Environmental Justice Activists Arrested Amid Growing Concerns Over Louisiana’s Cancer Alley Pollution
Mounting concerns over pollution, public health and the expansion of the petrochemical industry came to a head when two activists were detained in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Oct. 30, the last day of a two-week protest against environmental racism in Louisiana's Cancer Alley.
Police officer telling protesters that they need to clear the hallway outside of LABI's office in downtown Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Oct. 30. Julie Dermansky / DeSmog
Pastor Gregory Manning, who is legally blind, and Sakura Kone were singled out by police for refusing to leave the hallway outside of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) office where about 40 activists continued with an impromptu rally after being asked to leave. The group had hoped to confront LABI's head over the association's influence in state politics and regulations.
Kone was given a citation and released outside, while Manning was taken to jail. According to a release from Manning's group Justice and Beyond, Pastor Manning, who is being charged with a felony count of inciting a riot and Kone will be arraigned on Nov. 5 in Baton Rouge City Court.
The police officers' actions infuriated members of the Coalition Against Death Alley (CADA), a group of Louisiana residents and members of various local and state organizations behind the protest. The coalition focuses on fighting against and bringing attention to the petrochemical industry's expansion that is underway in Louisiana.
Robert Taylor and Pastor Manning speaking before Manning was detained. Julie Dermansky / DeSmog
Pastor Manning and Sakura Kone being detained. Julie Dermansky / DeSmog
Louisiana's Cancer Alley, also known as the "Petrochemical Corridor," is an 80-mile stretch along the Mississippi River with over 100 petrochemical plants and refineries between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The Louisiana government is welcoming an increasing number of industrial facilities to this corridor in primarily African-American communities.
Seeking Environmental Justice for Cancer Alley
Sharon Lavigne, a lifelong resident of St. James Parish, marching with CADA in downtown Baton Rouge on Oct. 30. Julie Dermansky / DeSmog
CADA's protest focused in large part on the struggles of the communities in St. James and St. John the Baptist Parish, both on the Mississippi River's banks and both frontline battlegrounds for environmental justice in the shadow of heavy industry.
Sharon Lavigne, CADA member and founder of RISE St. James, a community organization opposing the Taiwanese-owned Formosa plastic manufacturing complex proposed in St. James, was shaken after police violently took down Pastor Manning a few feet away from her. "Why are they arresting Rev. Manning, who is trying to protect us, instead of the polluters who are poisoning us?" asked Lavigne later that day on a call announcing Manning's release from jail.
CADA member Robert Taylor, director of the Concerned Citizens of St. John, is fighting for an existing polluter in his community to lower its emissions or close. His group is pushing the Denka Performance Elastomer plant to lower its emissions of the toxic chemical chloroprene to the level deemed safe by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Robert Taylor on a street in downtown Baton Rouge marching with CADA after Pastor Manning was detained. Julie Dermansky / DeSmog
CADA members on the street outside of the LABI office after Pastor Gregory Manning was taken away in a police car. Julie Dermansky / DeSmog
Taylor was furious at the way the police handled Pastor Manning while detaining him. "They did their classical take down of that stubborn negro, with their knees in this man's back with him down on his face, helpless, handcuffed behind him, with their knees in his back, twisting his arms, and he's screaming," Taylor said to me, while the protesters regrouped at a park a few blocks away from the LABI office.
Over the last two weeks, CADA marched and held protests at numerous locations in New Orleans and the river parishes, addressing diverse social issues plaguing Louisiana, from voter suppression to environmental justice.
Daryl Malek-Wiley, New Orleans Sierra Club representative, with CADA in Baton Rouge on the last day of its two week protest in front of the building where the Louisiana Chemical Association (LCA) has its office. Julie Dermansky / DeSmog
A New Plastics Complex in St. James
Sharon Lavigne with members of RISE St. James at the July 9 LDEQ permit hearing. Julie Dermansky / DeSmog
While Lavigne and Taylor support the coalition's broader work, each remains focused on protecting their own communities.
If the Formosa plastics complex is built in St. James, Lavigne fears the already degraded air quality at her home, near several petrochemical plants and oil storage tanks, will become a death trap. Many of her neighbors have died of cancer and respiratory illnesses associated with the types of emissions released from the existing facilities.
This summer, Lavigne's activism helped turn out a large crowd opposed to Formosa's proposed $9.4 billion industrial complex, which is called the "Sunshine Project" due to its proximity to the nearby Sunshine Bridge.
At a July 9 Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) public hearing, dozens spoke out against granting five air quality permits to Formosa. In addition, the agency received 15,000 comments against the project.
Gail Leboeuf, a St. James resident and member of both RISE St. James and CADA, protesting in front of Denka's synthetic rubber plant on Oct. 19. Julie Dermansky / DeSmog
LDEQ's decision on the permits could come any day, but many do not expect a decision to be made public until after the upcoming runoff election for governor on Nov. 16.
Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards, who has disappointed environmentalists with his ongoing climate science denial stance and his readiness to welcome even more polluting industrial projects to the state, is facing off with Republican businessman Eddie Rispone.
Though CADA members expressed displeasure with Edwards during a five day-long protest in June, the group voiced support for him for governor over Rispone, a self-proclaimed Trump loyalist, over fears the latter would roll back already weak state environmental protections.
Air Pollution Concerns for Students in St. John the Baptist Parish
Robert Taylor's daughter Tish, a member of the Concerned Citizens of St. John and CADA, on the fourth day of the coalition's two-week protest outside of the Fifth Ward Elementary School near Denka's plant. Julie Dermansky / DeSmog
For years, Taylor's group has pleaded for regulators to require the Denka neoprene manufacturing plant in St. John the Baptist Parish to lower its emissions of chloroprene, a likely human carcinogen, to 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter, the level the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggested as safe.
While the factory has greatly reduced chloroprene emissions, which previously registered over 700 times the EPA's suggested level, the levels remain higher than recommended.
As a result, the citizens group is now focused on protecting the community's children who attend school near the synthetic rubber plant. The group is demanding that the 400 students at the Fifth Ward Elementary School, about a quarter mile from the plant, be moved in the meantime.
This summer, the St. John the Baptist School Board discussed possibly relocating the students, but no concrete actions have materialized.
Lydia Gerard, a member of the Concerned Citizens of St. John, giving Fifth Ward Elementary School students information for their parents during CADA's protest, with an invitation join the group for dinner. Julie Dermansky / DeSmog
"The School Board has started the process of putting together a redistricting plan that could include moving students from Fifth Ward Elementary," Jennifer Bouquet told me on behalf of Patrick Sanders, the school board's president.
Taylor is frustrated the school board president hasn't committed to moving the children out in a timely fashion. Talk of developing a redistricting plan is not acceptable to him. He believes that such a plan could take years to finalize and the children should have already been moved out of harm's way.
A recent reading from the EPA's ongoing air monitoring outside the school showed a level over 20 times above the EPA's suggested level, which is not legally binding. "Anything higher than 0.2 is too high," said Wilma Subra, with the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, who has been working with the Concerned Citizens group since its inception in 2016.
In 2016 the community became aware of the EPA's National Air Toxics Assessment, which evaluates air contaminants and estimates health risks and found that residents near Denka's plant have a lifetime risk of cancer from air pollution 800 times above the national average.
Since that time the LDEQ and the state's health department have downplayed the health risks of chloroprene emissions. Louisiana's state health officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry has stated that the emissions do not present a health emergency and that the children at the Fifth Ward Elementary School are not in harm's way.
However, in July, the University Network for Human Rights released a health survey with findings that suggest cancer and illness levels are unusually high for those living close to the plant.
Though Denka disputed the report's findings, the governor's administration promised to conduct a "comprehensive study" to determine if people living near the plant have elevated rates of cancer.
Members of the Concerned Citizens of St. John march with CADA from the Fifth Ward Elementary School to the Denka Performance Elastomer plant on Oct. 19. Julie Dermansky / DeSmog
Lavigne and Taylor have expressed gratitude to CADA members who have joined their communities' fight as well as disappointment that more river parish residents have not joined them. They told me that many community members won't speak out in public because they or someone in their family works in the petrochemical industry.
Members of the Concerned Citizens of St. John join CADA for a rally in front of Denka's plant on Oct. 19. Julie Dermansky / DeSmog
Taylor's ongoing activism caught up to him on the sixth day of the sustained CADA protest. During a rally in front of the Denka Plant, he was overcome by the heat and taken by ambulance to a hospital for heat exhaustion. While recovering, Taylor, who recently turned 79, told me that he plans to fight as long as it takes until his community's children are safe.
Robert Taylor, who suffered from heat exhaustion during a protest on Oct. 26, is helped off CADA's bus after receiving medical attention. Julie Dermansky / DeSmog
Robert Taylor, who suffered from heat exhaustion during a protest on Oct. 26, is helped off CADA's bus after receiving medical attention. Julie Dermansky / DeSmog
"It is bad enough that we have breathed in this poison for decades without knowing it was a carcinogen," he told me from the hospital where he spent a night recovering, "but knowing how bad the air is and letting the children go to school so close to the plant is unacceptable."
"I will fight to move the children out of harm's way no matter the cost to me, because they are worth it," he said.
Robert Taylor speaking at a CADA rally in front of Denka's plant. Julie Dermansky / DeSmog
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Atmospheric researchers have pinpointed the spot on Earth with the cleanest air. It's not in the midst of a remote jungle, nor on a deserted tropical island. Instead, the cleanest air in the world is in the air above the frigid Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica, as CNN reported.
- Greenhouse Gas Emissions Set for Record Decline Due to ... ›
- Coronavirus Shutdowns Causing Huge Drops in Traffic, Air Pollution ... ›
- Blowing the Cover off the 'Cleanest Air' Illusion of the Trump ... ›
Satellite data collated for the World Resources Institute (WRI) showed primal rainforest was lost across 38,000 square kilometers (14,500 square miles) globally — ruining habitats and releasing carbon once locked in wood into the atmosphere.
Bolivia Has 80% Higher Loss<p>In its Global Forest Watch report, the WRI highlighted Bolivia, saying its removal of primary forest and surrounding woodlands — to produce soy and range cattle in 2019 — had been 80% higher than any of its previous years on record.</p><p>"Its highly biodiverse Chiquitano Dry Forest was particularly affected, with reports that nearly 12% of it burned," said the study.</p><p>Other countries with severe losses had been Peru, Malaysia and Colombia, followed by Laos, Mexico and Cambodia — from 1,620 square kilometers and 800 square kilometers in primal forest lost.</p><p><strong>Indigenous Rights Protect Forests Too</strong></p><p>WRI's Seymour said a "mounting body of evidence" suggested that legal recognition of indigenous land rights "provides greater forest protection:</p><p>"We know that deforestation is lower in indigenous territories," Seymour said.</p>
Pandemic Weakens Enforcement<p>The current Covid-19 pandemic had changed dynamics, said Weisse, weakening enforcement of forest-protection laws and leaving rural families desperate to feed themselves back home after losing jobs in cities.</p><p>In April, scientists grouped within the Global Carbon Project estimated that coronavirus-induced economic slowdowns would trim carbon dioxide emissions by more than 5% year-on-year.</p><p>It was "something not seen since the end of World War Two," said project chair Rob Jackson, professor of Earth system science at Stanford University, California.</p><p><span></span>But, recalling the aftermath of the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, climate scientist Corinne Le Quéré at England's University of East Anglia, forecast in April that emissions were likely to rebound if structural changes were not instituted.</p>
Glasgow's COP26 Postponed<p>Last week, host Britain confirmed that UN climate talks due in Glasgow, known as COP26, had been postponed a year until between November 1 and 12 2021.</p><p>Experts involved in those long-running negotiations insist that global emissions must start dropping this year to avoid irreversible impacts, including polar melts, record hot weather, rogue storms, and ocean level rises.</p>
- Statistic of the decade: The massive deforestation of the Amazon ... ›
- Amazon Rainforest Deforestation Hits Highest Rate in 10 Years ... ›
- Amazon Deforestation Rate Hits 3 Football Fields Per Minute, Data ... ›
Researchers have found that warm temperatures in the U.S. this summer are unlikely to stop the coronavirus that causes the infectious disease COVID-19, according to a new study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Disease.
- Will Warmer Weather Curb the Spread of Coronavirus? - EcoWatch ›
- Don't Expect Coronavirus to End This Summer - EcoWatch ›
The glaring numbers that show how disproportionately racial minorities have been affected by the coronavirus and by police brutality go hand-in-hand. The two are byproducts of systemic racism that has kept people of color marginalized and contributed to a public health crisis, according to three prominent medical organizations — the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association and American College of Physicians, as CNN reported.
- TV Coverage Ignored Impacts of Extreme Weather on Marginalized ... ›
- 15 EcoWatch Stories on Environmental and Racial Injustice ... ›
- House Democrats Roll out Environmental Justice Bill - EcoWatch ›
By Jessica Corbett
With the nation focused on the coronavirus pandemic and protests against U.S. police brutality that have sprung up across the globe, the Trump administration continues to quietly attack federal policies that protect public health and the environment to limit the legal burdens faced by planet-wrecking fossil fuel companies.
<iframe width="100%" height="150" scrolling="no" class="rm-shortcode twitter-embed-1267581093349191680" id="twitter-embed-1267581093349191680" lazy-loadable="true" src="/res/community/twitter_embed/?iframe_id=twitter-embed-1267581093349191680&created_ts=1591049857.0&screen_name=PeterGleick&text=And+while+attention+is+elsewhere%2C+another+Trump+assault+on+the+Clean+%23Water+Act+and+the+ability+of+states+to+protec%E2%80%A6+https%3A%2F%2Ft.co%2FUtqe7IkGt9&id=1267581093349191680&name=Peter+Gleick" frameborder="0" data-rm-shortcode-id="b88aab098c5666a85c251e01b7a029bf"></iframe>
<iframe width="100%" height="150" scrolling="no" class="rm-shortcode twitter-embed-1267802127273005056" id="twitter-embed-1267802127273005056" lazy-loadable="true" src="/res/community/twitter_embed/?iframe_id=twitter-embed-1267802127273005056&created_ts=1591102556.0&screen_name=EnvProtectioNet&text=.%40epa%E2%80%99s+rule+change+is+a+blatant+attack+on+states%E2%80%99+rights+and+flies+in+the+face+of+decades+of+Supreme+Court+rulings%E2%80%A6+https%3A%2F%2Ft.co%2Fk42d4AgTL5&id=1267802127273005056&name=Environmental+Protection+Network" frameborder="0" data-rm-shortcode-id="a0d99172630e2eaea81fb529e2c93c87"></iframe><p>Hauter vowed that Food & Water Action "will be pursuing all avenues available—legal, electoral, and otherwise—to ensure that states have the right to reject fossil fuels as they see fit, and support vulnerable communities everywhere seeking to protect themselves from this malicious administration."</p>
- Trump's EPA Budget: 5 Critical Programs on His Chopping Block ... ›
- Trump's EPA Limits States' and Tribes' Rights to Block Pipelines ›
- States Sue Trump EPA for Suspending Environmental Regulations ... ›
A video of an incident in Central Park last Monday, in which a white woman named Amy Cooper called the cops on African American birder Christian Cooper after he asked her to put her dog on a leash, went viral last week, raising awareness of the racism Black people face for simply trying to enjoy nature.
By Jodi Helmer
In Georgia there are just 213 game wardens to enforce state fish and wildlife laws, investigate violations, assist with conservation efforts and collect data on wildlife and ecological changes across 16,000 miles of rivers and 37 million acres of public and private lands. Statewide 46 counties have no designated game warden at all. The shortage could lead to wildlife crimes going undetected.