October 6, 2022

Two Big Wins Against Petrochemical Pollution – and $85M Raise for Communities Tackling It

Two major petrochemical plants proposed to be built in Louisiana will not progress after Earthjustice works with local residents to challenge the projects.

The facilities released massive amounts of greenhouse gases and toxic air pollutants in a historic Black community already overloaded by industrial pollution. They would be part of an extensive petrochemical infrastructure that the fossil fuel industry is planning on the Gulf Coast and Appalachia.

Earthjustice is tackling the petrochemical explosion with all the legal tools we have – and our work has garnered support from Bloomberg Philanthropies, which launched an $85 million campaign to stop the growth of this toxic industry.

What is Petrochemistry?

Petrochemicals are toxic chemicals derived from oil and gas used to make a variety of substances, including plastics and pesticides. As the US transitions to clean energy, fossil fuel companies are turning to petrochemicals to protect their profits.

Many of the petrochemical plants the industry hopes to build are planned in low-income communities and communities of color already burdened by a long history of environmental racism. If this accumulation goes forward, it will be locked into more climate pollution, plastic waste and toxic chemicals that poison our communities.

st. James Fights Back

Home to nearly 20,000 people, St. James Parish shows how communities can take a step back against petrochemical construction. It is located at the center of an 85-mile stretch along the Mississippi River, known as the Cancer Trail due to the high concentration of industrial facilities, most of which were located in historically Black neighborhoods.

st. James residents are already at a much higher than average risk of cancer due to the toxic air they breathe. Let alone two, they don’t need another polluting facility nearby. So they organized to oppose two petrochemical projects: one offered by Southern Louisiana Methanol and the other by Formosa Plastics.

A local community organization, RISE St. “We will never stop fighting against pollutants who think our health is less important than their dirty profits,” says Sharon Lavigne, founder of James.

First Winner…

Southern Louisiana Methanol planned to build the largest methanol production facility in North America. It would release more than 2 million tons of greenhouse gases per year and pump toxic air pollutants into neighborhoods adjacent to the project.

Years ago, government agencies had allowed SLM to build a smaller petrochemical plant on this site. SLM tried to argue that the permits it already had for this smaller facility gave it the right to radically expand. Earthjustice, RISE St. James helped the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Healthy Bay, and Sierra Club challenge the flawed logic of SLM.

After this coalition voiced environmental justice and land use concerns, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality asked SLM to confirm that it plans to continue with its development plans. The company did not respond by the government agency’s deadline, so in September 2022 the agency withdrew its review of the proposal.

…then someone else

Days after the SLM victory, a Louisiana district court revoked the air permits for the Formosa Plastics petrochemical complex. doubled the levels of cancer-causing pollutants currently harming residents from existing industrial facilities.

The project would also release more than 13.6 million tons of greenhouse gases per year, the equivalent of 3.5 coal-fired power plants.

The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality has approved Formosa’s 2020 air permit application with no change or few changes to provide public health protection, even after receiving 15,500 public comments against the project.

Earthjustice appealed against LDEQ’s decision to approve air permits, RISE St. James represented the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Healthy Bay, No Waste Louisiana, Center for Biodiversity, Earthworks and the Sierra Club. On September 14, the court returned Formosa to the drawing board.

build on success

These two fights are part of a much broader community-led effort to halt proposed petrochemical projects in Louisiana, Texas and the Ohio River Valley. Financial support from Bloomberg Philanthropies will help Earthjustice continue to provide free legal aid to these communities.

“After years of deception and delay, it is more important than ever for communities to step up where others have historically stepped back,” Lavigne says. “Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Beyond Petrochemicals campaign, St. It will help win local fights in places like James Parish.”

“The petrochemical industry has been poisoning people in the Gulf South and Appalachia for generations,” says Abigail Dillen, president of Earthjustice. “In this tremendous fight for the future, Earthjustice is honored to work with an incredible group of leaders, including the Bloomberg Philanthropists. This is the kind of transformative investment we must earn.”

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