Image by Chris LeBoutillier from Pixabay

A new environmental review of the Formosa plant will take over two years to be completed. This is another blow to this plant in St James Parish.

A new, more stringent review of the environmental impacts of a massive proposed plastics plant along the Mississippi River in St. James Parish will likely take more than two years. Environmental groups are cheering that scrutiny, arguing it could provide a more realistic assessment of the environmental damage the plant would do to an area they say already bears a heavy burden of pollution. But some local government and business leaders are trying to rally support for a project that could create about 1,200 permanent jobs and pour millions of dollars into the local economy. The Corps had already approved permits for the Sunshine Project, a $9.4 billion plastics plant that Formosa has been trying to build for three years, but it rescinded them a year ago. Environmental groups filed a lawsuit claiming the environmental study was inadequate, and the Corps acknowledged errors. Now the Corps is a conducting a more thorough review called an “environmental impact statement.” It’s only the fourth such review the New Orleans district of the Corps has conducted since 2008. Martin Mayer, the Corps of Engineers’ regulatory chief in New Orleans, said the EIS process has “an average goal” of rendering a decision in two years. It will involve multiple opportunities for public input so that no “stone goes unturned,” he said. “I mean really the goal of the EIS is to get everybody’s input,” Mayer said.

This was probably the best result for those opposing the plan as there was little chance the company would pull out. This allows more public comment which was the desire.

The review means construction on the project won’t be starting anytime soon. The clock on that two-year estimate isn’t likely to start until the spring when a public notice is expected to be published. The Corps still needs to reach an agreement with FG LA LLC, the Formosa affiliate behind the project, on the scope of the work. It also needs to hire a contractor to do the analysis. Proposed by Formosa Plastics affiliate FG LA LLC, the plant would make pellets and other raw materials that are used to make everyday plastic products. Many state and local leaders have praised its potential economic benefits: It is expected to create 1,200 permanent jobs and generate tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue. But the plant has triggered lawsuits and regular protests from a dedicated group of local residents and environmentalists. It has also drawn attention from out-of-state political leaders and the United Nations. Critics have claimed that Formosa’s toxic emissions would land on already overburdened Black communities, like Welcome and Romeville, in the Mississippi corridor. They also argue it would create a massive new source of greenhouse gases at a time when much of the world is trying to fight climate change. The plant would also be built near a graveyard suspected of holding former slaves and become a major new source of the kind of disposable plastics already fouling the Mississippi, the Gulf of Mexico and the world’s oceans, these critics add. Those critics welcomed the Corps’ increased scrutiny.

The announcement was made at a meeting of Rise St James and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. This might mean a shift in power in this case. The Formosa plant may be one reach too far for the chemical industry.

Martin, the Corps regulatory chief, provided his explanation of the coming review process during a meeting with the community groups, Rise St. James and Louisiana Bucket Bridge, at the Freetown Street community hall in Welcome. The visit was one of at least two that Jaime Pinkham, the Corps of Engineers’ acting assistant secretary for civil works, and other top officials made in St. James last week. Promising fairness and transparency, the agency officials also met with the leading elected officials in St. James Parish, including the parish president, sheriff, assessor and school superintendent. Sharon Lavigne, founder of Rise St. James, said in a statement that her meeting with the Corps lasted about an hour and that Corps officials affirmed that “any industrial project’s impact on the quality of human life was a priority.” “This is the first time a government official has taken the time to see our humanity,” the statement says. “We will forever remember Mr. Pinkham for taking this initial step. We hope this visit inspires others to do the same. So far, we have been dismissed and discounted by the local leadership. They are on the wrong side of history, not us.”

Human life over corporate profit. What a novel idea. The parish leadership disagrees.

St. James Parish President Pete Dufresne said he told the Corps he supports the project. He recently commissioned a study by consultant Atlas Environmental that found the Corps has already followed the rules on state and federal permitting. “The health and safety of our residents is of the utmost concern,” Dufresne said he told the Corps officials. “It always was, always has been and always will be, but, with that being said, we have to be realistic with our approach to this project. I said, ‘I cannot lead my community just based on gut feelings. I have to have scientific data and something concrete to make my decisions off of, and everything in that report says Formosa was legit.'” Dufresne took office in January 2020 well into the fight over Formosa and after an earlier Parish Council majority had granted the project its blessing. He said the new consultant’s report gives him the solid basis to back the project and its benefits for his parish in full. He said the new consultant’s report gives him the solid basis to back the project and its benefits for his parish in full.

Opponents have a different view of the report.

Formosa opponents, including at least one parish council member, have criticized the report, saying it didn’t do its own analysis of emissions data and didn’t address some questions about how it had been reviewed. The council hasn’t discussed the report since it was delivered in Convent. The independent report “affirmed that all is in good standing for the project,” said Janile Parks, FG LA director of community and government relations. She said the company has been in contact with the Corps over the environmental impact statement “in the interest of a fair and transparent process.” “The company still has not received official notification from the Corps regarding the additional review or its components, nor did Acting Assistant Secretary Jamie Pinkham seek to meet with FG (last) week during his visit to the area, so we cannot comment further,” Parks wrote.

This is good news. Maybe the plant will move to Texas as it is not needed in St James Parish.

Formosa plant to face longer environmental review