Home Education The race to shut down the plastics plant has won a decisive...

The race to shut down the plastics plant has won a decisive victory


As the old saying goes, you can’t fight the town hall, i.e. the government. But residents of St. James Parish, Louisiana, did just that — and won a major court victory against a a massive plastics factory supported by the governor, state and local legislatures, the business community and local governments.

Led by Sharon Lavin of Rise St. James, a faith-based grassroots organization that fights to reduce pollution in the community, and lawyers for Earthjustice, a national nonprofit environmental law group, and other community groups have waged a years-long battle. Eventually, the groups persuaded the 19th Circuit Court of Louisiana cancel 14 air pollution permits approved by the state Department of Environmental Quality, which would allow Formosa Plastics to build the proposed petrochemical complex. Petrochemicals are included in many products, including plastics.

This project would create the largest plastics factory in the world and subjected the inhabitants of the parish of St. James to another 800 tons of harmful atmospheric pollutants every year – on top of the air pollution they already breathe from the miles and miles of refineries and other petrochemical facilities that dot the landscape.

This stunning legal decision is just an isolated case, and the company has vowed to appeal. But as the head of an organization with expertise in environmental policy, we believe the victory will galvanize equally effective grassroots opposition in other places around the country where similar facilities are proposed — invariably in low-income communities of color, primarily in Texas, Louisiana, and the territories that make up the Appalachians.

Meanwhile, the world is already awash with single-use plastic, most of which is neither recyclable nor biodegradable. The solution would also prevent additional carbon emissions into the atmosphere when the nation urgently needs to slow down climate change by reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

As investments in renewable energy and electric vehicles reduce demand for fossil fuels, the oil and gas industry is turning to plastics keep making money.

This trend has alarming implications for the climate crisis. In October last year, report of our organizationBeyond Plastics, found that greenhouse gas emissions from plastics production in the United States are on track to overtake domestic coal emissions by 2030. The Formosa project alone would emit more than 13.6 million tons of greenhouse gases per year— equivalent to the emissions of 3.5 coal-fired power plants in the same year.

But stopping, or at least slowing, the Formosa project is only part of reducing the overall pollution burden for St. James Parish, which is located along an 85-mile stretch of the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans known as “River Alley.” ” A corridor in which many low-income people live, houses about 150 petrochemical and oil refining plants, and the lifetime risk that people of color who live nearby will develop cancer is significantly higher than the national average.

According to their permit application, the Formosa Plastics project has doubled or even tripled the levels of carcinogens breathed by residents of St. James. Twelve petrochemical facilities are already within a 10-mile radius of where Formosa wants to build, and the new complex will make the concentration of pollution even worse than it is today.

The company’s own modeling, part of their permit application, showed that breathing in excessive concentrations of soot and nitrogen dioxide emitted by the facility can cause conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Yet Formosa insisted on building this noxious complex just a mile from an elementary school.

Plans for 2400 acre complex is included 10 chemical plants, key among them are two huge “ethane cracker”. In such facilities, fracking gases are superheated until the molecules “split” into smaller hydrocarbons, especially ethylene, which is then turned into plastic pellets. Pellets are used to make plastic bags, plastic bottles, plastic straws and other consumer products – many of which are used only once and then persist in the environment for decades.

This effort to expand petrochemical facilities in Louisiana, Texas and Appalachia is creating “victim zones” where large companies believe local residents are as disposable as the plastic they produce.

While existing ethane crackers are already at work, all eyes are on the communities where the Formosa-like fights are taking place, and where opponents of the planned facilities are now energized by this legal victory.

Specifically, Shell built the nation’s newest ethane cracker in the tiny community of Potter Township, Pennsylvania, on the Ohio River. It is planned that the workshop for the production of plastic will be operational from day to day. Residents and environmental groups worry that it will attract other mega-polluters to the area, creating massive pollution problems that will make it the Ohio River Valley’s northern version of Cancer Alley.

These companies force residents to pay with their health, and for what purpose? So that consumers don’t have to bring a reusable bag to the store or drink from a sturdy coffee cup?

In Louisiana, state and company officials say the Formosa complex will be built 1200 jobs and add millions of dollars to the local economy. But there are more environmentally sustainable ways to create jobs that don’t harm the health of workers, their communities, and the planet.

If the court’s decision is overturned on appeal, Formosa could still be allowed to build. But Louisiana and other states need to stop falling for the jobs vs. environment argument. Climate catastrophes around the world show that we need to cut greenhouse gas emissions quickly and that moving away from fossil fuels will create jobs.

It’s time for Louisiana to change course, as the federal government is poised to commit significant new funding to renewable energy projects. However, if we simply switch to renewable energy while continuing to produce more and more plastic, we are guaranteed to exceed the crucial The climatic threshold is 1.5 degrees Celsiusleading to more severe heat waves, more sea level rise, more flooding, reduced agricultural production and more extreme weather around the world.

This is the moment for those in government and business to rethink their outdated economic development strategies, which should be based on providing viable jobs that do not threaten public health. We can no longer create sacrifice zones.

A judge has spoken, but the courts are not the only segment of government responsible for the health and environmental well-being of our communities. Congress needs to stop the race to build more petrochemical facilities. We cannot allow these investments to lock us into a future shaped by plastic and all the problems it creates in terms of the health of people, ecosystems and the planet.

This is an opinion and analytical article and the views expressed by the author or authors do not necessarily reflect the Scientific American.

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