Formosa Plastics Group is planning to build a $9.4 billion manufacturing complex right in the middle of a Black community here in Louisiana. Although the Washington Post just recently reported on this, this isn’t exactly news. Before I dive into the newest article, I want to share some background of previous pieces I wrote about this.
I found out about this last year through General Honoré, who shared his thoughts about the problems with the plant. Formosa doesn’t have Louisiana’s best interests at heart. In 2020, The Advocate reported that the $9.4 billion Formosa plant will be the seventh one in our state and will contribute even more pollution to our already heavily polluted air. You can read my earlier article on this topic here.
Keep in mind that this is the same company that was trying to keep Gail Lebouf from protesting Formosa’s plans to dig a pipeline through her ancestors’ graves. Lebouef is descended from slaves that were owned by Louisiana plantation owners, and their unmarked graves lie in the path of Formosa’s planned pipeline. Republican State Representative Jerome Zeringue sought to block her and all protestors from utilizing their 1st amendment rights in HB197 bill, which didn’t make it into law. If it had, this would have punished the protestors by enslaving them in the prison system. Thankfully, Governor Edwards vetoed that bill.
In the recent article by the Washington Post, the article shared interviews of a few more residents of St. James Parish, where the plant will be located. St. James Parish is mostly made up of Black citizens and many of the residents fear that there is nothing they can do to stop Formosa from coming in and further ruining the air they breathe. The complex will be along strips of flat sugar cane files and cover an expanse as large as 1,200 football fields. In return for all of this land, the plant will discharge massive amounts of toxic emissions into the air.
The article also noted that my home state is the nation’s third-largest producer of natural gas and our lower stretch of the Mississippi is already home to over 200 chemical plants and refineries. This is true. I can’t even go down to the riverfront without choking on the fumes that some of these plants put out unless I wear a mask (thank goodness for Covid making masks the norm, I guess).
The article stated another fact. Many of these plants are close to historically Black communities. Welcome and Convent in St. James Parish are just two across our state. Many in these communities trace their lineage to enslaved ancestors. And we all know that Black people in America have had their culture stolen from them and often are unable to trace their lineages any further than enslaved ancestors — up until the advent of DNA testing. If it wasn’t for DNA, many descendants of slaves would not be able to trace back any further.
For a company such as Formosa and our own leaders to try to stop residents from protecting the land that their ancestors died enslaved on, this is a slap in the face. However, there is hope. The New Orleans City Council voted to unanimously declare its opposition to the plant on April 8, and President Biden supports environmental justice.
The Plant Would Be A Mile From An Elementary School
If the plant is built, it will be located one mile from the local elementary school and two miles downriver from the Sunshine Bridge in an area that is known as Cancer Alley. I hear that phrase all the time here. When I grew up in Shreveport, people would talk about Cancer Alley and the plants that pollute the air. Under Louisiana’s environmental regulations, the new plant would legally emit more than 800 tons of toxic chemicals annually, 6,500 tons of pollutants that have been linked to respiratory ailments, and more than 13.6 million tons of greenhouse gases annually.
Clyde Cooper, representing the Fifth District on the parish council, shared his thoughts with The Washington Post. “The plants aren’t building our communities,” he said. “They’re destroying them, and we have to stop it.”
Tom Sanzillo of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis noted that the plant’s likely construction cost overruns and tight profit margins make it harder to justify. We are at a global oversupply of plastics. “The case to us is clear that there is no market need for this plant, the state can do without it, and, to a good segment of the population living there, the project is a horrible burden, the poster child for environmental racism,” he said. “The president recently highlighted Cancer Alley as a real problem, and this is an opportunity to do something about it.”
Louisiana is heavily saturated with plastics plants and refineries and we need more of them like we need a gunshot wound in the head. I live here, and yes, I could “just move,” as people often say. However, moving isn’t the solution. Think about the residents who are descended from slaves here. Their ancestors are buried here — some in unmarked graves. They have a familial tie to the land, and for someone on the other side of the screen to sit there and say “just move” is a selfish move that doesn’t solve the issue at hand.
We can move, or we can stay and fight for our rights. I can’t count how many times I’ve been told to move from my home state. In 2005, I did. In 2018, I came back, and honestly, there is truly no place like home. Louisiana is our home, and as citizens, we can vote out those who don’t have our best interests at heart. I’m a fighter and I fight for what I believe in. I may not live in St. James Parish, but I hope that my work here helps make some type of difference — even if it’s writing an article that may be forgotten in the span of a week. We need to use our voices and make them count.
Running away won’t solve anything. Change will. We need to continue to fight for that change.