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Formosa Plastics makes plans to move forward with $9.4B petrochemical complex

The Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned a lower court ruling, paving the way for Formosa Plastics’ massive $9.4 billion petrochemical complex in St. James Parish.

The ruling comes despite concerns about environmental justice and the project’s potential impact on predominantly Black communities.

The proposed plastics plant, which was first announced in 2018, drew immediate opposition from environmental groups and residents, who argued that the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) had been “arbitrary and capricious” in issuing permits without sufficiently considering the cumulative effects of additional pollution on residents’ health.

Formosa’s Sunshine Project consists of 10 plastic-making facilities across 2,400 acres in St. James, promising jobs and economic growth.

Former Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, celebrated the company’s decision stating the project would help create “a brighter economic future for Louisiana, one with an estimated 8,000 construction jobs at peak, even more permanent jobs upon completion, and a multibillion-dollar impact on earnings and business purchases for decades to come.”

The ruling came as a disappointment for the environmental and community groups that filed the lawsuit, though the facility still needs a federal wetlands permit before it can be constructed. The groups are urging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to revoke the permit which remains under review.

The LDEQ permits will allow the complex to emit 13.6 mt/yr of GHG and 800 t/yr of toxic air pollution, doubling toxic air emissions in St. James Parish, which is in a region known as “Cancer Alley” for its petrochemical corridor between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

In September 2022, a state district court judge vacated the permits, forcing LDEQ to re-evaluate. However, the appellate court reversed that decision this week, declaring that LDEQ was within its legal authority to “balance environmental, economic, and social impacts” as it did.

Opponents point to studies linking industrial air pollution to increased cancer rates and respiratory illnesses, concerns amplified by the project’s location in an area already grappling with such health disparities.

Critics also argued that the economic benefits promised by Formosa are often overstated, while the burden of environmental degradation falls disproportionately on marginalized communities.

Formosa — a Taiwanese chemical giant — welcomed the court’s decision, maintaining that the project will create jobs and boost the state’s economy. The company also claims it will employ state-of-the-art pollution control technology, minimizing environmental impact.

The Sunshine Project consists of three key units – ethylene glycol, ethylene and propylene. Each of these units aims to create the essential materials behind many everyday items such as clothing, anti-freeze, playground equipment, eco-friendly grocery bags and N95 masks for healthcare workers.

However, the legal process remains unresolved for Formosa. The project still requires a federal permit from the EPA, which has expressed concerns about environmental justice issues and potential violations of clean air regulations. Community groups have also vowed to continue legal challenges and grassroots resistance.

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