David Beats Goliath — Wanhua Chemical Withdraws Project in St. James Parish
Victory for grassroots groups standing up for health and property values
In capitulation to the power of local opposition, Wanhua Chemical has formally withdrawn its land use application to build a $1 billion dollar facility in St. James Parish. Opponents’ appeal and law suit slowed the project, making the Chinese owned company vulnerable to economic changes and additional scrutiny. “This is a victory for all of us in St. James Parish,” said Sharon Lavigne, President of RISE St. James, a group that has long opposed construction on grounds that it would endanger parish residents and reduce property values. “We aren’t just going to sit back and accept that it’s open season for industry to build in St. James Parish. We are ready to fight, and next up is Formosa.”
Legal challenges to the Wanhua project – including an appeal of the land use decision and an open meetings law suit – were filed by the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic on behalf of clients Genevieve Butler, Pastor Harry Joseph and the organizations RISE St. James and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “I’m glad that Wanhua is gone,” said Pastor Joseph. “They were coming with all kind of sneakiness and our parish might have been in trouble. I am glad that the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic gave the Parish Council an idea of some of the problems. We don’t have to worry about Wanhua and hopefully with Formosa, they will withdraw their plans.”
The project raised concerns about the proposed emissions in the parish. “I am happy with these results,” said Eve Butler, a resident of St. James. “We hope that before anything else is let in we can have an environmental impact statement in the parish.”
Wanhua had requested help with tariff exemptions from Senator Bill Cassidy, whose office had ongoing communication with Wanhua representatives. Wanhua’s announcement today came after months of doublespeak by company representatives. The company now plans to build its facility in a different part of the U.S., contradicting its public claim that tariffs were the reason for cancelling the project. Company reports also showed that Wanhua is owned by the Chinese government despite statements to the parish government denying that fact. The company’s promise of local jobs was belied by job ads requiring residence in Houston and Baton Rouge. “St. James Parish officials were told half-truths and evasions by a big foreign company that wanted to come here and use our state as its dumping ground,” said Anne Rolfes of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “It was ordinary people who spotted the bad deal and stopped it. Today Wanhua, tomorrow Formosa.”
In June, the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic filed the appeal of the parish planning commission’s approval of Wanhua. The project crumbled during the delay, after the Parish Council voted unanimously on the appeal to remand the approval back to the Planning Commission. In the appeal, the petitioners opposed construction of Wanhua because of the hazardous air pollutants, the unfair concentration of polluting industry in the parish’s African American districts and the resulting destruction of property values. Wanhua planned to have the chemical phosgene on site, a toxic substance used for chemical warfare in World War I and for which there is no safe level of exposure. Tariff exemptions were critical to the project, as Wanhua planned to build most of the facility in China and import it and assemble it in St. James.
Today’s announcement came as welcome news to Wanhua’s nearest neighbors. “My great-great-great-great grandmother came out of slavery and bought my family’s land,” said Barbara Washington of RISE whose home is near the proposed site. “Our hard work has paid off. We will not stop til all those industries who want to come in here change their plans. We are tired of being sick. We refuse to be sick anymore. Don’t even try to come into St. James. We will not allow it.”
RISE St. James is a faith based organization fighting for the removal of harmful petrochemicals in the land, air, water and bodies, of the people, of St. James Parish.
Louisiana Bucket Brigade uses grassroots action to support communities impacted by the petrochemical industry and hasten the transition from fossil fuels.
Eve Butler, St. James resident, (985) 791 – 3040
Sharon Lavigne, President, RISE St. James, (225) 206 – 0900
Barbara Washington, RISE St. James and Wanhua neighbor, (225) 678 – 6857
Anne Rolfes, Director, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, (504) 452-4909, firstname.lastname@example.org