A Louisiana judge Sept. 14 put another major hurdle in front of Formosa Plastics' large resin manufacturing complex planned in the state, canceling its air quality permits in the wake of a lawsuit from environmental groups.
In response, Formosa Group LA LLC said in a statement it would "explore all legal options" to the decision by state court Judge Trudy White, who ruled that the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality permits would not protect nearby communities from pollution from the $9.4 billion plastics and petrochemical complex.
"FG respectfully disagrees with Judge White's conclusion," said Janile Parks, director of community and government relations. "We believe the permits issued to FG by LDEQ are sound and the agency properly performed its duty to protect the environment in the issuance of those air permits."
The decision was hailed by environmental groups, who said it would send the large facility, called the Sunshine Project, "back to the drawing board" by revoking permits that Formosa received from LDEQ in 2020 for the facility in St. James Parish.
"The judge's decision sends a message to polluters like Formosa that communities of color have a right to clean air, and we must not be sacrifice zones," said Sharon Lavigne, founder and president of Rise St. James, one of the groups that brought the lawsuit.
In a detailed 34-page ruling, White, who presides in Baton Rouge, said LDEQ was "arbitrary and capricious" in granting 14 permits to the project. She said Formosa's own air quality modeling submitted to the state showed that the surrounding area would receive unsafe levels of hazardous chemicals.
"LDEQ's decision to authorize the potential public health violations, without offering evidence to show it had avoided the risk to the maximum extent possible, was arbitrary and capricious and against the preponderance of evidence," White wrote.
The state court decision comes as the federal government is conducting two environmental reviews of its own.
The Environmental Protection Agency said in April it was accepting an environmental justice complaint from community groups and would review decisions by both LDEQ and the Louisiana Department of Health.
As well, last year the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it would do an additional environmental impact review of the planned complex, which would make polyethylene, polypropylene and other chemicals.
One local group predicted White's decision would lead to Formosa canceling the project.
"This decision is the nail in the coffin for Formosa Plastics," said Anne Rolfes, director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a local environmental group. "They won't build in St. James Parish, and we will make sure that they won't build this monster anywhere."
But Formosa said it planned to continue to pursue permitting and said LDEQ did a "thorough analysis."
"LDEQ found the proposed project met all state and federal standards designed to protect the health and safety of FG employees, the St. James community and the environment with an added margin of safety," Parks said.
"FG intends to explore all legal options in light of Judge White's ruling as the project continues to pursue successful permitting," she said. "FG has been, and will continue to be, transparent in providing information on The Sunshine Project, and intends to construct and operate it to meet all state and federal standards."