“No Community Is Disposable,” Activist Welcome Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act With Projections on Superdome

Photo Credit: Zachary Kanzler

On Monday night, activist from the Stop Formosa Plastics Coalition projected slogans including, “#BreakFreeFromPlastic,” “No Community Is Disposable,” “Libérate del Plástico,” “Environmental Justice = No New Plastic” and a skull and crossbones onto the Superdome. They join activist groups in cities across the U.S. including Washington D.C., San Francisco, Houston, Portland, and Pittsburgh who projected similar messages onto local landmarks to welcome the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act of 2021. Although the original Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act of 2020 died in the previous congress, many are hopeful that the Biden Administration will be supportive of this new bill, considering his commitment to fighting the climate crisis and environmental racism. 

The bill, introduced by Senator Jeff Merkley (OR) and Representative Adam Lowenthal (CA), would comprehensively tackle the plastic problem at every stage of life. Although plastic is often viewed as a waste issue, the production of plastic is emissions-intensive and toxic, which many frontline communities in Louisiana’s petrochemical corridor, called “Cancer Alley,” know too well. The bill would phase out single-use plastics like plastic utensils, enact a temporary pause on new or expanding petrochemical facilities, limit export of waste to other countries, make plastic producers responsible for post-consumer waste, institute a variety of  requirements for recycling and waste collection systems and protect frontline communities.

Protection for frontline communities, or communities next to or nearby polluting facilities, is a major goal of the bill. Enacting a temporary pause on new or expanding facilities would give the EPA time to strengthen regulations on toxic output from petrochemical facilities, which would protect their neighbors. In Louisiana, this pause would come as a huge relief to residents in St. James parish who have been fighting the controversial Formosa Plastics mega plant since 2018. The proposed facility has come under fire for environmental racism and negative health impacts as it would be built in the majority Black 5th District and would double the cancer risk in the parish, which is already high above the national average. 

Additionally, the pause may be financially beneficial for the state of Louisiana. The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis recently came out with a report calling the Formosa facility “financially unviable.” The report cited a stagnating market, international competition, rising construction costs, and regulatory risk in their reasoning. The rising construction cost, which would increase the proposed budget from $9.4 billion to $12 billion is especially concerning. The facility could be a dead-end for new jobs and profits, even with the promise of substantial tax exemptions. The estimated tax exemptions, which are expected to be grandfathered in for the full, pre-executive order amounts, would equal roughly $1.5 billion dollars over a ten-year period. Considering that these property taxes go toward funding public works like schools and libraries, St. James parish could be robbed of both their health, promised jobs, and taxes from the facility.

Considering the political power of fossil fuel industries in Louisiana, which include oil, gas, and plastics, industrial regulation is incredibly difficult to pursue at the state level. Local activists often get caught up in multi-year battles with singular facilities, without ever getting to the root of the problem, which is the expansive petrochemical buildout across the state. This makes the potential for federal action so meaningful here, where the impacts of petrochemical pollution are so apparent, and the opposition to regulation so strong. 

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