By Valery Volkovicy
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A Louisiana district court judge on Wednesday revoked air permits for a proposed plastics and petrochemical plant along the industrial coast of Louisiana, dealing a major blow to a project that has faced fierce opposition for years by local residents.
Baton Rouge County Judge Trudy White ruled in favor of local environmental and community groups, which appealed the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality’s decision to issue air permits to Formosa Plastics for the massive Sunshine project.
She said state regulators used “selective” and “inconsistent” data in evaluating the permit application and failed to consider the project’s air quality impacts on the predominantly black community of St. James Parish.
“Because the agency’s environmental justice analysis has shown disregard for and contravention of the relevant public evidence supporting the registry, it has been arbitrary and capricious,” the judge wrote in her opinion.
The decision is the latest blow to a proposed $9 billion petrochemical and plastics complex in the Louisiana area nicknamed “Cancer Alley,” home to several major petrochemical facilities and refineries where black residents suffer from high rates of cancer.
If approved, it will become one of the world’s largest production facilities for plastics and plastic raw materials.
Last August, the US military ordered a full environmental review of the Taiwan plastics company’s project after an original evaluation of the project determined it had failed to assess the project’s health impact on overburdened local communities. A new review could take years.
Formosa Plastics said in an email that the Sunshine Project was the responsibility of Formosa Petrochemical Corp., in which the company has a 29% stake, and referred questions to them. Formosa Petrochemical did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Nikki Rich, director of the Climate and Energy Program at the Center for International Environmental Law, said the decision sends a clear message to companies that they cannot ignore the voices of local communities when proposing major fossil fuel projects.
“The court’s decision underscores that damage caused by an industrial facility, whether it is a plastics plant or a fossil fuel refinery, cannot be assessed in isolation from ambient sources of pollution or from the broader context of the escalating climate emergency, disproportionately harming marginalized communities,” Rich said.