Court overturns permits for proposed $9.4 billion petrochemical plant in state’s chemical corridor

Residents and environmental groups opposed to plans to build a $9.4 billion petrochemical facility in a predominantly black section of St. James Parish scored a victory Wednesday, when a state court in Baton Rouge has canceled more than a dozen aerial permits the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) issued for the project.

19th Judicial District Court Judge Trudy White sided with environmental groups who challenged LDEQ’s permitting, determining that the agency violated both federal clean air law and its public trustee responsibilities, established in the Louisiana Constitution, in issuing licenses to FG LA LLC, part of Taiwan-based Formosa Plastics Group.

“Stopping Formosa Plastics was a fight for our lives, and today David took down Goliath,” Sharon Lavigne, founder and president of nonprofit RISE St. James, said in a statement released by Earthjustice. the non-profit legal association representing residents and environmental groups. in the suit. “The judge’s ruling sends a message to polluters like Formosa that communities of color have a right to clean air and that we must not sacrifice areas.”

Gregory Langley, a spokesperson for LDEQ, told The Lens via email that the agency is “evaluating the decision and will decide on a path forward after reviewing our options.” Janile Parks, director of community and government relations at FG, told The Lens the company disagrees with White’s decision and is also considering his legal options.

Formosa’s so-called Sunshine Project would encompass 2,400 acres next to Welcome, Louisiana – a majority-black community in the highly industrialized 5th District section of St. James Parish – and be located about a mile from the one of the elementary schools in the parish. Formosa’s proposed plant would manufacture ethylene and propylene, which are used in the production of plastics.

Governor John Bel Edwards touted the project in 2018, saying it would bring more than 1,000 well-paying jobs to the area. It also committed the state to a $12 million incentive package, paid in installments to the company. Environmental groups, however, scored a victory earlier last year when the Army Corps of Engineers said it had made mistakes in issuing its own permits for the facility and pledged complete an environmental impact statement.

Under permits issued by LDEQ, the plant would be allowed to emit 7.7 million tonnes of ethylene oxide per year, which the EPA recognized as a carcinogen in 2016, and nearly 37 million tonnes of benzene. per year, which is another carcinogen.

The facility would also produce more than 13 million tonnes of greenhouse gases per year. Southern Louisiana is particularly vulnerable to the dangers posed by climate change, which is caused by the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

In total, the LDEQ permits would have allowed Formosa to emit more than 800 tons of air pollutants per year, according to Earthjustice. The LDEQ issued a Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) permit in 2020 and issued 14 permits for separate factories that would be part of the project. Earthjustice — representing various environmental and environmental justice groups like the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Rise St. James, the Sierra Club and others — quickly filed an appeal against the agency’s decision to issue the permits.

The LDEQ should have issued the PSD permit – used for new installations or modifications to installations likely to increase pollution – only after the new installation had demonstrated that it would not contribute to pollution of the air exceeding the Clean Air Act’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards, which govern the average amount of pollutants, over specified time periods, that can be present outdoors without harming the public, White said in his view. .

However, Formosa’s own modeling has demonstrated that after its operations take effect, the 24-hour air pollution standard for particulate matter (PM) 2.5, or soot, as well as the d an hour for nitrogen dioxide would be violated – and in some cases, grossly.

Exposure to PM 2.5 has been associated with various adverse health effects, such as worsening of asthma, non-fatal heart attacks, and decreased lung capacity. The presence of nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere, on the other hand, can contribute to the production of acid rain. The compound has also been linked to adverse health effects, such as the exacerbation and, in some cases, the development of respiratory disorders like asthma.

LDEQ’s position was that Formosa’s discrete emissions, by themselves rather than in addition to existing pollution in the area, did not contribute significantly to violations of federal air standards and were therefore allowable. White invalidated that position on Wednesday and reversed the agency’s decision to issue a PSD permit.

“A licensing agency does not have the authority to contradict the plain meaning of the law by citing non-binding memoranda,” White said, referring to memoranda the EPA released in 2018 regarding so-called significant impact levels.

The LDEQ also failed to fulfill its obligations as a public trustee, which are included in the Louisiana Constitution, White wrote Wednesday. These require, in part, that the agency “go beyond its regulations if necessary to avoid possible environmental harm.” as far as possible”, she says.

The agency did not take into account the environmental and health risks posed by the facility’s emissions, which the company’s own modeling demonstrated, she said, noting that people exposed to pollutants of the plant even for short periods could face serious health consequences. In doing so, the agency failed to fulfill its constitutional obligations of public trust, she said.

Anne Rolfes, director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, told The Lens that she wants to recoup any public money the state may have provided to Formosa for the project and ensure it is used in the public interest.

“This money should rightfully go to the residents of the 4th and 5th wards in St. James Parish, to help the people there and the local economy,” she said.