I was amazed and deeply disappointed to read the Nov. 27 lead editorial in The Times Picayune/New Orleans Advocate, “welcoming” petrochemical plants, like the proposed Formosa Plant, with supposedly “effective regulation of emissions.”

To begin with, this welcome seriously contradicts the paper’s “Polluter’s Paradise” series. Mark Schleifstein, for example, was introduced in his October 30 column with these words: “A reporter who has investigated industrial pollution for 35 years sees progress reversed.” Schleifstein begins this way:  “Louisiana’s 100-year romance with the petrochemical industry has come with an undeniably steep human price tag. Tens of thousands of people, living cheek-by-jowl with belching plants along the Mississippi River, are exposed to toxic chemicals at rates that are among the highest in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.”

A poster, featuring a painting by artist Sheila Phipps, that environmental groups have turned into a billboards around the New Orleans area.

The worst thing about the Nov. 27 editorial is the claim that the leaders in St. James Parish are “enthusiastic” about the prospect of another big plant ( Formosa) in the region. In the editor’s words: “Leaders in the parish [a clear reference to St. James Parish] and the state are enthusiastic about the prospect of another big plant in the region.” Such a claim that the leaders in St. James are enthusiastic about another big plant coming into their parish comes from either poor research, or the editor is not speaking the truth.

I have appreciated The Advocate’s reasonable efforts in the past to discern and expose the truth about the deadly emissions from the plants, and I continue to appreciate their “Polluter’s Paradise” series written with ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network. As an active member of the New Orleans coalition Justice and Beyond and CADA (the Coalition Against Death Alley), otherwise known as Cancer Alley, I have spent months listening to the people of the River Parishes. Over and over again, I have heard very sad stories from the residents whose family members and friends have become quite ill, many dying, from the fumes of the nearby petrochemical plants.  It is highly significant that these residents are mostly poor and 90 percent black. Would the leaders of the state, including Gov. John Bel Edwards, support plants like Formosa if they were being built or expanded in middle-income white neighborhoods? Would The Advocate support such plants?

The editorial also says that Formosa will bring in many new jobs for the residents during the building of the plants and also when built. But I have met only one person among the hundred or more people I have gotten to know in St. James and St. John parishes who believes that the promised jobs will help their communities.  They haven’t in the past, and residents believe they will not likely help now in any significant way. “How can my children find good work if they are all dead, or so sick they can’t work?” is the refrain I keep hearing.

President Donald Trump is making things worse for people throughout the nation who suffer from the deadly chemical fumes. In a Dec. 6 New York Times op-ed, Ana Parras describes how people in the Houston area, including her own family, have become ill, some with lung disease, caused by nearby chemical plants. The Environmental Protection Agency is not helping because the president has blocked safeguards. She writes, “In Houston, we struggle to get chemical facilities to follow the law. Now the federal government is ending safeguards that the EPA only a few years ago said the industry needed to protect people.”

This issue of the petrochemical plants is such an important issue for our nation, especially for Texas and Louisiana. At the very least, the Advocate’s editorial board should visit the leaders of the River Parishes, especially Sharon Lavigne, director of Rise St. James; Robert Taylor, leader of Concerned Citizens of St. John’s Parish; and people like Barbara Washington, a community organizer in St. James.

The final question I pose to The Advocate, to Gov. John Bel Edwards, who has heartily welcomed the petrochemical plants, and to all policy makers who support the petrochemical plans:  Do you support corporate wealth more than truth?

That is the exact question that the new film, “Dark Waters,” raises in regard to DuPont’s deadly chemicals released in the West Virginia waters. We have had our own deadly experience with DuPont in its founding of the Denka petrochemical plant.  Please, all Lens readers, see this film. It is based on extensive research that formed the 2016 New York Times Magazine article “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare” by New Orleans resident Nathaniel Rich.

The Rev. Barnwell

Rev. William Barnwell’s recent book, “Angels in the Wilderness,” was named Book of the Year in the Indie Book Awards inspirational non-fiction category. He tells more about his ministry to Angola inmates in a previous book: “Called to Heal the Brokenhearted: Stories from Kairos Prison Ministry International.


The opinion section is a community forum. Views expressed are not necessarily those of The Lens or its staff. To propose an idea for a column, contact Lens Founder Karen Gadbois.