Corps suspends $9.4B plastics complex permit for review

JANET McCONNAUGHEY
·2-min read
FILE - In this March 11, 2020, file photo, Myrtle Felton, from left, Sharon Lavigne, Gail LeBoeuf and Rita Cooper, members of RISE St. James, conduct a live stream video on property owned by Formosa in St. James Parish, La. The Army Corps of Engineers has suspended its permit for the Chinese conglomerate’s $9.4 billion plastics complex on a technicality, but says it may review other aspects of the permit. The Corps says it incorrectly dismissed sites in Ascension Parish when it reviewed whether other potential sites might have fewer environmental effects than the company's chosen location in St. James Parish. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)
FILE - In this March 11, 2020, file photo, Myrtle Felton, from left, Sharon Lavigne, Gail LeBoeuf and Rita Cooper, members of RISE St. James, conduct a live stream video on property owned by Formosa in St. James Parish, La. The Army Corps of Engineers has suspended its permit for the Chinese conglomerate’s $9.4 billion plastics complex on a technicality, but says it may review other aspects of the permit. The Corps says it incorrectly dismissed sites in Ascension Parish when it reviewed whether other potential sites might have fewer environmental effects than the company's chosen location in St. James Parish. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Army Corps of Engineers has suspended its permit for a Chinese conglomerate’s $9.4 billion plastics complex on a technicality but says it may also review other aspects of the permit.

The notice filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., did not mention the environmental and environmental justice claims made in a challenge to the permit for a complex of 10 chemical plants and four other major facilities.

Rather, the Corps said it incorrectly dismissed five sites in Ascension Parish from its environmental review of alternatives to Formosa's chosen site near Welcome in St. James Parish, and will now look at those sites, according to a court document filed Friday.

The Corps had asked U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss on Nov. 4 to halt proceedings so it could reevaluate the permit.

The Corps said it dismissed Ascension Parish sites because the parish was not expected to meet air quality standards — though it did meet them before the permit was granted.

“This incorrect information does not support the conclusion to eliminate those five alternatives,” it said.

Ascension Parish met ozone standards well before the permit was approved, said the Center for Biological Diversity, which filed the suit for itself, Healthy Gulf, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade and Rise St. James.

An earlier Corps document states that by the time the Environmental Protection Agency had certified the entire Baton Rouge metro area, including Ascension Parish, “sites located in Ascension Parish had been eliminated, leaving eight sites in St James and St. John the Baptist Parishes ... for consideration.”

FG LA LLC, which is building the plant as a Louisiana member of Taiwan-based Formosa Plastics Group, said the Corps often suspends permits for re-evaluation.

“FG fully expects the suspension will be lifted, and the permits reinstated, after completion of the re-evaluation,” spokeswoman Janile Parks said in a written statement released Friday.

The Corps’ statement said it could also review “other aspects of the permit, if deemed appropriate.”

“I wonder if they were looking for a technicality ... and are going to do a broader review,” Julie Teel Simmonds, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said Monday.

“Hopefully by peeling back the layers they’ll recognize they have a lot more work to do,” Simmonds said.

Asked her expectations, she said, “What’s slightly less than cautiously optimistic?”