I was born in St. James Parish when Jim Crow still ruled. Racist laws made sure many black Louisianans were unable to participate in democracy.
It has been more than 50 years since the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act, but the proposed Formosa Plastics Plant shows that democracy has not fully come to St. James Parish. If my community had a say, Louisiana would not be spending $1.5 billion to attract a foreign polluter.
Before industry took over my parish, we had clean air and productive land. My grandfather caught fish and shrimp in the Mississippi River. Our fig and pecan trees kept us well fed and even provided enough for us to sell. Now the land and everything that grows on it is poison.
I moved into my house in Welcome in 1987, the same year national reporters were investigating the elevated cancer rates of those born in Cancer Alley. Despite decades of organized resistance to dangerous petrochemical pollution, the plants continue to be built in neighborhoods that are poor and mostly black.
Formosa Plastics was mandated to consider five sites when it applied for its wetland permits. Instead, Formosa submitted three proposed sites, all in predominantly black neighborhoods. Formosa couldn’t even come up with the required two other alternative sites, let alone one in a nonblack neighborhood. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and Article IX of the Louisiana constitution are supposed to protect black communities from this type of environmental racism. They haven’t in Cancer Alley.
From the moment I heard about this project, I was told that it was a done deal. The government had yet to issue any permits, but the state was already celebrating the announcement of the project. What they are actually celebrating is further poisoning of the air and drinking water for residents of Lutcher, Laplace, and Metairie, too.
Formosa has a documented history of pollution in Baton Rouge, the Texas community of Port Lavaca, Taiwan, and Vietnam. This has to end now.
But we need help to make our voices heard. At the parish-level hearings in September, local residents spoke out against the plant. The plant’s supporters seemed to be all Taiwanese executives and wealthy businessmen who live safely outside Cancer Alley. The parish voted to approve the project anyway.
There is a hearing with state and federal regulators on Thursday, Dec. 6 at 6 p.m. at the Westbank Reception Center, 2455 Highway 18 in Vacherie. Will the government finally listen to its people and protect us from foreign polluters or will black folks be shut out of the democratic process?