Formosa Plastics permit suspended by Army Corps

Construction halts on $9.4 billion St. James facility

By: - November 5, 2020 10:22 am

Sharon Lavigne, pictured at left holding the bouquet of roses, founded the environmental justice group RISE St. James in 2018 in response to Formosa Plastics plan to build a $9.4B manufacturing plant in St. James Parish. In this photo from June 19, 2020, members of RISE St. James pray over the graves of formerly enslaved Black people. Formosa is planning to build its manufacturing complex there. (Photo courtesy Louisiana Bucket Brigade)

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Wednesday announced through a court filing in federal court in Washington its plans to suspend its permit for a proposed 1500-acre Formosa Plastics facility in St. James Parish. 

The announcement came before today’s Nov. 5 filing deadline for the Corps to defend its issuance of a permit to Formosa after environmental justice groups filed a lawsuit claiming the permit was improperly granted. The Corps has asked the federal court to stay proceedings in the case.

During its review of the permit, it has now come to the Corps’ attention that an element of the permit warrants additional evaluation,” the agency says in Wednesday’s court filing. “The Corps expects to take regulatory action on the permit and issue a formal decision consistent with its established process for doing so.”

“We hope this is the beginning of the end for this terrible project,” Julie Teel Simmonds, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a written statement Wednesday.. “It’s not in the public interest to pollute a Black community and destroy its cultural resources just to crank out more throwaway plastic. We still need to see if the feds will meaningfully revisit their permit, because simply papering over their deficiencies will not do.”

The Center for Biological Diversity, a national, nonprofit conservation group,  filed a lawsuit in January, alleging that the Corps hadn’t followed the law in giving Formosa the go-ahead to build, The Corps, that lawsuit says, failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Rivers and Harbors Act. 

Environmental groups RISE St. James, Louisiana Bucket Brigade and Healthy Gulf are also plaintiffs in that lawsuit. They all say the Corps ignored the water, air, and health impacts of the proposed complex and failed to adequately protect burial sites of enslaved Black people that have been discovered on and around the property.

Formosa’s planned manufacturing complex, plaintiffs say,  would “deepen environmental racism and harm a Cancer Alley community already sickened by exposure to industrial pollution.” 

The Corps’ decision to re-evaluate the permit it issued to Formosa will halt construction, at least temporarily, of what is planned to be one of the world’s largest petrochemical plants.  It’s planned for a stretch of Louisiana along the Mississippi River known as “Cancer Alley” because its concentration of industrial facilities has been linked to the high rates of cancer among the mostly Black residents who live there.

Formosa’s proposed $9.4 billion facility would emit 800 tons of toxic air pollution each year, which would roughly double toxic air emissions in St. James Parish, according to Formosa’s published plans.

Reached by email, the Army Corps of Engineers would not comment on the litigation.

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Wesley Muller
Wesley Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the following 22 years since then, he has worked as a journalist for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. Much of his work has involved reporting on First Amendment issues and watchdog coverage of municipal and state government. He has received several honors and recognitions, including McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association, among others. Muller is a New Orleans native, a Jesuit High School alumnus, a University of New Orleans alumnus, a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper, and an adjunct English teacher at Baton Rouge Community College. He lives in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, with his teenage son and his wife, who is also a journalist.

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