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News Examiner-Enterprise: Letter to editor: Petrochemical plants are the new plantations in SJP

RISE St. James organizer Gail LeBoeuf takes La. Chemical Association head Greg Bowser to task in this letter to the editor, published in the Nov. 7 edition of the News Examiner-Enterprise in Lutcher:

Letter to the Editor,

In response to Greg Bowser’s letter published on October 3, 2019: This is the only time I will address you, Greg Bowser, or anyone in this manner. All 23,000 residents of St. James Parish deserve equal representation under the St. James Parish Land Use Plan. To deny the 4th and 5th Districts clean air, clean water, and clean soil is to deny them the American dream you so devoutly believe in. If you want to understand the real St. James Parish, you can contact me directly and come see for yourself.

You claim, Mr. Bowser, that “no parish in Louisiana vets a proposed chemical project more extensively than St.James Parish.” Yet, based on 2019 EPA data, there are seven polluting plants within three miles of Wanhua Chemical’s proposed site. These facilities release approximately 14 million pounds of toxic air pollutants every year in census tract 404, which is 64 percent black with a veteran population of 8 percent. For these reasons, 487 residents signed a petition against Wanhua and other petrochemical plants trying to move into St. James Parish. Many of my friends and family live less than two miles from these toxic, climate-changing plants, yet I would not wish one of these plants to exist within two miles of where you—president of Louisiana’s Chemical Association—and your neighbors live and breathe.

The Mississippi River is 2,348 miles long, and 22 miles are home to St. James Parish. Most future sites listed by the Port of South Louisiana will be within a 10-mile radius of the already polluted 4th and 5th Districts along the Mississippi. History teaches that President Abraham Lincoln heroically came down south to free enslaved people, but few people comment on the commercial significance of the Mississippi River to Northern interests. Businessmen in Lincoln’s party wanted to protect the Mississippi River for their domestic and international imports and exports. In St. James Parish, plantations have become petrochemical plants. And businessmen have been lobbying elected officials and unelected policy-makers for decades to allow their bottom lines to take precedence over people’s lives, property, and livelihoods.

Under Louisiana’s current Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP), these plants don’t have to pay 80 percent of their property taxes for 10 years. Maybe that made sense when incoming plants typically brought 300 or so well-paid jobs with good benefits. Now, massive plants provide 100 or less jobs, often without retirement packages. And many of these workers are contractors. If the Louisiana at-will law, the right to work (for less money), or minimum wage freeze is utilized, many contract workers will be left to choose bread and butter expenses over health care expenses, assuming Medicaid isn’t abolished.

For our community to survive and even thrive, we need a diversity of small and large businesses in our beautiful St. James Parish. The countless dialysis and walk-in clinics that have opened in recent years to address our health issues are appreciated. But we’d also appreciate clothing and shoe stores.

Greg Bowser, I pray the best for you and yours. Nonetheless, though petrochemical plants are overrunning my home, I will not bow down. As in the song “Oh Freedom”, “Before I’d be a slave, I’d be buried in my grave and go home to my Lord and be free.”

Gail T. LeBoeuf
RISE St. James