NEW ORLEANS — The Army Corps of Engineers is considering whether potential environmental impacts require it to change, suspend or revoke the permit for a $9.4 billion plastics complex planned in Louisiana by a Taiwan company, U.S. Department of Justice lawyers said Wednesday.
The Corps plans to explain by Tuesday why "the intended construction activities authorized under the permit ... may not proceed," said a motion filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.
"I'm overjoyed by this news. This hopefully marks the beginning of our victory over Formosa Plastics," Sharon Lavigne, who formed Rise St. James to fight the company's plans, said in a news release with others who sued to stop the project.
Formosa Plastics Group's Louisiana member, FG LA LLC, plans 10 chemical plants and four other major facilities on 2,500 acres (1,000 hectares) on the Mississippi River in St. James Parish, between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
"FG has worked cooperatively with the Corps throughout the permit process, and will continue to cooperate with them to provide any additional information they may need from FG," spokeswoman Janile Parks said in a statement. "The company has been very diligent to make sure it has done everything required to ensure proper issuance of, and compliance with, it's permits and will continue to do so."
Environmental and community groups sued to overturn the permit, saying the Corps took only a cursory look at probable environmental effects of the complex called The Sunshine Project after the nearby Sunshine Bridge.
Thursday was the deadline for the government's reply to a request for Judge Randolph Moss to decide the case against the Corps without a full trial.
The Justice Department instead asked him to hold off on further proceedings while the Corps reevaluates parts of the environmental review under the Clean Water Act.
"It's kind of a wild turn," said Julie Teel Simmonds, a senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, which filed the lawsuit for itself, Rise St. James and two other groups.
She said the motion indicated the permit had been suspended, although FG LA spokesman Jim Harris said it was not. The Corps declined to comment on the pending litigation.
Simmonds said the entire environmental assessment should be thrown out. "We'll be pushing for more specifics on what exactly this new review is going to entail and what the process will be," she said. "I think the public needs a chance to weigh in."
The plaintiffs, including Healthy Gulf and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, argued in their request for summary judgment that the Corps simply accepted Formosa's assessments of its environmental impacts.
"The plant would pollute a predominantly Black community, disturb unmarked burial sites of enslaved people, degrade wetlands and add to the ocean plastic pollution crisis," the Center's statement Wednesday said.
The state and parish have offered FG LA about $1.5 billion in tax breaks. Construction is expected to take about a decade.
FG LA has been doing site preparation. Opponents tried to stop it but in July both sides agreed that such work could continue until Feb. 1 as long as wetlands and five known or possible gravesites of enslaved people were excluded.
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