Formosa

A Plastics Spill on the Mississippi River But No Accountability in Sight

Read time: 7 mins
Nurdles on the bank of the Mississippi River in Chalmette, Louisiana, on August 9, 2020

When I arrived on Sunday, August 9, scores of tiny plastic pellets lined the sandy bank of the Mississippi River downstream from New Orleans, Louisiana, where they glistened in the sun, not far from a War of 1812 battlefield. These precursors of everyday plastic products, also known as nurdles, spilled from a shipping container that fell off a cargo ship at a port in New Orleans the previous Sunday, August 2. 

After seeing photographs by New Orleans artist Michael Pajon published on NOLA.com, I went to see if a cleanup of the spilled plastic was underway. A week after the spill, I saw no signs of a cleanup when I arrived in the early afternoon, but I did watch a group of tourists disembark from a riverboat that docked along the plastic-covered riverbank. By most accounts, the translucent plastic pellets are considered pollution, but government bureaucracy and regulatory technicalities are making accountability for removing these bits of plastic from the river’s banks and waters surprisingly challenging.

Following Lawsuit, Formosa Agrees to Hold Major Construction on One of Largest Planned US Plastics Plants Until 2021

Read time: 6 mins
Sharon Lavigne speaking at the Juneteenth ceremony at the location of a former burial ground for enslaved African Americans on the site where Formosa plans to build a petrochemical complex.

Back in late March, Formosa Plastics broke ground on its $9.4 billion plastics and petrochemical project in St. James, Louisiana, which the company has dubbed the “Sunshine Project.”

Today, the company agreed to limit its construction activities until early next year, under a legal agreement reached with several community and environmental organizations who had filed a lawsuit last week. Major construction activities at the site will not move forward until February 2021 under the terms of today’s agreement, with the company required to provide monthly status reports including photographs of work underway and completed.

Louisiana Activists Charged with Felonies After Delivering Box of Formosa Plastic Pollution to Lobbyists

Read time: 6 mins
Anne Rolfes and Kate McIntosh with nurdles

Two Louisiana environmental activists, Anne Rolfes and Kate McIntosh, were taken in handcuffs and leg irons from a Baton Rouge police station to jail after they voluntarily surrendered themselves on felony charges after months' earlier delivering plastic pollution pulled from Texas waters to fossil fuel lobbyists' homes. The two posted bond and were released later the same day.

The women are accused of terrorizing oil and gas lobbyists by giving them a file box full of plastic pellets found in Texas bays near a plastic manufacturing facility owned by Formosa Plastics,” NOLA.com reports.

After a Legal Battle, Juneteenth Ceremony Honors Enslaved Ancestors at Gravesite on Formosa Plastics Land

Read time: 7 mins
Sharon Lavigne speaking at the Juneteenth ceremony at the site of a former burial ground for enslaved African Americans on the site where Formosa plans to build a petrochemical complex.

“I feel like our ancestors are shouting and rejoicing in heaven about what we did for them today,” Sharon Lavigne, founder of RISE St. James, a community group fighting petrochemical plant construction in St. James Parish, Louisiana, said after a June 19 ceremony held in their honor. “We did not forget them on Juneteenth. We honored them by leaving roses at the site where their remains are buried.”

Late this morning, Lavigne and a couple dozen supporters held the memorial at what they say is a former burial ground for enslaved people that sits on the future site of a $9.4 billion plastics plant complex. But even as widespread protests against anti-Black racism have prompted a national reckoning, the ceremony at the former grave site was met with opposition. FG LA LLC, a local member of the Formosa Plastics Group, owns the property on a former sugar plantation and denied Lavigne’s request to have a Juneteenth ceremony there. It took a last-minute judge’s ruling to force the petrochemical corporation to make the ceremony legal; Lavigne had planned to hold the ceremony there, with or without permission.

Formosa Plastics Opponents Ask Louisiana Governor to Veto Bill Over Harsh Sentencing Concerns

Read time: 10 mins
Sharon Lavigne of RISE St. James

On Friday, June 12, Louisiana's Democratic governor John Bel Edwards is expected to sign off on a piece of legislation, House Bill 197, that would make it a more serious crime to trespass on Louisiana's so-called “critical infrastructure,” including the state's system of flood-control levees, fossil fuel pipelines, and sprawling network of petrochemical plants and refineries.

But if you ask Sharon Lavigne, founder of RISE St. James, a Louisiana community group, what House Bill 197 means to her, the answer that comes back isn’t about floodgates or water pumps or pipelines. It’s about the legacy of slavery in the United States — and how that legacy echoes in criminalization efforts today.

Activists Find Evidence of Formosa Plant in Texas Still Releasing Plastic Pollution Despite $50 Million Settlement

Read time: 8 mins
Diane Wilson kayaking along the banks of Cox Creek near Formosa's Point Comfort, Texas plastics plant

On the afternoon of January 15, activist Diane Wilson kicked off a San Antonio Estuary Waterkeeper meeting on the side of the road across from a Formosa plastics manufacturing plant in Point Comfort, Texas. After Wilson and the waterkeeper successfully sued Formosa, the company agreed to no longer release even one of the tiny plastic pellets known as nurdles into the region’s waterways. The group of volunteers had assembled that day to check whether the plant was still discharging these raw materials of plastics manufacturing.   

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.

Permit Hearing for Taiwanese Plastic Plant in Louisiana Turns into a Referendum on Environmental Racism

Read time: 9 mins
St. James Parish resident Rita Copper holds a photo of a friend who died of cancer

You don’t give a shit about brown and black people,” Louisiana activist Cherri Foytlin told government officials during a heated public permit hearing for a proposed plastics plant in St. James Parish. The parish is a predominately African-American community on the banks of the Mississippi River and has undergone rapid industrialization in recent years.

This is a dog-and-pony show and everybody in this room knows it,” she asserted, after the hearing officer cut off the sound system while Foytlin was giving her public comments. The officer, O.C. Smith, attorney for the Louisiana Office of Coastal Management, did this declaring that the hearing was no longer on the record.

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