The US Army Corps of Engineers announced on Wednesday that it will require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), involving a full environmental review, for the $9.4 billion plastics plant that Formosa Plastics has proposed building in St. James Parish, Louisiana. The decision is being hailed as a victory by community and environmental groups opposed to the plant.
The announcement follows the Army Corps’ decision in November to suspend a permit that was issued in 2019 for construction of the plant over concerns that inaccurate information led alternate sites for the project not to be considered. The Corps said at the time that it would reexamine other aspects of the permit.
“As a result of information received to date and my commitment for the Army to be a leader in the federal government’s efforts to ensure thorough environmental analysis and meaningful community outreach, I conclude an EIS process is warranted to thoroughly review areas of concern, particularly those with environmental justice implications,” Jaime A. Pinkham, acting assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, says in a statement announcing the decision.
In response to a request for comment, Formosa says Pinkham’s statement provides “little detail on EIS procedure the Corps intends to use in its additional evaluation of the project. As a result, the company will continue to work with the Corps as we receive more guidance on the additional evaluation.”
A law suit brought by community and environmental groups last year sought to invalidate clean-water permits issued by the Corps. It asserts that officials violated federal laws in approving the destruction of wetlands essential to protecting the region from hurricanes that are intensified by climate change.
“The Army Corps has finally heard our pleas and understands our pain. With God’s help, Formosa Plastics will soon pull out of our community,” Sharon Lavigne, founder and head of the community group RISE St. James, says in a statement. “Nobody took it upon themselves to speak for St. James Parish until we started working to stop Formosa Plastics. Now the world is watching this important victory for environmental justice.”
In an interview with C&EN, Lavigne adds that she expects the EIS review to take at least 2 years to complete. “I know Formosa isn’t going to wait 2 more years," she says. "We are hoping that they pull out, and I think they will pull out. We are already claiming victory.”
Anne Rolfes, executive director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, an advocacy group, characterizes the Corps’ decision as “the ultimate David v. Goliath victory” in a press release issued by the Center for Biological Diversity, which has represented the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, RISE St. James, and other plaintiffs in litigation opposing the plant.
This story was updated on Aug. 20, 2021, to add Bron Moyi as the source of the photograph. It was updated on Aug. 23, 2021, to add a quote from an interview with Sharon Lavigne that was conducted after the story was published.
“Of course one of the biggest plastics plants in the world should require an environmental impact statement,” Rolfes says. “Our state and federal officials should have demanded it from the outset. I am hopeful that this is the nail in the coffin of Formosa Plastics in St. James Parish.”