Washington — Activists opposed to Formosa Plastics' controversial plans for a $9.4 billion resin manufacturing complex in Louisiana took their case to Washington on Jan. 12, staging a rally outside the White House and meeting with officials from President Joe Biden's administration urging them to block the facility.
Specifically, the groups want the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deny federal environmental permits for the proposed facility in St. James Parish, La.
They met with staff on Biden's Council on Environmental Quality and climate policy teams, as well as Army Corps officials and congressional offices.
The Army Corps put its permits for the massive polyethylene and polypropylene facilities on hold in 2020 and then in 2021 announced it would be conducting a more detailed review, including a look at environmental justice implications for the complex, known as the Sunshine Project.
"We are still asking President Biden to step in," said Sharon Lavigne, the founder and executive director of Rise St. James, at a small rally held outside the White House before her group and others delivered a petition to Biden administration officials.
The petition said the facility would be built in a predominantly Black district within St. James Parish, where it would double toxic air emissions in a community "overburdened" with petrochemical manufacturing and facing "significantly higher cancer risk than the average American."
The head of Friends of the Earth, which supported the groups in their meetings, said in an interview at the rally that denying Formosa's permits would show the administration is following through on statements by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan elevating environmental justice issues.
"The immediate agenda for Formosa in Louisiana is that the Army Corps of Engineers has the right to say no to their permit," said FOE President Erich Pica. "What we're trying to impart onto the administration is that they are not passive observers in this decision.
"The administration understands that the petrochemical buildout going on in Texas and Louisiana is a big climate issue. It's a big environmental justice issue. It's a big fossil fuel issue," Pica said.
The rally also included speakers urging the Biden administration to pressure the government of Vietnam over its treatment of fishing communities protesting toxic waste released from a Formosa steel plant in that country.
The event included a mix of speakers in Vietnamese and English, as well as the head of the group in Texas that won a $50 million federal court judgment in 2019 against Formosa, which is headquartered in Taiwan, over plastic pellet pollution from its Point Comfort, Texas, plant.
"We are so tired," Lavigne said. "I have two brothers with cancer. My sister-in-law died with breast cancer. She worked at a facility. So many people, they don't live long after they work at these facilities.
"I talked to Michael Regan from the EPA and I told him I want to live a healthy life," she said. "I'm sick now but I want to get well. I want my children and my grandchildren to live a healthy life."
Neither Formosa Plastics nor the Army Corps responded to a request for comment.