New Orleans City Council Votes Unanimously To Oppose Formosa Plastics

“Nurdles: plastic resin pellets fill every crevice on the island” by Sustainable Coastlines is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

The New Orleans City Council voted unanimously on Thursday to pass Resolution 92, a bill introduced by City Councilmembers Kristin Palmer and Cyndi Nguyen that would oppose the proposed Formosa Plastics mega plant in St. James Parish and further petrochemical buildout in Cancer Alley. The introduction of the bill was deferred from last week after Formosa Plastics submitted objections for the Council to review. 

The vote generated well over one hundred public comments and vocal support of the bill from Councilmembers Palmer, Nguyen, Helena Moreno, Jay Banks, and Jared Brossett. 

Although St. James Parish is roughly 40 miles upriver of New Orleans, the 14-plant Formosa facility, which would be one of the largest plastic plants in the world, poses a threat to the environmental health and well-being of the New Orleans community and countless New Orleans businesses. This threat is preceded by the 2020 Dow Chemical nurdle spill that unleashed an estimated 743 million nurdles into the Mississippi river, many of which washed up onto the banks in New Orleans, where they remain. Both restaurants and fisherfolk in New Orleans are concerned about the potential impact these microplastics could have on waterways and the robust fishing industry their livelihoods depend upon.

To introduce the bill, Councilmember Palmer recalled the 2020 nurdle spill, saying, “My office started receiving calls and photographs from constituents on both sides of the river…asking who was responsible for the cleanup. My staff contacted numerous agencies including the Port, the Coast Guard, and DEQ. All of them said the same thing—not my responsibility. And that right there is the problem. When it comes to protecting our environment, to keeping our source of drinking water and seafood safe and clean, I believe that it is all of our responsibilities to speak up and act.” 

Councilmember Nguyen voiced personal concern about the Formosa Plastics facility and the Taiwan-based company itself. She said, “When this project first came to my attention, the name Formosa sounds very familiar to me. Now it’s known as the 2016 Vietnam Marine Life Disaster, the most serious environmental disaster Vietnam has ever faced. My family in Vietnam was affected by the harmful actions of this company and gaslighted for months after their involvement. We cannot allow the promise of economic development negatively impact the livelihood of our residents.”  She went on to name other disasters and violations of environmental regulations by Formosa Plastics in Cambodia, Illinois, and Texas. The recurrence of violations prompted a Texas judge to call Formosa a “serial offender.” 

Councilmembers Banks, Moreno, and Brossett focused on taking apart the economic argument for the facility. Banks said, “No economic development justifies jeopardizing human life and for the number of jobs that we would create, when you put that in comparison to the number of lives that could be negatively impacted, for me that argument just doesn’t hold any weight.”  

The proposed facility would create an estimated 1,200 jobs—which would not necessarily go to residents–a relatively small number for a complex of its magnitude. Additionally, the facility would get an estimated $1.5 billion in tax exemptions over a ten-year period, money that would normally go toward public works, teacher salaries, and the like. Both the slim job creation and substantial tax exemptions make the economic argument shaky at best, especially when it has the potential to negatively impact public health and the fishing and tourism industries in New Orleans. 

Moreno argued that, “There should be no expansions of the petrochemical industry along Cancer Alley. On the one side it’s all about health and the environment and on the other side it’s all about jobs, right? But, we can achieve all of those things. We can protect our environment. We can ensure that people’s health is prioritized. And we can create jobs. But we shouldn’t be so reliant on just the petrochemical industry to create all the jobs. It’s time to look at other industries. Other states are certainly doing that and they are helping new and emerging businesses grow and prosper.” 

Brossett summed up the argument, stating that “You can be pro-business and you can be pro-environmental justice.” 

Although the resolution holds no power over the St. James Parish Council, nor the Army Corps of engineers, both of whom could revoke necessary permits for the Formosa plant, the resolution joins a growing movement against the facility. The movement began with the leadership of community group RISE St. James in 2018, and has gained both local and international attention since. As the world looks to pivot away from fossil fuels, climate-change causing emissions, and environmental injustice, the support for Formosa Plastics and petrochemical projects in general continues to shrink. 

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