Judge dismisses Formosa Plastics lawsuit, but permit remains suspended


    Industrial plants line the Mississippi River in St. James Parish where Formosa Plastics plans to build the world's largest petrochemical facility, adding to an already heavily-polluted region dubbed "Cancer Alley." (Photo courtesy of Louisiana Bucket Brigade).

    A federal court in Washington D.C. on Friday dismissed a lawsuit challenging a wetlands permit for a $9.4 billion Formosa Plastics facility in St. James Parish; however, the lawsuit had already accomplished one of its primary goals. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suspended Formosa’s permit in November, and the permit remains suspended as the Corps continues to reevaluate its issuance of the permit.

    The Center for Biological Diversity, a national nonprofit conservation group, along with environmental groups RISE St. James, Louisiana Bucket Brigade and Healthy Gulf, filed the lawsuit in January 2020. The groups allege the Corps failed to follow the law in permitting Formosa to build its facility on a 1,500-acre tract of lowlands along the Mississippi River. The plaintiffs said the Corps ignored the water, air, and health impacts of the proposed facility and failed to adequately protect burial sites of enslaved Black people that were discovered on and around the property.

    Shortly before its deadline to respond to the lawsuit, the Corps suspended Formosa’s permit and announced it would conduct a review in how the agency authorized the construction — a move that pleased the plaintiffs. According to later court filings, the Corps acknowledged it had  conducted insufficient analysis in eliminating proposed facility sites other than the one in St. James Parish.

    If built, Formosa’s plant will be one of the world’s largest petrochemical plants and 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. The proposed site is in the middle of an area 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.

    The Corps plans to make a new determination on Formosa’s permit. The plaintiffs would have to file a new lawsuit if the Corps issues Formosa a new permit..

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    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.