Out-of-State Attorneys General Contest Army Corps Environmental Assessment of Formosa Plastics

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Attorneys General from New York, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, and New Jersey sent a letter on Monday to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers outlining their reasoning for a more comprehensive analysis of Formosa Plastics. Their comments outlined a scathing review of the New Orleans District Army Corps of Engineers’ incompetence in properly analyzing the impacts of the Formosa project.

This isn’t the first time they’ve come under fire either. In November, they were sued by the Center for Biological Diversity and local partners RISE St. James, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade as well as Healthy Gulf and received more than 10,000 public comments urging them to revoke Formosa Plastics’ federal permit. This led the Corps to temporarily suspend their permit for the project. However, community members, activists and out-of-state Attorneys General agree that a temporary suspension isn’t enough. 

The letter calls for a reevaluation of the environmental justice and climate implications of the project. According to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Corps must prepare an Environmental Assessment before issuing permits for a project. If the Environmental Assessment determines that the project will have significant environmental impact, the Corps is required to complete a more thorough Environmental Impact Statement. However, the Corps formerly concluded that the $9.4 billion Formosa Plastics megaplant, that would emit 13.6 million tons of greenhouse gases annually and release known toxic chemical carcinogens like benzene, would “not have a significant impact on the quality of the human environment.” Thus, no thorough impact assessment has been completed despite significant pushback from scientists and community members, and the obvious magnitude of the project. 

Another criticism of the original assessment was that it didn’t consider the thirteen other polluting plants in the predominantly Black 5th District, where the Formosa plastics megaplant would be built. The Corps also claimed that “there has not been any intentional discrimination” in choosing the predominantly Black district for the plant. However, intentional or not, the letter noted that this analysis violated federal environmental justice policy, which considers discriminatory impact, not discriminatory intention. As far as climate impact is concerned, the Formosa complex would be the largest greenhouse gas emitter in Louisiana and one of the largest in the nation, with annual emissions equivalent to running three and a half coal plants. However, the Corps described these emissions as “negligible,” citing global greenhouse gases, literally the greenhouse gasses for the entire world as a comparison. 

In the Corps’ defense, they aren’t the only environmental regulatory agency in the state of Louisiana who can’t seem to do their job. The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality also came under fire after an independent audit found the agency grossly ineffective at enforcing regulations on industry. 

Ineffective, racist, incompetent whatever you want to call it, both agencies have been out of commission when it comes to protecting fenceline communities. Resident organizations like RISE St. James has taken the lead where systems have failed them, garnering local and international support against the environmental racism they are facing. And they’ve been deeply successful. From their organizing, New Orleans and Westwego passed Resolutions against the Formosa facility, and the UN condemned the environmental racism of the proposed plant in a recent report. So, what’s the hold up? Both the Corps and the Biden administration have the power to stop the plant. What will it take for them to act? 

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