New York, N.Y.
After its launch one year ago, Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Beyond Petrochemicals campaign and its partners are celebrating progress made and a shared commitment to the work ahead. The campaign’s fusion of local organizers and activists with lawyers, scientists, and researchers has already blocked the construction of five significant petrochemical plants in the United States.
“As our country experiences a hazardous chemical spill or fire every other day, the need to stop the expansion of the petrochemical industry couldn’t be greater,” said Heather McTeer Toney, Executive Director, Beyond Petrochemicals. “We are so proud of this progress and the leadership of our partners over the last year. Our campaign is honored to be adding value to these grassroots efforts to secure a just, equitable, and healthy future for all.”
Building on existing efforts led by frontline communities, Beyond Petrochemicals was launched in September 2022 with an $85 million investment by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the goal to block the expansion of more than 120 proposed petrochemical projects concentrated in three target geographies — Louisiana, Texas, and the Ohio River Valley.
Beyond Petrochemicals has scaled its efforts over the last year, building a roster of more than 60 community and national partners. By providing resources and coordination, the campaign is helping these partners lead the effort to stop the expansion of the petrochemical industry.
“Racial justice is climate justice and this campaign is amplifying the voices of communities that have been ignored for too long.” said Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr., Beyond Petrochemicals Campaign Chair and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus. “The results from our first year demonstrate that community-led efforts can build a world without pollution.”
Petrochemicals are a major source of toxic pollution, including plastics, and an increasing contributor to carbon pollution. As oil and gas companies bet on increased petrochemical production to increase their profits, fenceline communities — those living near petrochemical facilities — shoulder the health impacts from petrochemical production, including respiratory illnesses, birth defects, and high risk of cancer.
First Year Progress
The hallmark of the campaign’s early wins is the combination of local, regional, and national organizations working together. These grassroots campaigns are building the roadmap to keeping 120 proposed plants from becoming a reality.
With support from Earthjustice, Ohio Valley Allies, Sierra Club, Buckeye Environmental Network, and the Ohio River Valley Institute, the Mountaineer NGL Storage facility planned in Monroe County, Ohio was halted. The facility would have stored ethane, butane, and propane derived from fracked gas.
“No industry exposes more people to untenable cancer and other health risks than the petrochemical industry, and ongoing efforts to expand it are dramatically increasing carbon pollution and plastics pollution in a time of crisis for our climate and our oceans,” said Abigail Dillen, president of Earthjustice. “We are honored to be a part of the movement that Beyond Petrochemicals is building alongside the incredible local and regional leaders who are showing how we can win these battles.”
The Appalachian Storage Hub in West Virginia would have catalyzed significant petrochemical expansion in the Ohio River Valley, including up to five ethane crackers. Working together, West Virginia Rivers, The Breathe Project, Ohio River Valley Institute, Sierra Club, Buckeye Environmental Network, Ohio Valley Allies, and FracTracker mounted significant opposition to the project. Despite powerful political backing at the federal and local level, these partners helped turn the tide on the project. The backer failed to select a site or begin the necessary process for permitting.
The PTT Global Chemical ethylene cracker plant would have been one of the largest facilities of its kind in the United States. Community members, supported by Earthjustice, Ohio Valley Allies, Sierra Club, Buckeye Environmental Network, and the Ohio River Valley Institute engaged in a multi-year grassroots organizing campaign to pressure state and federal agencies. If built, the plant could force people to relocate due to proximity to homes, shops, and the Ohio River. Progress to build the facility has halted and its permits have recently expired.
“This is an incredible win for our community,” said Jill Hunkler, community advocate and seventh-generation Ohio Valley resident. “The harsh reality of living on the frontlines and resisting oil and gas and petrochemical development has been difficult. Beyond Petrochemicals support arrived just in time to ignite a smoldering fire. More than traditional resources, it has also created a crucial connection between frontline communities and organizations in Louisiana, Texas and the Ohio River Valley.”
The Formosa Sunshine Plant was planned to be a substantial petrochemical and plastics manufacturing facility in a primarily Black community in St. James Parish, Louisiana. The site would emit the equivalent to 3.5 coal-fired power plants. Led by St. James residents, a coalition including, RISE St. James, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Earthjustice, Healthy Gulf, Sierra Club, Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, and Earthworks executed one of the most impactful and successful campaigns in the U.S. They elevated the Formosa fight on a national and global scale, forged a robust network of allies, garnered extensive media attention, and initiated multiple legal actions. Despite five years of investment, Formosa remains without a single Clean Air Act permit today.
“Our wins in St. James Parish are just the beginning of this fight,” said Sharon Lavigne, Founder and President of Rise St. James. “The planned onslaught of petrochemical facilities will overwhelm our communities with cancer-causing pollution. The stakes are high and the movement that Beyond Petrochemicals is supporting will help us meet the moment.”
The proposed South Louisiana Methanol complex in St. James Parish, Louisiana would have been a major source of toxic air pollution and it could have emitted over 2 million tons per year of greenhouse gasses. In a movement led by local residents, RISE St. James, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Earthjustice, Healthy Gulf, and Sierra Club persuaded the Parish Council to deny the land use rezoning needed for the proposed complex. Additional local pressure on the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality to revoke the air pollution permit, as the company failed to meet its construction deadline.
In addition to these victories, community members working with supporting organizations in St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana recently prevailed in a lawsuit to overturn the zoning on a 248-acre site that had been set aside for a grain terminal to support petrochemical operations. The presiding judge found that improper practices were used to rezone the site in 1990.
The campaign will take the lessons from these important early wins to help inform its targets for the coming year. With a new executive director, Heather McTeer Toney, and a full staff in place, Beyond Petrochemicals looks forward to sharing more progress on its mission to put people over pollution.