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)
For nearly a decade, Louisiana lawmakers have passed annual resolutions encouraging closer economic ties with Taiwan. Dating back to 2014, these resolutions have mentioned Formosa Plastics, the company behind a controversial plan to build a giant plastics manufacturing complex in St. James Parish.
This year, Senate Concurrent Resolution 20 by Sen. Barrow Peacock (R-Bossier City) and Rep. Gregory Miller (R-Norco) flew through the Legislature with little discussion. The resolution mentions the planned plastic manufacturing facility in its list of economic contributions Taiwan has made to the state. “We do a tremendous amount of trade with Taiwan, and this is a resolution we do yearly to strengthen that relationship,” Sen. Peacock said while introducing the bill at a Senate committee meeting in April.
In 2019, Taiwan imported nearly $3.65 billion in commodities from Louisiana including petroleum products, chemicals and agricultural products, according to the resolution. The country is Louisiana’s ninth largest foreign market in Asia.
But the annual resolutions don’t sit right with Sharon Lavigne, who lives in St. James Parish and has been organizing to stop Formosa from moving in near her home. “They’re letting all these polluters from other countries come into Louisiana. They’re not listening to the locals,” she said. “They’re listening to the outsiders who are bringing us sickness and death.”
The state has passed resolutions recognizing Louisiana’s close economic ties with Taiwan every year dating back to 2012. The first time the resolutions mentioned Formosa was in 2014. That year former Gov. Bobby Jindal made his first visit to Taiwan to meet with then-President Ma Ying-jeou and to hold meetings with executives from the Formosa Plastics Group, according to the resolution.
The Army Corps of Engineers is reevaluating a permit it issued to Formosa to build the facility in St. James Parish, after suspending the permit in November 2020. In a legal filing, the Corps said it had eliminated five alternate sites in Ascension Parish based on the false assumption that Ascension Parish did not meet the ambient air quality standards. Formosa is expected to release 7.7 tons of ethylene oxide annually. Exposure to the chemical increases the risk of lymphoid cancer and breast cancer, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Air permits issued by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality have also been called into question. Last November, 19th Judicial District Court Judge Trudy White sent the permits back to the DEQ to evaluate how the project could disproportionately impact Black residents. That ruling was later overturned by the Louisiana 1st Circuit Court of Appeal and sent back to Judge White.
In May, Judge White ruled that LDEQ must consider EPA environmental justice data that shows Welcome (an unincorporated community on the west bank of St. James Parish) is in the 86th percentile for cancer risk in the state, said Lisa Jordan, the Director of Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, which represents the plaintiffs.
In court filings, St. James Parish resident Beverly Alexander argued that this updated evidence contradicts LDEQ’s claim that the community does not already bear a disproportionate burden of the negative effects of industrial pollution. Judge White gave LDEQ 90 days to consider the evidence.
SCR 20 was sent to the Secretary of the State in April. The only time the resolution was objected to was on the Senate floor. There, Sen. Karen Carter Peterson (D-New Orleans) asked that the section about Formosa be taken out of the resolution. But Sen. Peacock wanted to keep it. “Formosa plastics has been a friend to Louisiana,” he said. “Taking that out would send the wrong message.”
Peterson pushed back, citing the air pollution concerns. “But the problem is that the carbon emissions are going to be trifold. And it’s actually killing people, the emissions,” she said. “I don’t want to get in the way of our commendation to the Taiwanese government … I don’t want to vote against the resolution. It’s just the Formosa plant that’s the problem.”
Seven senators, all of them Democrats and members of the Legislative Black Caucus, opposed the resolution then. The resolution passed 25-7.
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