It is no secret that some of Louisiana’s leading industries are in oil, natural gas, and chemicals. Our state is the third largest producer of petroleum in the country and, on top of that, we have the largest concentration of crude oil refineries. We also ship out more than $14 billion worth of chemicals each year. Needless to say, a lot of Louisiana's revenue comes from these industries. But at what cost?
Economics looks at how a country decides to use their scarce resources in the best way possible. And that decision is made by determining what to produce, how to produce it, and who to produce it for. Ideally, government actors answer these questions while keeping two important things in mind. First, the maintenance of our environment. Second, the health and well-being of our society. But that is not the case when you look at the locations of most of Louisiana's production facilities.
Governor John Bel Edwards claimed that Louisiana needs “a healthy dose of common sense and compassion for ordinary people”. Yet, when we look at the community of St. James ( which is located in the mostly African American river region commonly referred to as ‘Cancer Alley’), our land and our people have received everything but compassion. Edwards recently endorsed Formosa's $9.4 billion dollar chemical plant that will take up 2,400 acres of land in St. James. Furthermore, he offered a competitive incentive grant that includes a $12 million performance based grant Formosa would receive in four annual installments. And the cost of this addition to one of Louisiana's most lucrative industries? Both the destruction of our priceless wetlands and a drastic downgrade in quality of life for a small community of African American people.
When local politicians in St. James adopted a land use plan allowing industrial development in 2014, most of the wealthier residents sold their property and moved. The more poor residents who remained didn’t have the same opportunity. Why? The oil storage tanks and railroad terminals placed near their homes brought down property values, turning away any potential buyers.
St James community is African American and disproportionately low income. via JusticeMap
The residents of St. James now suffer from chemical exposure. Many are already dead from either cancer or respiratory disease. On top of that, their crops no longer grow and they lack an evacuation route in case of a chemical leak or explosion. Needless to say, the St. James community is stuck living in an area that is detrimental to their health. The community has been a target for environment racism for many years; it is common for big industry to invade minority communities more than white communities.
Pastor Harry Joseph is one of the leading advocates from the St. James community. "We don't want more plants. We don't need more plants. But they've been trying to force their way in," he said to me in a phone interview.
former evacuation route via Burton Lane, sold to Capline. via google maps
Governor Edwards’ support for the construction of yet another plant in the St. James community shows what little sympathy he has for the ordinary people he advocated for prior to his election. His disregard to how the Formosa project disproportionately affects communities of color is the epitome of environmental racism. Furthermore, the project’s destruction of the affected wetlands is sure to bring more problems than solutions. The St. James community does not need another chemical facility nor another accident-waiting-to-happen. The St. James Community needs a voice and a way to get out in case of disaster.
Formosa Plastics in St James Parish via LDNR SONRIS
Time and time again, we’ve seen our government abuse its power, violate human rights, and jeopardize the lives of ordinary people for economic gain. The St. James community surely deserves breathable air and an evacuation route. But more importantly, St. James residents deserve to have the opportunity to leave and move elsewhere if they want to. Take action today by expressing your opposition to LDNR via email, and emailing the Governor. You can also back the St. James community’s efforts in fighting these big industries by donating to the St. James H.E.L.P. organization.
Tia Alexander is GRN's Water and Wetlands Fellow.
Read GRN's Comment letter on Formosa Plastics' Coastal Use Permit here