Diane Wilson didn’t want to sit at the microphone but chose to stand and let the St. James Parish Council see the pollution up close.
Wilson, a 71-year-old Texas environmental activist and fourth generation shrimper, showed the parish leaders blown-up pictures of tiny plastic pellets from a Formosa Plastics operation on the Texas Gulf Coast while another activist provided them samples that Wilson and her colleagues had collected.
“It's not just a trace amount. It's not a handful. It's billions of pellets that are in the water. It's very, very typical, and we have oystermen who are finding the pellets in the oysters. They're in the fish. It is all over Lavaca Bay shore, and it's all over the creek,” Wilson said Wednesday night.
Wilson was at the parish Courthouse in Convent as part of a four-day swing through the Mississippi River corridor to speak at that meeting, at a rally and at the annual environmental law conference at Tulane University in New Orleans.
Wilson has opposed Formosa's Port Comfort plant on Lavaca Bay, Texas, for decades and rented a car with one of her colleagues to make the eight-hour drive to Louisiana to speak about micro-plastics pollution and to air her opposition to Formosa.
A Formosa affiliate has proposed a $9.4 billion plastics facility in the Welcome community of St. James.
The plant has backing from Gov. John Bel Edwards, local leaders, community colleges and industrial construction companies anxious for the thousands of jobs it's expected to bring. The plant is slowly getting the permits it needs, but the project continues to draw dedicated opposition from environmental and community groups inside and outside the state, including those campaigning against plastics generally.
In a suit brought by Wilson and San Antonio Bay Estuarine Waterkeeper, a federal judge last year called Formosa a serial offender for the continued violation of its water discharge permit at the Port Comfort plant after years of pellet collection and daily documentation by Wilson and her allies that the judge had called undisputed. The ruling led to a $50 million settlement to finance cleanup and monitoring.
Opponents of Formosa in Louisiana have seized on that ruling to criticize the plans of FG LA LLC, the Formosa joint venture trying to build in St. James.
Formosa officials say this plant will have the latest control and filtering technology to avoid releases of the pellets, while state regulators say they are aware of the court ruling in Texas and will take it into consideration when they fashion the St. James facility's water discharge permit.
Wilson said that with her visit to the state, she is trying to provide the kind of early help activists from Taiwan, where Formosa is based, provided her years ago.
She said her part of Texas is similar to south Louisiana, where many people work in industry. Even fishermen can double time with work for the plants nearby. But she said it was plant workers, who don't have a union but began coming to her about Formosa, who proved crucial in her suit against Formosa.
Wilson suggested that states like Texas and Louisiana — which are rich in natural resources and have relied on the oil and gas and petrochemical industries to lift up generations of residents with stable, blue-collar work — need to find another way to forge their economies because the environmental cost isn't worth it.
"I think most communities — and I consider them very similar to where I come from — it's like a tunnel vision. You think you have go to petrochemical and I say, 'No,'" she said.