Shintech Corp.'s bruising welcome in Louisiana over the construction of a PVC plant at Convent in St. James Parish illustrates what lies ahead for many companies investing in areas that are economic basket cases.
Gov. Mike Foster Jr. has provided strong encouragement to Houston-based Shintech to build the $700 million facility, which opponents of the plant say is an example of ``environmental racism'' because low-income residents near the proposed site are mainly African-American.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson of Chicago, a proponent of ``economic justice,'' also has become involved. Citing the concentration of plants in the area emitting toxic contaminants, he has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to deny Shintech an operating permit. The EPA's decision is scheduled to be released this week.
Shintech, meanwhile, says area residents aren't opposed to the facility, and welcome the 165 permanent jobs it would bring. The dispute turned uglier when Foster crudely warned Tulane University in New Orleans he might push to revoke the private school's tax-exempt status because of the involvement of its Environmental Law Clinic in opposing state air and land-use permits issued for the plant.
While Louisiana's governors seldom have been celebrated for their subtlety, they are known for accommodating industry to provide jobs and tax revenue for the state, one of the nation's richest in poverty despite its abundance of natural gas and oil resources. One of Louisiana's more capable, if controversial former governors, Edwin Edwards, freely acknowledged there were environmental tradeoffs for jobs in the petrochemical industry. Of the two, he suggested, poverty is more damaging to people.
Foster is no Edwards, of course, and the planned Shintech facility is not the Louisiana Purchase. The central question, however, is whether the state or the community of Convent would be better off without the plant.