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Statements: Intimidation Tactics in Louisiana Won’t Silence Opposition to Formosa Plastics

40+ advocacy groups express outrage over arrests of Louisiana Bucket Brigade leaders, vow to stop Formosa’s plans to poison the Black community in St. James
View of industrial chemical complex in St James, Louisiana
Alejandro Davila Fragoso / Earthjustice
June 26, 2020
Baton Rouge, LA —

Two leaders of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade were charged under Louisiana’s felony “terrorizing” law today for placing a box filled with Formosa Plastics’ illegally discharged plastic pellets, called “nurdles,” outside a fossil fuel lobbyist’s home as part of a non-violent protest in December of 2019. A coalition of groups from across the country strongly opposes this intimidation tactic and demand the charges be dropped.

The box of nurdles included this note detailing the significance and safe handling of the materials, which were collected from waterways in Lavaca Bay, Texas, outside a Formosa Plastics’ plant as part of a historic Clean Water Act lawsuit that found Formosa Plastics to be a “serial offender” of environmental laws for dumping nurdles into, resulting in a $50 million settlement.

The arrests come as Formosa Plastics plans to begin construction of its proposed Sunshine Project, which — if built — would be one of the largest petrochemical complexes in the United States and double the amount of toxic pollutants already emitted from industrial sources in St. James Parish. The area of St. James Parish that Formosa selected for its behemoth facility is already overburdened with toxic pollution, and its majority Black residents are currently struggling with a COVID-19 death rate five times higher than the national average.

In response to yesterday’s arrests, more than forty advocacy groups representing millions of people released the following statements in solidarity with the newly formed Alliance to Defend Democracy in Louisiana:

“I support Anne Rolfes and Kate McIntosh. I know they are not terrorists.” - Robert Taylor, Concerned Citizens of St. John

“It is the most bizarre experience I have had in 30 years of fighting Formosa Plastics in Texas to hear that Anne and Kate of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade were charged with ‘terrorizing’ for returning to industry representatives a tiny sample of the estimated 67 billion pellets that Formosa Plastics illegally discharged into Texas Bays. Formosa officials in Texas and New Jersey have repeatedly told us citizens in Texas that the pellets were harmless. Something smells very fishy and it ain’t the pellets. The San Antonio Bay Estuarine Waterkeepers stand in solidarity with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade and the outstanding heroes fighting the Sunshine Project!” - Diane Wilson, executive director and waterkeeper, San Antonio Bay Estuarine Waterkeeper (Seadrift, Texas)

“I was shocked to hear of these charges — they are revenge. It’s about officials ignoring us. The actions were peaceful, for recognition of the problem, not to be taken as a terrorist threat. They need to wake up and smell the coffee — we’re in preventative mode in Louisiana. We don’t want what happened in Texas to happen here.” - Sylvia McKenzie, Executive Committee, Coalition Against Death Alley

“Over the decades that the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic has worked for those Louisianians burdened with pollution impacts and their partners, we have seen powerful political forces in the state attempt unsuccessfully to silence people’s voices and strip their power. While we have no doubt this latest tactic will similarly fail to suppress our clients’ efforts to secure their basic human right to a healthy environment, this astonishing abuse of the criminal justice system is nevertheless shameful and a new low.” – Lisa Jordan, Director, Tulane Environmental Law Clinic

“These charges are mere retaliation in response to the critical work done by Louisiana Bucket Brigade. Formosa Plastics is a serial offender of the United States Clean Water Act, and discussing their criminal record with executives and government is essential work in this time of climate emergency, when Formosa Plastics seeks to derail all the good work for Coastal Restoration that Louisiana has accomplished.” - Scott Eustis, Community Science Director, HealthyGulf

“This outrageous application of this archaic law is clearly about silencing dissent and protecting profits. The fact that the financial interests of this serial human rights abuser could influence the administration of justice in Louisiana is beyond alarming. It’s unconscionable.” - Quentin Anthony Anderson, Gulf Coast Energy Campaigner, Earthworks

“The felony charges of ‘terrorizing’ against these tireless environmental justice advocates represent a disturbing pattern in the way that Louisiana responds to movements for justice. Louisiana officials have repeatedly terrorized advocates and organizers — meeting peaceful protests with excessive force and brutality, creating new harsh penalties in the form of a ‘critical’ infrastructure law that protects private interests over human rights, and now misappropriating existing law in an effort to chill our free speech. As with all forms of injustice, these threats disproportionately impact our Black, Brown, and Indigenous family. We stand together as a community, across all movements, we say we are not afraid — we will continue to organize, agitate, and mobilize in pursuit of justice and we will not be intimidated into silence.” Meg Logue, 350 New Orleans

“At a time when chemical industries are using COVID-19 as an excuse not to conduct sampling, the state is more interested in arresting people for speaking truth to power than in protecting communities. The real danger is not from protesters, but from the oil and gas corporations who poison Louisiana’s air, water, and land.” - Darryl Malek-Wiley, Sierra Club, Environmental Justice & Community Partnership Program

“The state of Louisiana is arresting its own citizens for the high crime of making pollution visible to those who promote it. It proves beyond doubt that Louisiana is prepared to arrest debate, penalize participation, and criminalize its own people for standing up to polluters and standing up for communities.” - Jane Patton, Center for International Environmental Law

“These arrests are a despicable attempt to silence those who are fighting for the health of Black Louisianians who would be forced to breathe toxic air from yet another chemical plant that industry and the state have actively promoted for their community. Earthjustice stands with Anne, Kate, and all Louisianans who are working to shed light on environmental racism and abuse, and we call for these unjust and outrageous charges to be dropped immediately.” - Corinne Van Dalen, Earthjustice staff attorney

“These arrests and other intimidation tactics are attempts to silence a community that’s concerned about pollution and public health. The real violation happening here is Formosa Plastics polluting our air and water to create more throwaway plastic that will end up in our oceans. All our Gulf allies did was show Louisiana the plastic pollution that Formosa illegally discharged into Texas waterways. Black communities are being sickened by corporate polluters and these sham charges won’t deter our opposition to this terrible project.” - Julie Teel Simmonds, attorney, Center for Biological Diversity

“It is clear who is actually guilty of terrorizing: Formosa, and the petrochemical industry at large, for recklessly endangering livelihoods and ecosystems for decades. These organizers were simply returning the plastic pollution that Formosa has left behind on their shores for far too long. The arrests are a clear display of corruption and corporate power, and yet another example of how law enforcement exists to protect profits over people. We demand that all charges on members of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade be dropped.” - People Over Petro Coalition

“The so-called terrorizing of nurdles is beyond ridiculous. The only terrorizing is the threat of more pollution from Formosa. St. James, a community that has already been overburdened by pollution from oil and gas and does not need more. These charges are examples of the extreme oppressive laws implemented by states to suppress the first amendment right to peacefully protest. We stand in support of Anne Rolfes and Kate McIntosh and the residents of St. James and the people in Cancer Alley.” - Joye Braun, Community Organizer, Indigenous Environmental Network and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal member

“It is a basic American right to be able to speak up against corporations polluting your communities or institutions trampling your civil rights. We stand with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade and communities nationwide fighting polluters; like you, we have a vision for our region that does not include more petrochemical/plastic plants, and does include the fundamental American right to protest.” - Vivian Stockman, executive director, OVEC-Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (Huntington, WV)

“Generational trauma already poisons communities of color. The resilience of this community and leaders working to protect both the land and people should not be criminalized. Each generation is responsible to take care of mother earth and their seed. Corporations must be held accountable with their criminal behavior, not the people working on their responsibilities to the land and community.” - Joél-Léhi Organista, National Vice President of Youth, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)

“When corporations, long accustomed to everyone doing their bidding, face real, community-driven resistance, they use every tool in their toolbox to squash it. These trumped-up charges against activists are indicative of the corrupt influence Formosa has in Louisiana. Anne, Kate, and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade exercised their right to protest in order to protect themselves, their loved ones, and their communities against further environmental harm. They should be celebrated for their bravery — and we stand with them from Pennsylvania.” - Sarah Martik, Center for Coalfield Justice

“When corporations engaged in environmental destruction begin to lose the PR battle, they fall back on the old trope that their critics are terrorists. While these charges are laughable on their face, the participation of the Baton Rouge Police Department in this clear effort to silence environmental activism to protect a corporate polluter is unacceptable.” - Sue Udry, executive director, Defending Rights & Dissent

“It is outrageous that activists are facing ‘terrorizing’ charges for peacefully exposing the petrochemical, oil, and gas industries in Louisiana. It’s the corporate executives destroying Black communities and their histories in the name of increased profits that must be held accountable. These charges should be dropped immediately, and industry should end its quest to make more polluting plastics that disproportionately hurt people of color all over the world.” - Ivy Schlegel, Senior Research Specialist, Greenpeace USA

“It is outrageous and chilling to see people criminalized simply for speaking out and advocating against toxic pollution in their neighborhoods. Louisiana needs to hold Formosa accountable for poisoning St. James Parish, not punish people who are trying to protect their communities. Friends of the Earth condemns these arrests and supports all of the people standing up to stop Formosa.” Liz Butler, vice president of organizing and strategic Alliances, Friends of the Earth

“These charges are a shocking abuse of power by Louisiana law enforcement. This blatant attempt to intimidate peaceful activists on behalf of powerful corporate polluters is egregious and unacceptable and will be vigorously opposed by the nationwide network that knows and respects these deeply dedicated women. Rainforest Action Network stands in solidarity with Anne and Kate and calls for these ridiculous charges to be dropped immediately.” - Laurel Sutherlin, Rainforest Action Network

“These absurd charges against protesters echo what we’re seeing across the board against movement for racial justice, Indigenous rights, Palestinian freedom, environmental justice and others. The legal bullying and harassment is ramping up, and smearing social justice advocates with the radioactive label of ‘terror’ is a cheap and dangerous tactic that ultimately undermines our fundamental freedoms to challenge the political, economic, and environmental status quo.” - Dima Khalidi, Palestine Legal

“Amazon Watch rejects the criminalization of protest by community leaders fighting for justice and survival for themselves and their community. Given our experience with Chevron’s attempts to criminalize advocates fighting for justice in the Amazon, we understand all too well how corporations attempt to manipulate the legal system for their own benefit, and we stand in full solidarity with Anne, Kate, and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade.” - Moira Birss, Amazon Watch

“Using criminal statutes designed for terrorists to charge Anne Rolfes and Kate McIntosh for their effective — and totally nonviolent — activism on behalf of communities opposed to construction of yet another petrochemical pollution source in Louisiana is outrageous, un-American, and sets a dangerous precedent,” said Eric Schaeffer, Director of the Environmental Integrity Project. “The Baton Rouge Police Department should withdraw this absurd arrest warrant and the public should be alarmed by this attempt to criminalize the Constitutional right to peaceful protest.”

“The conflation of the economic interests of polluting industries with national security, and the consequent conflation of legitimate protest by pollution-affected communities with “terrorism,” is another example of how powerful interests have captured government and made a mockery of democracy, in Louisiana and elsehwere. The politically motivated sham prosecution of Anne Rolfes and Kate McIntosh must stop, and all charges against them must be dropped.” - Basav Sen, Institute for Policy Studies Climate Policy Program

“These trumped up charges demonstrate the desperation by Formosa to try to squash true grassroots power. All Kate and Anne are guilty of is fighting for their very survival. Already, citizens of Louisiana have been burdened by an insane level of pollution that is impeding their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This act by law enforcement also shows the vagrant disregard for constitutional rights that our country was founded on. This dirty, industry backed government attempt to limit free speech will not stand.” - Stiv Wilson, Peak Plastic Foundation

“It is truly an injustice that we ignore environmental and human health concerns for the sake of profit, but it is even more appalling when voices of reason, enlightenment, and hope are silenced for the sake of industry. It is not just our right to speak out against the harms we suffer or witness; it is our absolute responsibility.” - Christopher Chin, Executive Director, The Center for Oceanic Awareness, Research, and Education (COARE)

“This is just plain wrong and a blatant attempt at intimidation.” - Cool Effect

“This is a clear instance of the law and law enforcement being used to protect corporations, profit, and property over people. Louisiana is criminalizing protesters for speaking out against environmental injustice that the state has done next to nothing to address. Black residents of St. James Parish have been subjected to infamous levels of pollution and outrageous neglect from the agencies that should prevent it. We are in solidarity with the protesters and demand that the charges be dropped immediately.” - Tamara Toles O’Laughlin, Director, 350.org North America

“City and state governments have been charged with protecting the people, not the financial interests of corporations. It is a serious injustice that Anne and Kate have been arrested for speaking out against devastation that the petrochemical industry has inflicted upon their communities. Frontline communities in Louisiana, around the country, and around the world are not disposable. The arrests of these two activists for practicing their Constitutional right to protest devalues our democracy and we call for their immediate release.” - Denise Patel, U.S. and Canada Regional Director, GAIA

“People around the world are demanding that we Break Free From Plastic precisely because of companies like Formosa Plastics, which has illegally dumped nurdles into Texas waterways for years. When we talk about environmental injustice, we’re talking about how Anne and Kate face felony charges for shining a light on this harmful plastic pollution, while Formosa continues moving forward with plans to build a $9.4 billion toxic facility in St. James Parish, Louisiana. When we talk about environmental racism, we’re talking about how Black community leaders with RISE St. James face intimidation and legal challenges while planning a Juneteenth Observance at their enslaved ancestors’ burial sites. We stand with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade and RISE St. James, and with everyone fighting the expansion of plastic.” - Brett Nadrich, US Communications Officer, Break Free From Plastic

“These charges are an extraordinary abuse of prosecutorial authority and fit into a horrifying trend of criminalizing protest and intimidating people for standing up for the health and safety of their communities. NRDC stands in solidarity with Anne Rolfes, Kate McIntosh and the whole team at Louisiana Bucket Brigade, as well as the residents of St. James Parish who are speaking out against Formosa’s dangerous petrochemical expansion in southern Louisiana.” - Rob Friedman, Policy Advocate, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

“Citizens advocating and protesting to protect their communities from deadly pollution and environmental injustice should in no way be criminalized, this is our right in a democratic society. WECAN stands in solidarity with Anne Rolfes and Kate McIntosh, and call for an immediate end to the criminalization of land defenders who are fighting ceaselessly for healthy communities, an end to sacrifice zones, and are calling for justice and accountability from polluting industries. The charges should be dropped immediately — governments should be protecting people and planet, not polluters!” - Osprey Orielle Lake, Executive Director, Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International

“The Story of Stuff Project is proud to stand with Anne and Kate who have done critical work to protect their community from the environmental damage caused by the petrochemical behemoths. Associating their actions with ‘terrorizing’ speaks to the concerning moves towards silencing the right to protest against environmental wrongdoings. We urge the authorities to drop the charges immediately.” - Sam Pearse, Campaign Manager, The Story of Stuff Project

“Publish What You Pay-US squarely condemns the arrests of Ann Rolfes and Kate McIntosh. As an organization supporting activists in many oil-rich countries, we recognize this brazen attempt to silence dissent as a tool that is similarly used in undemocratic kleptocracies around the world. These arrests are an obvious infringement of rights. It is equally clear that these baseless charges must be dropped immediately and that local law enforcement must stop criminalizing basic forms of civic engagement.” - Kathleen Brophy, Publish What You Pay - US

“Unfortunately, we can not pretend to be surprised by Louisiana’s complete lack of respect for an individual’s civil liberties and those individual’s right to speak out on issues that affect the health and environment of their community. As with most Gulf South states, Louisiana is placing more value on the economy than they are on the citizens in which they are supposed to serve. Earth Action stands in solidarity with Anne Rolfes and Kate McIntosh from Louisiana’s Bucket Brigade and demand that all charges be dropped immediately. We stand in opposition to Formosa and the actions of the State of Louisiana. The Gulf South will no longer be used as a sacrifice zone for harmful and destructive industries and the environmental injustices that they impose.” - Mary Gutierrez, Founder and Director of Earth Action

“This is yet another example of law enforcement overreach in service of powerful moneyed interests and against our rights to peaceably protest. But it will not prevail. And we stand with our friends from the Louisiana Bucket Brigade as they fight for their community and for justice.” - Matt Prindiville, CEO, UPSTREAM

“Anne and Kate represent those of the population whose voices aren’t being heard and are blatantly ignored for others to keep profiting off the resources of minerals that should never have been extracted in the first place. We must stand with Anne and Kate and the entire community to change the course of this type of thinking and oppression for the sake of our future generations.” - Marina Ivlev, Director of Communications, 5 Gyres Institute

“The arrests of Anne Rolfes and Kate McIntosh are a clear attempt to silence and intimidate the strong community resistance to Formosa Plastics. This overreach of the law is a threat to democracy and we echo the demand for these charges to be dropped.” - Erica Jackson, Community Outreach and Communications Specialist, FracTracker Alliance

“ALEC has pursued this in Colorado as well — trying to turn Americans into criminals for daring to try to protect their communities’ water and air. It is a basic American right to be able to speak up against corporations polluting your communities or institutions trampling your civil rights. This is another area where brutality by those with power and authority is in evidence but covered up, while incarcerating and tarring the names of those peacefully exercising their first amendment rights. We depend on such staunch citizens to expose the harms caused by the petrochemical, oil, and gas industries in Louisiana. It is indeed the corporate executives destroying Black communities and their histories in the name of increased profits who must be held accountable. We support Anne Rolfes and Kate McIntosh and all who stand up for the dignity and ability of all to live and thrive.” - Marie Venner, Call to Action Colorado and CatholicNetwork.US

“Like police blaming the victims they have brutalized and murdered, here we have corporate looters working arm-in-arm with ‘authorities’ to divert attention from their aggressive poisoning of those most vulnerable, in the name of excessive plastic, in the service of insatiable greed. People of Planet Petrochemical: it’s time to free peaceful protesters, put your dog on a leash, and turn toward authentic sunshine.” - Cheryl Barnds, Rapid Shift

“These passionate, creative and effective advocates should not have been arrested. They are being intimidated for drawing the attention of powerful people to the damage the petrochemical industry is causing to the people of Louisiana. Black and Indigenous communities in the Gulf South have long been treated as a sacrifice zone for the profits of the fossil fuel industry, and activists fighting for their health, safety, and future should be thanked, not penalized. Justice for Anne and Kate.” - Angela Anderson, Climate and Energy Program Director, Union of Concerned Scientists

Contacts

Siham Zniber, Earthjustice

We're the lawyers for the environment, and the law is on our side.