A Louisiana judge has thrown out air quality permits for a Taiwanese company’s planned US$9.4 billion plastics complex between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, a rare win for environmentalists in a heavily industrialized stretch of the Mississippi River often referred to as “Cancer Alley.”
The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) disregarded its environmental justice analysis while contravening the state’s Clean Air Act and the agency’s duty to protect the public, District Judge Trudy White wrote.
Opponents of the plans called Wednesday’s ruling a victory for environmental justice.
FG LA LLC, the Louisiana unit of Formosa Plastics Group (台塑集團), on Thursday said that it would appeal the decision.
“Stopping Formosa Plastics has been a fight for our lives, and today David has toppled Goliath,” said Sharon Lavigne, who founded the group Rise St James in 2018 to fight plans for the plant.
“The judge’s decision sends a message to polluters like Formosa that communities of color have a right to clean air, and we must not be sacrifice zones,” she said.
For Lavigne and other residents, “the blood, sweat and tears of their ancestors is tied to the land” once dominated by plantations where enslaved people labored, the judge wrote.
FG LA wants to build 10 chemical plants and four other major facilities on 1,000 hectares near Welcome, a mostly black community of about 670 people.
“FG respectfully disagrees with Judge White’s conclusion,” the company said in a statement.
FG intervened in the lawsuit to support the department.
“We believe the permits issued to FG by LDEQ are sound and the agency properly performed its duty to protect the environment in the issuance of those air permits,” FG said.
The complex is among current and proposed facilities involved in a US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) investigation of whether state health and environmental agencies have discriminated against black residents.
The Army Corps of Engineers has also been reviewing its environmental assessment of Formosa’s wetlands permits since last year, under orders from the Pentagon.
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards and local officials have promoted the project, saying it could generate 1,200 permanent jobs and substantial tax revenue.
White’s ruling said Louisiana’s environmental justice analysis ignored EPA evidence that the cancer risk from industrial pollution already makes Welcome “one of the most burdened communities in the United States.”
“LDEQ never weighed the impacts associated with the 13.6 million tons per year of greenhouse gases that LDEQ has authorized ... against the purported benefits of the project, and the added environmental burden to already over-burdened majority-black communities,” she wrote.
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