Story at a glance

  • Activists want President Biden to revoke the federal permit for the construction of Formosa plastics plants in Louisiana.
  • The plants would be located in an 85-mile stretch along the Mississippi River known as “Cancer Alley.”
  • Cancer Alley houses more than 150 chemical plants and oil refineries, as well as residents, who are among the most at-risk population in the country of developing cancer.

Climate activism groups are calling on the Biden administration to revoke a federal permit that would allow a $9.4 billion petrochemical plant to begin construction in St. James Parish, La., part of a corridor known as “Cancer Alley.”

Cancer Alley is an 85-mile stretch along the Mississippi River that houses over 150 chemical plants and oil refineries with a combined population of almost 1.7 million.

Along the stretch of Cancer Alley, are seven of the top 10 areas in the country with the highest risk of developing cancer, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and many citizens suffer from other respiratory problems.

Sixteen miles away from St. James Parish, also along the Mississippi River and Cancer Alley in Reserve, La., the predominantly Black residents are 50 times more likely to get cancer than the national average. Complicated by the levels of carcinogens in the air, the area had one of the highest coronavirus death rates in the country during the COVID-19 pandemic. .


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Rise St. James, a local environmental justice group, found in 2019 that the location for the plant’s planned construction is the location of the burial grounds of enslaved people. However, in January 2020, Taiwanese plastics company Formosa still received permits from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality allowing the construction of 14 plastics plants in St. James Parish.

Now, activists want President Biden to revoke the permit, as he did with the Keystone XL pipeline.

To raise awareness, youth activists part of the Sunrise Movement have initiated a 400-mile march, which started last week, that will follow the paths of different environmental disasters from New Orleans to Houston. 

“It’s one plant one day, and another plant another day,” Kidus Girma, a 25-year-old organizer with Sunrise’s Gulf south trek team, told the Guardian.

Rise St. James organized Monday’s protest in conjunction with the Sunrise Movement. 


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“This is the epitome of environmental racism,” said Varshini Prakash, co-founder and executive director of the Sunrise Movement. “Biden was elected on a climate mandate rooted in racial and environmental justice, and we demand he fulfill his campaign promise by directing the army corps to revoke the federal permits on this plant.”

“If we had the money, we would purchase the land from Formosa,” Sharon Lavigne, the founder of Rise St. James, added. “We would build a subdivision and preserve our ancestral graves.”

Researchers have said that, if it is built, the plant would lead to the destruction of the surrounding wetlands that protect the encompassed communities from flooding, as well as emit higher rates of ethylene oxide, a carcinogenic compound, than almost any other plant in the United States.

“I want the Biden administration to come down and see the filth we’re living in,” Lavigne said. “We are hoping and praying that he would come to us and listen to the people of St. James so that we can tell him what we envision our community to be.”


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Published on May 18, 2021