Louisiana Court Ruling Reverses Lower Court Decision and Upholds Air Permits for Formosa Plastics’ Massive Petrochemical Complex in Cancer Alley

Massive proposed petrochemical complex would exacerbate toxic pollution in predominantly Black communities


Alexandria Trimble, atrimble@earthjustice.org

Today, a Louisiana appellate court affirmed the Department of Environmental Quality decision to issue air permits that Formosa Plastics needs to build its proposed petrochemical complex in St. James Parish. The decision, issued over a dissent, comes after Louisiana’s 19th Judicial District Court reversed the decision last year, vacating all permits and forcing LDEQ to reassess.

The permits will allow Formosa Plastics to build the largest petrochemical complex of its kind in the country, authorizing more than 800 tons per year of toxic air pollution — including known carcinogens such as ethylene oxide. The permits add an extraordinary burden to the predominantly Black communities in the area who already suffer from exposure to some of the worst toxic air from industrial sources in the nation — exacerbating environmental racism in this region known as “Cancer Alley.”

“Once again the state of Louisiana is putting polluters before people,” said Sharon Lavigne, founder of RISE St. James. “We have a right to clean and healthy air, and we will keep fighting to make sure our communities are not sacrifice zones for industry.”

“While this ruling is a setback in our work to protect Louisiana from this disastrous project, it is only one part of the battle. We will continue to hold Formosa accountable for the extreme damage it perpetuates on communities and for its attempts to wipe a historic Black community off the face of the earth,” said Anne Rolfes, Director of Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “Despite this ruling, we have power, and we will use it. Formosa Plastics will not be built.”

“We are extremely disappointed with this court’s decision. It allows LDEQ to continue its practice of greenlighting petrochemical plants, one after another, without stopping to assess the total impacts of cancer-causing pollutants on the communities nearby,” said Corinne Van Dalen, Senior Attorney with Earthjustice. “The fight is far from over, and we will be with RISE St. James and local communities every step of the way.”

Formosa Plastics cannot begin construction without a federal wetlands permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which requires an environmental impact statement and could be a years-long process.

The massive proposed petrochemical complex would include 10 chemical plants for manufacturing plastics, along with several support facilities spanning 2,400 acres. The site, located adjacent to the community of Welcome, is located just one mile from an elementary school in St. James Parish. Emissions allowed by the permits would double to triple the levels of cancer-causing pollutants currently harming residents from existing industrial plants. The company’s own modeling shows that if the chemical complex begins operations, the air in parts of St. James Parish would violate the Environmental Protection Act’s national, health-based limits for soot (PM2.5) and ozone-forming nitrogen dioxide (NO2). Inhaling the predicted, excessive concentrations of either pollutant, even for short periods, could cause breathing disorders, like asthma attacks, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).The project would also emit upwards of 13.6 million tons per year of greenhouse gasses, the equivalent of the annual emissions of 3 million gasoline-burning cars or 3.5 coal-fired power plants.

Earthjustice represented RISE St. James, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Healthy Gulf, No Waste Louisiana, Center for Biological Diversity, Earthworks, and the Sierra Club in an appeal challenging LDEQ’s decision to approve air permits. Beverly Alexander, a St. James resident represented by the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, intervened in the lawsuit to oppose the permits.

Sharon Lavigne of RISE St. James is an Earthjustice client and partner in a case against the “Sunshine Project” — a plant proposed by the Formosa Petrochemical Corporation.
Sharon Lavigne of RISE St. James is an Earthjustice client and partner in a case against the “Sunshine Project” — a plant proposed by the Formosa Petrochemical Corporation. (Alejandro Dávila Fragoso / Earthjustice)

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