Energy & Environment

‘Cancer alley’ residents say they are victims of environmental racism in new lawsuit


Residents of an area of Louisiana that has become known as “cancer alley” due to the prominence of pollution coming from industry there are alleging that they are the victims of environmental racism in a new lawsuit. 

They specifically point to a 2014 land use plan issued by their parish, the Louisiana equivalent of a county, which designated majority-black areas as places where industry could develop, according to the lawsuit. 

The suit also says that the plan protected Catholic churches but left Baptist churches vulnerable to pollution, “which made the discrimination compound – religious and racial – and thus doubly unlawful.”

The suit also said that the parish has approved every request by heavy industry to put facilities in majority-Black areas, but hasn’t approved a request to do the same in majority-white areas in 46 years.

“The Defendants… have intentionally chosen to locate over a dozen enormous industrial facilities in the majority Black 4th and 5th Districts, while explicitly sparing white residents from the risk of environmental harm,” it alleged.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of environmental justice groups Inclusive Louisiana and Rise St. James as well as the Triumph Baptist Church against the parish, its council and its planning commission. 

“Over and over, the St. James Parish Council has ignored us, has denied our cries for equal rights, for basic human rights,” said Rise St. James’s Shamyra Lavigne in a written statement.  “But we stand here today to say we will not be ignored, you will not sacrifice our lives.” 

The Hill has attempted to reach the parish’s public information officer for comment.

The suit comes amid increasing attention to environmental inequity. The EPA recently said in a letter of concern that the state of Louisiana may have discriminated against Black communities who live near air pollution sources.


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