Washington — A Louisiana community group asked a congressional committee Nov. 20 to help block Formosa Petrochemical Corp.'s plans for a massive plastics and chemical complex in the state.
The move comes a few months after Wanhua Chemical Group Co. Ltd. abandoned plans for a factory in the same area following community pressure.
The call for Congressional involvement in the Formosa project came in testimony from Sharon Lavigne, founder of Rise St. James, during a Washington hearing of the House subcommittee on environment and climate change.
"Rise St. James is asking for a moratorium on the oil, gas and petrochemical industry in our parish," Lavigne told the committee. "These new plants poison our community and deepen the plastic crisis. We want them to stop expanding."
Taiwan-based Formosa and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards had announced plans for the huge, $9.4 billion complex, including plastic resin production, in the state's St. James parish in April 2018.
In a news release at the time, Bel Edwards applauded the company's "responsible and thorough" approach with the project.
But during the hearing, which was called to look at issues faced by fence line communities next to industrial plants, Lavigne said Formosa's plans in St. James would make the site the third-largest emitter of ethylene oxide in the country and that it would double local air pollution.
"In St. James, we have 12 petrochemical plants within a 10-mile radius and those that we have, some of them are expanding," she said. "We are asking for a moratorium for them not to expand … and we are asking for them to not let any more come into St. James."
None of the members of the congressional committee specifically said during the hearing that they would push to halt the project, but some noted similar concerns in their districts.
One plastics bill being drafted in Congress calls for a halt in building new plastics facilities and some local officials, like Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, have echoed that. He said in late October he opposed new petrochemical facilities locating in Western Pennsylvania.
The hearing, the sixth in a series to help the committee draft climate change legislation, took a broad look at the Environmental Protection Agency's implementation of environmental justice regulations. Formosa was only a small part of the debate.
Lavigne told the committee that community pressure helped stop Wanhua's plan for a $1 billion factory to make MDI, a building block of polyurethane, although news reports also noted rising construction costs and fallout from the U.S.-China trade war.
Formosa did not testify, but a website the company has for the plan, dubbed the Sunshine Project, said it was in the permitting phase and would undergo rigorous reviews from both EPA and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.
The company said it is "deeply committed" to protecting the environment and operating a safe facility. It also said Project Sunshine would create 1,200 permanent jobs at an average salary of $84,500, and manufacture polyethylene, polypropylene and ethylene glycol.