The Fifth District of Louisiana’s St. James Parish was never exactly a bustling community — but it was still a community.
Then the local landmarks began to disappear. Woodrow’s grocery closed down. The St. James sugar co-op ground to a halt. The cleaners and post office shut their doors for lack of business.
Heavy manufacturing moved in. Duck’s Grocery sold out to a rail car and crude-oil storage facility. The high school football field was overrun by subsidiaries of a Chinese company and the Koch family’s corporate empire, which teamed up to build a huge petrochemical plant. Buena Vista Baptist Church now worships a couple thousand feet from a methanol plant and asphalt depot.
Against this background, many parish residents feared they had no prayer of stopping a $9.4 billion plastics complex that the Formosa Plastics Group proposed in the district on strips of flat sugar cane fields. Wedged in between other industrial sites along the Mississippi River, the facility would cover an expanse big enough for about 1,200 football fields, while discharging massive amounts of toxic emissions into the air.
The economics of the “Sunshine Project” also have dimmed recently. Tom Sanzillo of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis argues that the plant’s likely construction cost overruns and tight profit margins make it harder to justify, especially given a global oversupply of plastics.
“The case to us is clear that there is no market need for this plant, the state can do without it, and, to a good segment of the population living there, the project is a horrible burden, the poster child for environmental racism,” noted Sanzillo, the institute’s director of financial analysis. “The president recently highlighted Cancer Alley as a real problem, and this is an opportunity to do something about it.”