Released by Center for Biological Diversity / June 15 2021 / Original can be found here
SAN FRANCISCO — Louisiana’s Sharon Lavigne, who has led an international environmental campaign to stop Formosa Plastics from building one of the world’s biggest petrochemical complexes in her predominantly Black community, will be honored with a Goldman Environmental Prize today. She was recognized for stopping the Wanhua plastics plant, proposed for St. James Parish, Louisiana, in 2019 and her ongoing work against other polluting projects proposed for the region.
Her allies say they hope the honor — the environmental movement’s biggest annual award — will help Lavigne build on her past success to realize her current goal of preventing the Formosa Plastics project from ever being built.
“When the governor of Louisiana came to St. James Parish and announced Formosa Plastics was coming to town, Sharon Lavigne was brave enough to stand up and say no. Sharon said she had a different vision for her historic Black community,” said Anne Rolfes, director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “When parish officials told her that Formosa was a done deal, she insisted that it was not. Her leadership, courage and vision are rewarded today by the Goldman Prize. And she would be the first to say that this is just the beginning. The fight has just begun.”
Lavigne started RISE St. James with her neighbors in the already-polluted corridor along the Mississippi River in Louisiana known as Cancer Alley or Death Alley to fight new industrial projects from being built in her community. Last year Lavigne’s group, Louisiana Bucket Brigade and Healthy Gulf challenged the project by filing a federal lawsuit, represented by the Center for Biological Diversity. That suit resulted in a construction delay and the permit being suspended pending further review.
“Sharon is in an intense, ongoing fight for the life of her community and our planet. We hope this richly deserved honor and recognition helps Sharon reach her goal of stopping Formosa Plastics,” said Julie Teel Simmonds, a senior attorney at the Center. “Sharon has battled through pollution-related illness and the loss of loved ones, and she keeps faithfully fighting environmental racism. Under the leadership of this amazing woman, we’re going to stop Formosa Plastics and advance environmental justice in this country.”
Lavigne has helped attract national media attention and support from thousands of individuals around the country, as well as faith groups, national and international organizations, members of Congress and the Biden administration, attorneys general from other states, and United Nations human rights experts, who have called on officials to reject the Formosa Plastics project.
Formosa Plastics is proposing to build a 14-plant complex to turn the U.S. oversupply of fracked gas into mountains of new plastic, much of it destined for throwaway packaging. The complex would emit 800 tons of toxic air pollution each year, doubling toxic air emissions in St. James Parish. It would also generate more than 13 million metric tons of greenhouse gas pollution.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suspended its permit for the project in November 2020. More than 20 groups and 40,000 individuals have demanded that the Army Corps and Biden administration more thoroughly review the project and its environmental justice issues and ultimately reject it.
“Americans have been shouting ‘Black lives matter,’ and we need Formosa, the Army Corps and local officials to listen,” Lavigne said last July when the Center filed an injunction to force Formosa to delay work on the project. “They should listen to the people of St. James. Why should we sacrifice our homes, our land and our lives so this huge company can make money? They just aren’t concerned about people, and it angers me.”