POINT COMFORT, Texas — Formosa Plastics Corp. has agreed to have tighter wastewater discharge standards and to pay $50 million to settle allegations that a company plant in Texas chronically spilled tons of pellets into waterways near the Gulf of Mexico.

Texas RioGrande Legal Aid on Tuesday announced the agreement involving the Formosa complex in Point Comfort. A judge in Houston will consider approving the settlement, to be paid over five years into a fund supporting environmental water projects and monitoring.

Activists fighting a proposed $9.4 billion Formosa plastics complex in northern St. James Parish, Louisiana, seized on the settlement Tuesday to argue that, at minimum, Formosa should be held to the same discharge standards in Louisiana but would rather the proposed facility not be built at all.

“It’s terrible what Formosa Plastics did to Texas, and we don’t want their pollution in Louisiana,” Sharon Lavigne, founder of Rise St. James, a group that formed in opposition to Formosa’s proposed St. James plant, said in a joint statement Tuesday. “Our community has suffered enough from exposure to industrial pollution. We don’t need Formosa to make things worse. Our lives matter.”

Lavigne's group has been among a several local and national organizations fighting a wave of industrialization aimed at the rural, largely African-American northern corner of the parish along the Mississippi River.

pellets cox creek 2018.jpg

Plastic pellets float in Cox Creek south of the Formosa Plastics plant in Port Comfort, Texas, in 2018.

In Texas, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt in June ruled in favor of environmental groups that alleged the 2,500-acre Formosa plant violated clean water laws through the discharge of plastic pellets into Lavaca Bay and Cox Creek beginning in 2016.

At the time of that ruling, the judge called Formosa a "serial offender" that had committed "enormous" violations of the U.S. Clean Water Act and Texas state law. The plaintiffs, which include San Antonio Bay Estuarine Waterkeeper, said then the company faced penalties ranging from $95 million to $184 million.

Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, representing the plaintiffs, said the consent decree means Formosa agrees to zero discharge of plastics and will clean existing pollution.

Under Formosa's current Texas permit, the state allowed trace discharges. Hoyt, however, had calculated based on the company's own interpretation of that standard that trace amounts could result in the release of 28,060 pellets per day from just three of the plant's 13 discharge outlets. 

A message left by the AP for Formosa wasn't immediately returned Tuesday, but company representatives for the Louisiana project have said the new plant would use the latest technology and filtering systems to minimize and prevent the release of pellets.

Formosa's application for a wastewater discharge permit in Louisiana hasn't appeared yet in state Department of Environmental Quality public records database.

Located on 2,319 acres near the community of Welcome, La., the proposed complex would discharge wastewater or runoff both into the Mississippi River and the swamps behind La. 3127, permit plans show.

Under the proposed Texas settlement, Formosa has also agreed to pay the plaintiffs' attorneys fees, totaling more than $3 million, and future attorneys' and experts' fees to ensure compliance with the settlement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Email David J. Mitchell at dmitchell@theadvocate.com

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.

Tags