After criminal charges against them are dropped, prominent Louisiana environmentalists vow to keep fighting chemical plants

Louisiana Bucket Brigade leaders were charged with terrorizing

By: - December 21, 2020 3:04 pm

Kate McIntosh (l) and Anne Rolfes had charges of terrorizing dropped against them Friday. The pair left a box of plastic pollution at the door of a Baton Rouge lobbyist for the Louisiana Chemical Association. (Photo courtesy Louisiana Bucket Brigade)

Louisiana environmentalist Anne Rolfes said Monday that she’ll continue to push for a moratorium to stop more petrochemical plants from building along the Mississippi River after avoiding terrorizing charges for delivering plastic pollution to an industry lobbyist’s Baton Rouge home last year.

On Friday, the East Baton Rouge District Attorney’s Office announced it would not pursue terrorizing charges against Rolfes and Kate McIntosh, organizers with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. The women were booked on the felony charges in June six months after they left a file box full of plastic pollution on the doorstep of Greg Bowser, the president and CEO of the Louisiana Chemical Association.

A note on the top of the box indicated the plastic pollution was collected from beaches surrounding Formosa Plastics’ Point Comfort plant in Texas. Formosa agreed to pay $50 million to settle a lawsuit over the pollution. The note also said the plastic pellets should be recycled responsibly. 

The note set off the terrorizing charges by indicating the contents were hazardous, according to an affidavit supporting the warrant signed in April. Terrorizing is intentionally causing members of the general public to fear for their safety. Rolfes said when prosecutors realized her act did not fit the legal definition of terrorism, they unsuccessfully looked for other charges that might fit.

A call to District Attorney Hillar Moore III for comment was not returned Monday.

Rachel Conner, the attorney for Rolfes and McIntosh, pushed for action on the charges because the women didn’t want the charges hanging over their heads. But other petrochemical protesters in the state have not been so lucky. 

Fifteen people arrested for protesting the Bayou Bridge Pipeline could still face felonies under a law passed in 2018 making protesting pipelines punishable by up to five years in prison and a $1,000 fine. Rolfes called the lingering charges a form of intimidation. 

Rolfes said that she will continue to push the state to break its long-held commitment to fossil fuels. “What our state is doing is rolling out the red carpet for plant after plant after plant,” she said. “Our industry wouldn’t be content until every patch of earth along the Mississippi River is a petrochemical plant, and that is not a healthy vision for Louisiana.”

Earlier this month, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Mitsubishi Chemical Corp was eyeing Ascension Parish to build a massive chemical complex. But Rolfes said the latest loss of petrochemical jobs in the state is not just a phase in a boom and cycle, but part of an ongoing decline of fossil fuels. “I grew up in Lafayette. I know what the industry means to people,” she said. “But for a whole other set of people it has meant illness and death.”

Over the past five years, Louisiana has lost more than 20,000 jobs in the mining sector, which includes oil and gas. This number represents a 40% loss. In November, Shell announced that it would shutter its refinery in Convent, which employed 700 staff and 400 contract workers.

Petrochemical industry workers could find a future in the development of wind off the coast of Louisiana, Rolfes said. Last month, the governor announced a push to develop offshore wind in the Gulf of Mexico as part of the newly formed Climate Initiatives Task Force aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the state. “There is an alternative that could be viable for people,” she said. “Let’s pause on the petrochemical plants and pursue other industries.”

 

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Sara Sneath
Sara Sneath

Sara Sneath is a freelance environmental journalist who lives in New Orleans with her dog and three bikes.

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