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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, May 13, 2021

St. James Parish Council In Hot Seat For Supporting Financially Risky Project at High Risk of Closure

Residents Say They’re Fed Up by Council’s Continued Support for Formosa Plastics Despite Mounting Evidence of Massive Financial Risk to Taxpayers, Looming Job Losses for Families

Sweeping New Public Awareness Campaign Asks Voters Why Council is a Rubber Stamp for a Dying Industry, Putting Hard-Earned Tax Dollars At Risk

St. James Parish, Louisiana — The St. James Parish Council is facing a growing backlash from voters today for its continued support of the controversial Formosa Plastics development, despite mounting evidence that it poses a massive financial risk to taxpayers and is likely to result in job losses.

“Why is the St. James Parish Council putting our hard-earned tax dollars at risk?” fumed Sharon Lavigne, a retired school teacher and lifelong resident of St. James Parish who heads community organization RISE St. James. “Why do they keep making the same bad bets on risky companies with no future?”

Lavigne was referring to the recent Shell Refinery closure in Convent, which saw about 700 area residents nearly lose their jobs overnight. The closure was followed by a shocking new analysis from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), which detailed the excessive financial risks posed by the controversial Formosa Plastics project, and warned it was likely to suffer a similar fate.  

Among the report’s findings:
  • Based on market trends, IEEFA predicts that the Formosa project’s short-term profitability will be poor, and long-term profitability will be even worse. 
  • The Formosa Plastics facility is unlikely to meet its revenue targets and poses a high risk of closure. Experts note that cancellations and delays of similar projects are occurring globally, and warned the project would likely be forced to close its doors, just like Shell’s factory in Convent.  
  • IEEFA estimates that revenues generated from Phase One of the project are likely to be nearly 20 percent lower than previously predicted due to plunging plastics prices.
  • Markets are trending away from petrochemical products and single-use plastics. In 2019, industry analysts identified a global oversupply of petrochemical products. The plastics economy is unlikely to sustain newly constructed plants like Formosa Plastics. 
  • Rising construction costs will diminish profitability. The Taiwan Rating Service (TRS) recently estimated the cost of the project to be $12 billion, a 24 percent increase from Formosa’s original 2018 estimate of $9.4 billion. 
Residents point to the shuttering of the Shell refinery closure as a painful loss that simply can’t be repeated. 

“Why is the Parish Council continuing to support dead-end industries with no future? We need good, healthy jobs and businesses that’ll provide for our children and our grandchildren,” said St. James resident Chasity White. “The Shell refinery closure should be a wake-up call to the Council. The last thing we need is more dying industry.”

White is one of a growing number of Parish families questioning why the Council continues to focus on a declining industry, while communities like Galliano and Houma are investing in the fast-growing renewable energy sector, and bringing in hundreds of good jobs for local residents.

“Communities across Louisana are benefiting from good jobs in healthy, growing industries,” said White. “My question to the St. James Parish Council is, ‘why aren’t we?’”

White and Lavigne are part 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, long-term industries. They launched the Protect Our Parish campaign to expose just how dangerous the Formosa Plastics plant would be and to urge the Parish Council to stop it.

Formosa Plastics has received substantial tax incentives to develop in St. James Parish. The company was offered $1.4 billion in local property tax exemptions and a $12 million grant to offset infrastructure costs in a competitive package to secure the project. The plant has also been grandfathered in under an old tax break program and is expected to receive 100 percent property tax abatement for 10 years.

When it became clear that the Council was ignoring the advice of economists, supporting local tax incentives, and turning a blind eye on the Shell Refinery closure, Lavigne said residents felt they had no choice but to take their case to families and taxpayers, who have so much to lose when the Formosa project goes belly up.

“This isn’t a joke and it’s not monopoly money. It’s us, the taxpayers, who will be on the hook when Formosa packs its bags back to Taiwan and leaves us high and dry,” said Lavigne.

Lavigne is joining with other St. James Parish residents to educate voters and taxpayers about what’s at stake. The group, Protect Our Parish, is running TV and radio ads and even going door-to-door to get the word out. The ads will air during prime-time and daytime television on top-rated stations including CNN, FOX, ESPN, and MSNBC, coupled with ads on top radio stations, digital platforms like Facebook and YouTube, billboards, and a direct mail campaign.

The advertisements say it doesn’t make sense for the Parish Council to push forward with such a risky project, and they question why St. James Parish Council members Jason Amato, Ryan Louque, Mason Bland, Vondra Etienne-Steib, Clyde Cooper, Donald Nash, and Alvin St. Pierre are putting local jobs and tax dollars at risk.

The Parish Council’s staunch support for the Formosa project comes even after industry giants like Shell, Exxon Mobile, and Chevron have reported “some of their worst financial results in history” in 2020. Louisiana lost 21 percent of jobs in the oil and gas sector last year alone.

Single-use plastics are also facing growing regulations, which will undoubtedly impact Formosa’s profitability and long-term economic forecasts. Many of the Taiwanese company’s products have been banned in their own country, forcing Formosa to build production facilities overseas. More than 120 countries have already enacted single-use plastics bans, and companies, from Disney, to Starbucks to Unilever, have taken steps to phase them out.

Council members approved the construction of the $9.4 billion facility, which would be the size of 80 football fields and is projected to be among the most toxic of its kind in North America. If built, the facility is predicted to double the Parish’s permitted toxic air emissions,

The Formosa project has faced numerous setbacks in recent months, including:
  • November 2020: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suspends a Clean Water Act permit it had issued to Formosa while it examines certain issues. 
  • November 2020: Louisiana District Court Judge Trudy White ordered the project’s air permit back to state environmental regulators for further analysis, ruling that its environmental justice analysis was inaccurate. 
  • March 2021: Members of Congress speak out against the massive project. Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Arizona), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, and A. Donald McEachin (D-Virginia), wrote to President Biden, urging him to revoke the plant’s Army Corps permits.  They argued that the project is not consistent with the Biden administration’s commitment to environmental justice.
“We’re fed up with the Parish Council wasting our money on dead-end industries like Formosa Plastics,” said White. “They’re putting our futures at risk while other Parishes are thriving because their elected leaders did the right thing and invested in renewable energy projects. We need to do the same in St. James before it’s too late.”