Good news for communities near Texas’ Matagorda Bay: The federal government has withdrawn approval for a project that has the potential to stir up toxic mercury from a Superfund site and imperil the local fishing industry.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had planned to dredge the Matagorda Bay shipping channel to allow oil tankers as long as football fields to pass through. But on December 13, 2022, the Army Corps announced it will do a more extensive environmental review before deciding whether to move forward with the project.
The Corps action comes in response to a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice on behalf of Gulf groups after new information came to light about the anticipated use of the shipping channel and the risks of mercury contamination, increased greenhouse gas emissions, and significant impacts on the lives and livelihoods of people working in the fishing industry.
Proposed plan would be a major boost for fossil fuel exports
- The 27-mile dredging project would allow for the development of a new oil export terminal with a capacity of 20 million barrels of oil monthly.
- If completed, the project would make it possible for “Suezmax”-size oil tankers, which are as long as football fields and can carry about 1 million barrels of oil, to enter the Gulf of Mexico.
- At a critical moment for our climate, this project would dig us further in a hole by supporting more fossil fuel development – and more climate pollution.
Industrial waste and fishing industry don’t mix
- The project’s most immediate threat to the environment comes from its disturbance of an EPA Superfund site contaminated by mercury from an Alcoa aluminum smelting plant.
- The project would remove 21 million cubic yards of sediment, unearthing and scattering mercury-laden waste and burying important commercial fish and oyster habitats.
The Biden administration will conduct additional environmental review
- Under the National Environmental Policy Act, the project should not proceed without a thorough environmental analysis from the Army Corps that fully discloses the risks of oil spills, the impacts of mercury contamination, and the climate consequences of more fossil fuel development.
- In December 2022, the Army Corps announced it will require a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. This environmental review will provide much needed information as well as an opportunity for input from community members.
The fossil fuel industry’s many-headed threat
- The proposed Matagorda Bay project is representative of the complex threat that the oil, coal, and gas industries pose to communities and the planet. These industries are responsible for biodiversity loss, the climate crisis, hazardous waste, and threats to public health.
- The Earthjustice suit to halt the project is part of an ongoing strategy, undertaken with the support of a broad coalition of diverse groups, to challenge fossil fuels at every stage of their life cycle. That means halting lease sales, blocking pipelines and export terminals, and advocating for stronger emissions and waste standards.