Groups Challenge State Permits for Plastics Plant

Environmental and community groups want to keep the complex out of south Louisiana.

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Environmental and community groups that want to keep a Taiwanese company's plastics complex out of south Louisiana went to court Friday to challenge state air quality permits.

The groups include those that sued in federal court last month to challenge the Army Corps of Engineers' permits for the Formosa Plastics complex, which would build 10 chemical plants and four other “major facilities” on 2,500 acres (1,000 hectares) in St. James Parish.

“Formosa Plastics would build this complex a mile from an elementary school in Welcome, and less than one mile from the community of Union in Convent. Its massive air pollution emissions would vastly add to the significant environmental and health burden that African American communities in and near St. James must suffer," according to the appeal filed Friday.

The permits violate state law, regulations and the state Constitution, as well as the federal Clean Air Act, according to the appeal in state district court in Baton Rouge against the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.

"We don't comment on ongoing litigation,” department spokesman Gregory Langley said in an email.

FG LA LLC, the Formosa Plastics Group member that plans to build the plant, cannot comment on specifics of the lawsuit but followed all regulations, spokeswoman Janile Parks said in an emailed statement.

“FG is committed to protecting the health and safety of its employees and the community as well as the environment," and chose the site because it is in an industrial-zoned area away from parish population centers, she said.

She said the company has talked with hundreds of St. James Parish citizens who support this $9.4 billion project" and remains committed to listening to the public.

The permits would let Formosa emit more than 800 tons (726 metric tonnes) of toxic air pollutants a year, equaling the amount already emitted by plants in St. James Parish, according to the lawsuit.

They would let the company release fine particulates and nitrogen dioxide in an area that already violates EPA’s mandatory national standards, the suit alleges. “And they would allow Formosa Plastics to be one of the largest industrial sources in the state for some of the most dangerous carcinogenic air pollutants, such as benzene and formaldehyde, and one of the largest in the nation for others, such as ethylene oxide,” it says.

Area residents asked the state agency to deny the permits, filling a public hearing room and sending more than 15,000 written comments, but the department made only minor changes, essentially granting what the company proposed, it said.

“LDEQ doesn't care about people's lives. They should have consulted the citizens of St. James, not the public officials, before approving these permits,” Sharon Lavigne, founder and president of the community group RISE St. James, said in a news release. “It just tells me that people in higher office can do what they want and poison an entire African American community."

According to the lawsuit, the state department let Formosa assume that it would be able to cut “dangerous cancer-causing ethylene oxide” emissions by 99.9% without verifying that there is a device that can capture that percentage. “Even assuming a 99.9 percent reduction, it ignored that this Complex would become one of the biggest ethylene oxide emitters in the nation,” the suit stated.

The suit was filed by the four organizations that filed last month's lawsuit — RISE St. James, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, the Center for Biological Diversity and Healthy Gulf — plus the Sierra Club,Earthworks, and No Waste Louisiana.

FG LA is getting about $1.5 billion in state and parish tax breaks. Construction is expected to take about a decade.

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