cancer alley

LNG, Plastics and Other Gas Industry Plans Would Add Climate Pollution Equal to 50 New Coal Plants

Read time: 9 mins
Shell's plastics plant in Beaver County, PA under construction

This week, plans to build one of the world’s largest plastics and petrochemical plants in St. James Parish, Lousiana — the heart of the state’s notorious Cancer Alley — inched forward as Lousiana approved air quality permits that could allow the plant to release 13.6 million tons per year of greenhouse gases — equal to three coal-fired power plants — and a host of other pollutants.

The St. James plant would be the single most polluting facility of 157 planned new or expanding refineries, liquefied natural gas (LNG) export projects, and petrochemical plants that have sought or obtained air pollution permits in the U.S., according to a report published today by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP).

The Plastics Giant and the Making of an Environmental Justice Warrior

Read time: 23 mins
Sharon Lavigne holds a sign that says 'Stop Formosa'

This report was produced as part of ivoh’s Restorative Narrative Fellowship.

On the evening of January 6, Louisiana state regulators issued 15 key permits to the Taiwanese petrochemical corporation Formosa for its $9.4 billion plastics manufacturing complex proposed for the historically black area of St. James Parish. Word spread today about the approvals, which pave the way for the project’s construction, opposed by local and national environmental advocates.

Sharon Lavigne, a demure, 67-year-old recently retired special-ed teacher born and raised in St. James Parish, cried when she heard the news. Her community along the Mississippi River is already saddled with petrochemical plants and oil storage tanks, which release known carcinogens into the air that she fears are making her and her family sick.

I spoke to Lavigne, who has tirelessly fought the project since the fall of 2018, just after news broke of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality’s (LDEQ) decisions for Formosa.

From the BP Spill to a Disappearing Island: A Decade of Covering Climate and the Environment in Louisiana

Read time: 7 mins
Cemetery next to the Marathon Refinery, in Reserve, Louisiana, in the heart of Cancer Alley

What happens in Louisiana doesn’t stay in Louisiana. The state's role in the oil and gas industry impacts both global markets and global climate change. It’s also on the front line of climate change impacts due to sea level rise and is vulnerable to storm systems intensified by global warming. Here is a selection of photos from a decade of my coverage of environmental issues in Louisiana.

The decade started with the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history. The impacts from the BP oil spill are still taking a toll on the environment, and a number of people exposed to the oil and the dispersant used to break up the oil continue to fight the company for compensation due to their health claims.

2019 in Photos: Impacts from Environmental Rollbacks and the Growing Climate Activism

Read time: 7 mins
Christmas tree on tombstone in cemetery near coal power plant

Here is a selection of photos I shot for DeSmog in 2019, another year when arguably not enough collective action was taken to protect the planet from global warming. 

Throughout 2019 the Trump administration continued to roll back environmental standards. Meanwhile, advocacy groups and activists ramped up the battle for clean air and water and a livable climate. 

Environmental Justice Activists Arrested Amid Growing Concerns Over Louisiana’s Cancer Alley Pollution

Read time: 9 mins
Police and protesters in Baton Rouge

Mounting concerns over pollution, public health, and the expansion of the petrochemical industry came to a head when two activists were detained in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on October 30, the last day of a two-week protest against environmental racism in Louisiana’s Cancer Alley. 

Following Pushback, Chinese-owned Chemical Giant Pulls Plug on Massive Plastics Project in Louisiana’s Cancer Alley

Read time: 5 mins

Chinese giant Wanhua Chemical officially withdrew its plans to build a $1.25 billion plastics manufacturing complex in St. James, Louisiana, in the heart of the already industrialized Cancer Alley. The news bought relief to opponents of the plant. 

I’m glad they won’t be coming,” Eve Butler, a lifelong resident of St. James Parish, told me in a call. “I live straight across the river from where the plant was going to be built.” Butler was part of a group of residents, local community groups, and environmental advocacy nonprofits that took part in a concentrated battle to stop the Wanhua plant from being built. 

Another Death in Louisiana’s Cancer Alley Brings Environmental Activists Together to Honor One of Their Own

Read time: 7 mins
Casket with Geraldine Mayho’s body being laid to rest in St. James, Louisiana.

On August 7, after Geraldine Mayho’s funeral, her body was laid to rest in the St. James Catholic Cemetery in southern Louisiana, across the street from a cluster of oil storage tanks. The tanks are like those that surround the Burton Lane neighborhood in St. James where she had lived, and are emblematic of the type of polluting industry she spent her last years rallying against.

New Concerns Raised by Opponents Delay Wanhua’s $1.25 Billion Plastic Complex in Louisiana

Read time: 7 mins
Pastor Harry Joseph speaking at a St. James Parish Council meeting on July 24.

Look at what is coming into the Parish, instead of saying ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah’—it is time to say ‘No,’” Pastor Harry Joseph told the St. James Parish Council on July 24. He implored councilmembers to consider freshly unveiled public health and economic concerns before they reaffirmed a permit allowing yet another petrochemical plant in a southern Louisiana community fed up with its already rapid industrialization.

Joseph, pastor of Mount Triumph Baptist Church in St. James, is one of the plaintiffs appealing the parish council’s permit granted May 20 to Wanhua Chemical, which is planning to build a $1.25 billion plastics factory on the banks of the Mississippi River. During the appeal, new information about the project caused the council to halt a vote on repealing the permit. Instead, it sent the matter back for reconsideration to the parish planning commission, which had previously granted the project permission.

Louisiana Braces for a Storm While Weighing New Fossil Fuel Projects

Read time: 7 mins

Yesterday, I stopped writing another story for DeSmog to get ready for what could likely become this year’s first hurricane in the U.S. 

I live in Mandeville, Louisiana, on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain across from New Orleans. My home is above sea level, unlike much of New Orleans, so I’m at a much lower risk for flooding impacts than residents of a city nearly synonymous with flooding.

However, like most residents in south coastal Louisiana, I’m bracing myself for a sustained barrage from the sky, as bands of rain and wind from Tropical Storm Barry arrived in parts of the state this morning. The entire Louisiana coast could be hit with the season’s first hurricane by Saturday.

Louisiana’s Cancer Alley Residents Take the Fight for Environmental Justice on the Road

Read time: 9 mins
Sharon Lavigne and Barbara Washington, St. James Parish residents, in Washington, D.C.

Last month, four residents from Louisiana neighborhoods impacted by air pollution traveled far from their Mississippi River parishes to Washington, D.C., and Tokyo, Japan, seeking help in their struggle for clean air.

St. James Parish’s Sharon Lavigne and Barbara Washington, both fighting to prevent additional petrochemical plant construction near their homes, attended the Congressional Convening on Environmental Justice in Washington, D.C., on June 26.* 

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