The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is investigating two Louisiana agencies for alleged discrimination against predominantly Black communities in a part of the Bayou State known as “Cancer Alley.”
The EPA is probing two complaints regarding chemical plant permits and air pollution in St. James Parish and St. John the Baptist Parish. One complaint alleges neglect from the Louisiana State Department of Health in response to reports of polluted air. The other accuses the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Health Department of racial bias in decisions to grant permits for at least three different plants: a proposed Greenfield Exports grain terminal, a planned Formosa Plastics Sunshine plant, and the existing Denka Performance Elastomers plant.
“We have been dismissed time and again,” said Mary Hampton of Concerned Citizens of St. John in an Earthjustice press release earlier this year. “It is unacceptable that we’ve been ignored for so long, and so now we’re asking the EPA to step in to protect our civil rights, including to have equal protection from environmental harm, and to ensure that our right to breathe clean air is finally enforced.”
Both the DEQ and the Department of Health have claimed that the complaints are being taken seriously but that their permitting process is unbiased. Parish residents and environmental justice organizations, however, claim that the departments have not done enough to inform locals about the health risk of the existing plants in their area. Parish residents also worry about how much worse their health outcomes may become once the new plants are up and running.
St. John and St. James Parish has been a hotbed of environmental problems for years. Local industries have polluted the area so badly as to earn the nickname Cancer Alley. It’s a stretch of land that goes from Baton Rouge and New Orleans along the Mississippi River that is home to more than 100 chemical plants and oil refineries. Residents in the corridor are diagnosed with cancer at rates nearly 50 times the national average, according to the EPA. During his 2021 Journey for Justice tour, EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan met with community members of the St. Johns Parish and St. James Parish.