A public hearing on a controversial oil terminal proposal in Plaquemines Parish was postponed Tuesday by Louisiana’s Department of Natural Resources and Department of Environmental Quality.
The hearing, which had been scheduled for Thursday evening, was planned for public discussion of the proposed Plaquemines Liquids Terminal. The PLT is a massive crude oil export terminal that would be built adjacent to the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, a key element in the state’s Coastal Master Plan.
Notice of the hearing in December was met with significant pushback from environmental groups, who said that they did not yet have the information necessary to evaluate the terminal’s applications.
LDEQ is responsible for air permits, and LDNR is responsible for coastal use permits. In an unprecedented move, the agencies planned to hold this week’s hearing jointly. Environmental groups opposing the terminal project saw the agencies’ move as an attempt to push the project through, despite what they describe as holes in the project’s applications documents.
A coalition of groups called Restore the Mississippi River Delta, along with the advocacy groups Earthjustice, the Sierra Club and Healthy Gulf co-signed letters to LDEQ and LDNR, asking the agencies to delay the hearings. In particular, the groups said it would be improper to hold a hearing until the project’s backers complete a sediment transport modeling study, assessing any impacts of the project on the sediment diversion.
The study was requested by the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) as that agency evaluates the project’s potential impact on the Coastal Master Plan. The groups launched calls for comments online and received over 550, which they sent to LDNR and LDEQ.
The hearing’s postponement was also requested by Tallgrass Energy, the private company spearheading the PLT project. The company likewise cited the sediment study as justification for the delay.
“When the date for the hearing was set, we fully anticipated that we would have the results of our sediment modeling study and be able to provide transparency regarding what, if any, impact our project would have on the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion project,” wrote Jason Reeves, general manager of Tallgrass Terminals, LLC. “That study has not been finalized, so we requested that the hearing be continued to a later date when we can share with all interested parties the modeling results and our plan to mitigate any sediment impacts our project may have on the Diversion project.”
When asked by The Lens for comment on their postponement decision, both LDEQ and LDNR cited the request from Tallgrass.
“From our perspective, the modeling ties into what [Tallgrass is] trying to get CPRA to give them, to sign off on their project being consistent with Coastal Master Plan,” said Patrick Courreges, communications director for the Department of Natural Resources.
CPRA executive director Bren Haase said in a written statement to The Lens, “We understand the hearing was postponed at the request of the permit applicant and others as additional project information is gathered. There has been no change in the status of the ‘sediment study.’ We continue to await its results.”
Scott Eustis, community science director at Healthy Gulf, says he is skeptical of the motivations behind the Tallgrass statement.
“Why didn’t they say that a year ago when we were bringing this up?” Eustis asked. “They don’t want to release this information, they still haven’t.”
Eustis said unprecedented pushback from community members helped spur the agencies’ decision to postpone the meeting.
LDEQ and LDNR told The Lens that they do not know when the new hearing date will be.
The environmental groups opposing the terminal are using the additional time to further prepare comments for the expected hearing and to bring Plaquemines Parish communities up to speed on the proposed terminal and its potential impacts.
At a meeting Tuesday night in the chapel of the Zion Travelers Baptist Church in Phoenix, representatives of Sierra Club, Healthy Gulf, and the National Wildlife Federation spoke with community leaders about the potential impacts of the terminal. According to them, those impacts include lower efficiency of the sediment diversion and increased air pollution.
They also pointed to the possibility that the proposed terminal site may cover former burial grounds for enslaved people. A burial ground believed to contain the remains of enslaved people was identified in recent months upriver in St. James Parish, where the Taiwanese plastics conglomerate Formosa plans a huge new production complex in the heart of “Cancer Alley.” But no firm evidence has been presented to suggest that any human remains exist at the proposed PLT site In Plaquemines Parish.
“I love this place — it’s my home,” said the Rev. Tyrone Edwards, executive director of the Zion Travelers Cooperative Center. “I’m going to be buried in this earth. I don’t plan on going nowhere. But I want to make sure my great grandchildren will be able to come, too.”
Edwards also said he’s concerned about benzene and other toxic emissions from the terminal.
“They can get in the air and people can get killed,” he told The Lens. “We have a government that’s more concerned about dollars and jobs. But every industry I’ve seen so far that they claim was going to put in all these jobs, it didn’t happen.”
The environmental groups held a similar meeting just across the Mississippi River in Ironton last week and intend to host more meetings in the coming weeks.