US – A Louisiana judge has thrown out air quality permits for a Taiwanese company’s planned US$9.4 billion plastics complex in a heavily industrialized area often referred to as “Cancer Alley.”

The decision further stalls the controversial project that has faced backlash from some residents and environmental advocates.

Judge Trudy White, of the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge, found that the state’s Department of Environmental Quality erred in permitting the facility and violated the constitutional rights of petitioners.

The decision comes more than two and a half years after several community and environmental groups challenged the state’s decision to issue 15 permits to FG LA LLC in January 2020.

The permits were required for FG LA LLC, an affiliate of Taiwanese giant Formosa Plastics, to build one of the world’s largest plastics plants in St. James Parish.

Nicknamed the Sunshine Project by the company, the 2,500-acre complex promised to create 1,200 jobs and add millions of dollars to the local economy, but it would also release more than 800 tons of toxic air pollutants if allowed to move forward, according to the lawsuit.

The facility is planned next to the predominantly Black community of Welcome, located in St. James’ Fifth District, which already holds one-third of the parish’s chemical plants.

The Sunshine Project had already been stalled late last year after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stated the proposed plant would require a more thorough environmental impact review before issuing permits after pressure from some of the same groups suing the state.

The lawsuit was filed by RISE St. James, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Healthy Gulf, Earthworks, and No Waste Louisiana.

They alleged that LDEQ’s decision to issue the permits had violated the Clean Air Act, state law and the state constitution.

In the ruling, White sided with the groups, stating that the Department of Environmental Quality was in violation of state and federal regulations and that much of the agency’s reasoning for the decision was “arbitrary and capricious.”

She said state regulators used “selective” and “inconsistent” data in evaluating the permit application and failed to consider the air quality impacts of the project on the predominantly black local community of St James Parish.

“Because the agency’s environmental justice analysis showed disregard for and was contrary to substantiated competent public evidence in the record, it was arbitrary and capricious,” the judge wrote in her opinion.

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