With the nation — and the world — seriously hurt economically during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s good news that Louisiana continues to be an attractive place for investments in the petrochemical industry.
We welcome the announcements that two global companies with existing and successful investments in Louisiana wish to expand the plants and the jobs and community benefits that they produce.
In Ascension Parish, Mitsubishi Chemical Corp., a subsidiary of Japanese automaker Mitsubishi Motors, is considering the economic feasibility of a $1 billion chemical plant.
If approved, it would be one of the few major petrochemical projects in the pipeline during the economic recession spurred by the coronavirus pandemic, which has paused plans for several other companies.
And in Baton Rouge, with a close relationship with refining and petrochemical manufacturing dating back to Standard Oil in the earliest years of the 20th century, ExxonMobil is poised to make a decision on an expansion at their facilities.
The latter would be an investment in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
In both cases, the community and tax bases of the region would be enhanced. Mitsubishi anticipates hiring 125 workers with an average annual salary of $100,000, plus benefits. In ExxonMobil’s case, new permanent jobs would not be added, but the long-term viability of the complex would be greatly enhanced, and hundreds of industrial construction jobs — more high-wage employment — would be created in north Baton Rouge.
What’s not to like? In an era in which any association with fossil fuels is viewed with skepticism bordering on paranoia, a small number of activists blasted the plants.
"We don't want to be the epicenter of the world's biggest chemical plants," said Anne Rolfes of New Orleans, with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. "With the opportunity cost of these chemical plants, the health cost, Louisiana ought to be pivoting to something different.”
We agree with Rolfes that there is more to economic development than petrochemical manufacturing, but the glib notion of “pivoting to something different” is easier said than done. We want Louisiana to diversify its economy, but that doesn’t mean turning against industrial facilities that represent high-wage jobs — and as all know in this region, over the long term, decades of maintenance and industrial construction employment.
Gov. John Bel Edwards said that he hopes to attract Mitsubishi to the state, and he is not alone. Rolfes bemoaned that “even our parish presidents all over our state roll out the red carpet for these monstrosities, and yet what they're not thinking about are these communities.”
Officials can be swayed by companies but elected officeholders are ultimately accountable to voters, and we believe the broad support of these projects may suggest which of the two sides in the debate is out of touch with the communities in question.