A state district judge sent critical air permits for a $9.4 billion Formosa Plastics complex back to state environmental regulators so they can take a closer look at the St. James Parish facility’s emissions impacts on Black residents living nearby.
Nineteenth Judicial District Judge Trudy White issued the finding during a hearing Wednesday, telling the state Department of Environmental Quality to more properly evaluate the environmental justice questions surrounding the project, plaintiff’s attorneys said.
White ruled two weeks after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it would be suspending its wetlands permit for the facility along the Mississippi River to review its own analysis of alternative sites and failure to look at potential sites in neighboring Ascension Parish.
Formosa officials said White’s ruling did not suspend the air permits in the interim, but her ruling does add another layer of uncertainty for a project that is expected to create 1,200 permanent jobs, tens of millions of dollars per year in state and local taxes, and millions more in spinoff benefits once built.
Along with the Corps wetland permits and a local land use permit, the state air permits allow FG LA, the Formosa Plastics affiliate behind the project, to operate and help clear the path to significant construction investment. The Corps’ decision earlier this month had already halted major construction activities.
Last year, a joint investigation by The Advocate, Times-Picayune and ProPublica using U.S. Environmental Protection Agency modeling data found Formosa and other new industrial proposals since 2015 posed an acute impact on predominantly poor and black river communities, though white communities hardly escape it either.
Known as the Sunshine Project, the Formosa complex will produce the raw materials for a variety of plastics and has been permitted to emit more than 800 pounds of toxic pollutants, nearly 6,500 tons of criteria pollutants known to cause ground-level ozone and respiratory ailments, and more than 13.6 million tons of greenhouse gases annually, DEQ says.
[David J. Mitchell]