Washington — Several environmental and community groups filed a federal lawsuit Jan. 15 to block the U.S. government's approval of Formosa Plastics Group's huge new petrochemical complex in Louisiana.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, said the complex would significantly damage the environment and it argued that the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers erred in granting permits under the National Environmental Policy Act. As well, it said the site would damage a slave burial ground in violation of federal law.
"The [Donald] Trump administration rubber-stamped this project instead of disclosing how Formosa Plastics would damage wetlands, poison communities and pollute water," Emily Jeffers, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said. "Formosa has a terrible record of spilling plastic pellets and releasing toxic pollutants. The federal government is long overdue in regulating the plastics boom and holding this company accountable."
The lawsuit came shortly after the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality granted approval for the $9.4 billion complex. In a Jan. 7 news release, Formosa said the facility underwent a rigorous environmental permitting process and said it meets state and federal health and safety standards.
The company said the project, in St. James Parish, would create 1,200 direct jobs and have a significant economic impact.
But the lawsuit contends the potential environmental damage has been underestimated, pointing to a $50 million settlement that Formosa agreed to last year in another federal court case. Environmental groups in Texas filed a similar lawsuit over pellet pollution and environmental damage from a separate plastics complex that the company operates in Point Comfort, Texas.
That settlement amount was the largest in a lawsuit brought by private groups under the federal Clean Water Act, according to advocates.
"Louisiana should be very cautious of letting this serial polluter open a massive new facility in our state," said Cyn Sarthou, executive director of Healthy Gulf, another group in the lawsuit. "At a minimum, they should require a thorough analysis of this company's potential impact on our water, our air, our drainage and our communities."
Sharon Lavigne, the head of the community group Rise St. James, said the Formosa plant would double air pollution in the community. In November, Lavigne testified before Congress and asked lawmakers for their help in blocking the plant.
The Formosa project includes plans for 10 separate plants, including several polyethylene and polypropylene plants as well as ethylene and ethylene glycol production.