Washington is putting another environmental justice hurdle in front of a proposed Formosa Plastics resin complex in Louisiana, saying it will investigate whether air pollution from the facility will disproportionately harm nearby communities.
The Environmental Protection Agency said it has accepted a complaint from environmental and community groups opposed to the $9.4 billion Formosa facility and will examine whether Louisiana government officials violated civil rights laws in their decision-making.
The EPA disclosed the review in two letters dated April 6 and released by the environmental group EarthJustice, which had filed complaints in January against the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality and the Louisiana Department of Health.
The EPA investigation comes after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said last year it would put the Formosa project through an additional review over concerns, "particularly those with environmental justice implications."
In the letters this month, EPA's External Civil Rights Compliance Office said that opening its investigation does not mean it has decided the merits of the case.
The bulk of EPA's letters detailed its response to a petition from the environmental groups about a Denka Performance Elastomer LLC plant in nearby St. John the Baptist Parish, but the agency also said it would look at the Formosa complex because the groups raised similar concerns about it under Title VI of the Civil Rights of 1964.
Specifically, EPA said it would review whether an Aug. 5, 2021, decision by the LDEQ to reissue 14 permits to Formosa "will subject the predominantly Black residents of St. James Parish to disproportionate levels of air pollution emitted by Formosa."
A Formosa spokeswoman said its large facility, called the Sunshine Project, complies with all laws and regulations and has faced detailed reviews.
"The Sunshine Project has been thoroughly vetted and approved by parish and state bodies because it relied on sound science in design and met all regulatory criteria. FG has no further comment on the matter at this time," said Janile Parks, director of community and government relations at FG LA LLC, the Formosa subsidiary building the project.
Louisiana officials gave approval to the Sunshine Project in January 2020, saying the large project would generate 1,200 direct jobs and $33 million a year in local taxes. It will produce polyethylene, polypropylene and other chemicals.
Opponents said it would double local air emissions and be a large emitter of ethylene oxide and has been the subject of lawsuits and challenges by some local groups.
President Joe Biden came into office saying he wanted to make concerns about community impacts from industrial factories a priority across his administration, and Biden's EPA administrator, Michael Regan, spent a week in several southern states in November on a tour highlighting environmental justice. It included stops in St. James and St. John the Baptist parishes.
Louisiana DEQ officials did not respond to a request for comment but told media in the state that their permitting process is "impartial and unbiased."
"LDEQ handles all issues with a fair and equitable approach," the agency said. "LDEQ will work with EPA to resolve this matter."