 tons of pollutants known to cause ground-level ozone and respiratory ailments, and 13.6 million tons of greenhouse gases annually, according to The Advocate, a Louisiana daily.

The plaintiffs argued that the Department of Environmental Quality shirked its constitutional duty to protect the public and the environment, because Formosa’s own modeling showed its emissions would exceed federal air-quality standards.

In late February, St. James resident Beverly Alexander, represented by the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, also filed a legal motion challenging the state’s air permits. Alexander claimed the Department of Environmental Quality used 2011 cancer risk and respiratory hazard data for its required environmental justice assessment of the plant, instead of more recent available data.

Unlike the 2011 computations, the more recent information took into account an influx of new plants into St. James, including Formosa, and showed an increase in air toxicity for the area’s Black-majority communities.

White, the Louisiana judge, apparently was sympathetic to that assessment. In an oral ruling delivered via Zoom, she spoke about environmental racism in state institutions. White told the Department of Environmental Quality and company attorneys that the air permits required better evidence of results and a more thorough environmental justice assessment.

Lisa Jordan, a lawyer with the Tulane law clinic, said White’s ruling “is not a final judgment,” but allows the Department of Environmental Quality to revise the permit before legal actions against it proceed.

“The agency could cross some t’s and dot some i’s, write a new decision document or amendment, or do nothing,” Jordan said.

Janile Parks, director of communications for Formosa’s Louisiana operations, offered a different assessment.

“The Court appears to have ruled on the merits of the case,” Parks wrote in a press release issued after White’s ruling. “The permits issued to FG by [the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality] are sound. FG intends to explore all legal options.”

Parks said that while the company was “disappointed” in the Corps’ decision to suspend its wetlands permit, the federal agency’s action was not unusual.

“Temporary suspension during permit re-evaluation is a common practice utilized by the Corps and FG fully expects the suspension will be lifted, and the permits reinstated, after completion of the re-evaluation,” Parks said.

Julie Simmonds, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, believes the Corps’ temporary suspension of the wetlands permit could result in a complete revocation of the Formosa permit and the end of the project, or relocation of the plant.

“The former without the latter would be highly preferable,” Simmonds wrote in an email to EarthBeat. “This project should not be built, anywhere. Another option is that the Corps purportedly ‘fixes’ its deeply flawed decision analysis and we will be back in court.”

Meanwhile, Lavigne, of Rise St. James, is optimistic.

“Formosa will soon be gone,” she said. “They call themselves the Sunshine Project. They will not see sunshine.”

Read the article in National Catholic Reporter