Formosa Petrochemical has received air pollution permits for a $9.4 billion plant the company has proposed building in St. James Parish, though activists opposed to the project vow to keep fighting.
Dubbed the “Sunshine Project,” a reference to the nearby Sunshine Bridge, the plant would have 1,200 permanent employees with an average salary of $84,500, company officials say. Louisiana Economic Development estimates the project also would indirectly create 8,000 new jobs.
The state offered the company a $12 million grant to offset infrastructure costs, to be paid in four annual installments starting in 2021 when hiring is expected to begin. State and local officials touted the project when it was first announced in 2018, with Gov. John Bel Edwards claiming it could have a “multibillion-dollar impact on earnings and business purchases for decades to come.”
“Given the history of St. James Parish, this will be the largest industry ever welcomed,” Parish President Timmy Roussel said. “This plant alone will almost double the present tax base.”
But environmental activists say the plant would more than double the industrial air pollution in a region already known as “cancer alley” due to pollution-related health problems. Formosa could also emit up to 13 million tons of greenhouse gases annually, the equivalent of three coal-fired power plants, opponents say.
“The state of Louisiana is wholly unprepared to provide proper oversight of this monster,” said Anne Rolfes of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “This approval signals that our state government is willing to sacrifice our health, our clean air and water to cheap plastics.”
Rolfes previously has criticized staff and funding cuts at the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, comparing the trend to a hospital cutting staff when an epidemic breaks out. Activists have criticized Formosa’s environmental record, noting a $50 million settlement approved by a Texas court for polluting wetlands and bays with plastic pellets. The Texas judge called the company a “serial offender.”
Opponents also have called for the project’s parish land-use permit to be pulled after evidence came to light of possible slave cemeteries at the site, information that Formosa did not provide when the parish council approved the permit in January 2019.
“We are not going to stop because of this bad decision by the state to grant air permits,” said Sharon Lavigne, president of Rise St. James. “We will work harder because we see that the state isn't doing its job of protecting us.”
The complex would be built in two phases and produce ethylene, propylene, ethylene glycol and associated polymers, which are used to make products such as plastic bottles, grocery bags, drainage pipes, ropes, artificial turf, polyester clothing, antifreeze and playground equipment, officials said.