Lawsuit Aims to Halt Chemical Plant Construction

March 22, 2023
Residents of St. James Parish in Louisiana filed a federal lawsuit March 21, calling for a moratorium on petrochemical plants.

Residents of a Louisiana parish located in the vicinity of petrochemical factories filed a federal lawsuit March 21 raising allegations of civil rights, environmental justice  and religious liberty violations.

The plaintiffs are residents of St. James Parish, an area that sits along an 85-mile corridor that runs along the Mississippi River between New Orleans to Baton Rouge that is filled with industrial plants that emit toxic chemicals, some of which are known carcinogens. The area is known as Cancer Alley and has other pending lawsuits. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are calling for a moratorium on petrochemical plants.

The lawsuit says the parish council approved the construction of several factories in two districts of the parish that emit harmful amounts of toxic chemicals. It said the pollution negatively affected the health of the area's residents.

For several years, the parish’s residents have lobbied the parish council and state government to do something about petrochemical plants emitting toxic chemicals into the air they breathe. But they've been ignored, according to Shamyra Lavigne of Rise St. James, a local climate justice organization.

"We stand here today to say we will not be ignored. You will not sacrifice our lives. And we will not take any more industry in the fourth or fifth district of St. James. Enough is enough," Lavigne said at a news conference announcing the lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court Eastern District of Louisiana.

Lavigne was one of St. James residents at the briefing who shared about their frustration from living near polluting factories and how they believe the parish council is responsible for creating environmental injustice.

"Every one of us has been touched by the parish's repeated decisions to pack black neighborhoods with toxic chemical plants," said Barbara Washington, co-founder of the environmental justice organization Inclusive Louisiana. "Every one of us has had stories about our own health and the health of our relatives and friends, who have had .... cancer and COPD."

In 2022, the Environmental Protection Agency said it has evidence that residents in the region have an increased risk of cancer from at least one nearby plant, which they sued last month in a separate case.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs said they are seeking remedies for the environmental injustices sustained by the residents, which they seek to halt by invalidating permits for factories underway and land use regulations that allow for the placement of factories. They are also seeking independent environmental monitoring of air, water and soil. The case will be assigned and the parish will be served, then will have an opportunity to respond in the coming weeks.

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