Louisiana plastics plant shot down by judge

Environmental justice comes for residents of Welcome., La., a community with a 99 percent minority population.

A proposed $9.4 billion plastics plant received another body blow Wednesday, after a Louisiana state judge vacated 14 state permits and lambasted regulators for failing to live up to their "constitutional public trust duty."


The ruling is a clear environmental justice win for residents of tiny Welcome, La., a small community with a 99 percent minority population, 87 percent of whom identify as Black.

That town, and the plant's impact on the land and the families living off it, was foremost in Judge Trudy White's 34 page ruling.

"The blood, sweat and tears of their ancestors is tied to the land," White wrote, noting that Welcome's demographics reflect its roots as a place once dominated by plantations and now populated by descendents of slaves who worked those plantations.

In the ruling, White cited Sharon Lavigne, director of RISE St. James, a local advocacy group, and winner of the 2021 Goldman Environmental Prize: "These are sacred lands. They were passed down to Black residents from their great-great-great grandparents who worked hard to buy these lands along the Mississippi to make them productive and pass them on to their families."

Plastic pollution

The giant facility would have used ethane and propane as feedstock to ultimately make a variety of products used in plastics manufacturing. The project has been on hold since November 2020, when the federal government suspended a permit amid protests from local environmental groups.

White agreed with those groups in her 34-page ruling, saying the state did not do enough to protect the health and well-being of its residents. Regulators technically followed the rules in issuing permits, White wrote, but "the constitutional public trust duty imposes an additional legal standard."

"It demands [The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality] go beyond its regulations if necessary to avoid potential environmental harm to the maximum extent possible" (emphasis in the original).

A 2019 analysis by the nonprofit news site ProPublica estimated that the air around Formosa’s site is more toxic with cancer-causing chemicals than 99.6% of industrialized areas of the country. The plant's proposed emissions, the publication concluded, could triple levels of cancer-causing chemicals in one of the most toxic areas of the U.S.

Formosa credit bounce

If built, the plant would add 2.4 million tons per year of ethylene to a U.S. market that annually supports some 50 million tons, according to the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, or IEEFA. The facility would also provide a new source of polyethylene, polypropylene and ethyl glycol to the U.S. market.

Delays in Formosa Plastics' proposed petrochemical complex in Louisiana have, curiously, helped the company's credit rating, Tom Sanzillo, IEEFA's director of financial analysis, noted in a post.

Standard & Poor's downgraded Formosa in October 2020 in part due to the cash drain on the company from its Louisiana project. An upgrade "implies that canceling the project would be better for the company than laying out large sums of cash for a high-risk investment," Sanzillo wrote.

Editor's note, Sept. 14, 2022: This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Our annual summer reading list, 2024 edition

Happy 4th of July! Looking for a summer book? Here's what our staff is reading.

It's hard to believe it's already the Fourth of July — which means fireworks, cookouts, beach time and our annual summer reading list!

Keep reading...Show less
Senator Whitehouse & climate change

Senator Whitehouse puts climate change on budget committee’s agenda

For more than a decade, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse gave daily warnings about the mounting threat of climate change. Now he has a powerful new perch.
Amid LNG’s Gulf Coast expansion, community hopes to stand in its way
Coast Guard inspects Cameron LNG Facility in preparation for first LNG export in 2019. (Credit: Coast Guard News)

Amid LNG’s Gulf Coast expansion, community hopes to stand in its way

This 2-part series was co-produced by Environmental Health News and the journalism non-profit Economic Hardship Reporting Project. See part 1 here.Este ensayo también está disponible en español
Keep reading...Show less
Hurricane Beryl Cat 5 destruction
Credit: NASA Johnson/Flickr

Hurricane Beryl barrels towards the Yucatán Peninsula after devastating Jamaica

Hurricane Beryl unleashed destruction in Jamaica and is now headed for the Yucatán Peninsula, potentially threatening South Texas by Sunday.

Matthew Cappucci, Kim Bellware, Samantha Schmidt, and Anumita Kaur report for The Washington Post.

Keep reading...Show less

Coral reefs that protect Caribbean islands from hurricanes are rapidly declining

Hurricane Beryl, which hit the Caribbean as a Category 4 storm, highlights the crucial role of coral reefs in mitigating storm damage, but these vital ecosystems are disappearing.

Benji Jones reports for Vox.

Keep reading...Show less

Former Pioneer executives increase political donations to Republicans

A report reveals Scott Sheffield, former CEO of Pioneer Natural Resources and his son Bryan, have significantly increased their political contributions primarily to Republican candidates, following a Federal Trade Commission decision barring Scott from ExxonMobil's board.

Martha Pskowski reports for Inside Climate News.

Keep reading...Show less
LNG natural gas exports
credit: FracTracker Alliance/Ted Auchs/Flickr

Biden administration's natural gas export pause ends quietly

A policy lauded by climate activists to pause natural gas exports was quickly overturned, revealing the complexity and challenges in shifting U.S. energy policy.

Jake Bittle reports for Grist.

Keep reading...Show less

Some US cities are promoting themselves as climate refuges despite concerns

Climate change is prompting some cities to market themselves as safe havens from extreme weather, but experts question their ability to truly offer protection.

Mike De Socio reports for the BBC.

Keep reading...Show less
From our Newsroom
WATCH: Enduring the “endless” expansion of the nation’s petrochemical corridor

WATCH: Enduring the “endless” expansion of the nation’s petrochemical corridor

As mounds of dredged material from the Houston Ship Channel dot their neighborhoods, residents are left without answers as to what dangers could be lurking.

US Steel pollution

Nippon Steel shareholders demand environmental accountability in light of pending U.S. Steel acquisition

“It’s a little ironic that they’re coming to the U.S. and buying a company facing all the same problems they’re facing in Japan.”

Another chemical recycling plant closure offers ‘flashing red light’ to nascent industry

Another chemical recycling plant closure offers ‘flashing red light’ to nascent industry

Fulcrum BioFuels’ shuttered “sustainable aviation fuel” plant is the latest facility to run into technical and financial challenges.

nurses climate change

Op-ed: In a warming world, nurses heal people and the planet

Nurses have the experience, motivation and public support to make an important contribution in tackling the climate crises.

planetary health diet

This diet will likely keep you alive longer — and help the planet

New research finds the Planetary Health Diet lowers our risk to most major causes of death.

Stay informed: sign up for The Daily Climate newsletter
Top news on climate impacts, solutions, politics, drivers. Delivered to your inbox week days.