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Resident groups in Louisiana’s ‘Cancer Alley’ sue Parish Council, citing environmental racism

Three weeks ago we reported on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suing a major industrial operator for persistently polluting in an area of Louisiana known locally as Cancer Alley.  Yesterday a collection of groups representing that community launched legal action against St. James Parish for decades of environmental racism and the discriminatory siting of industrial facilities in predominantly Black communities in the Parish. 

The lawsuit points out – among many, many other things – that the Parish have approved no major polluting facilities in white communities in 46 years, while dozens of ‘dangerous and extractive facilities’ have been located in black communities.

A recent study found that communities of colour in Louisiana, are exposed to 7 to 21 times higher industrial emissions than their White counterparts.

Kimberly Terrell, a research scientist  at the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic who worked on that study told Gas Outlook last month: ‘There is unequivocal scientific support that there is a racial disparity in pollution exposure in Louisiana. And we know that those pollutants cause health problems.’

The coalition bringing the action is made up of Inclusive Louisiana, Mount Triumph Baptist Church, RISE St. James.

The complaint document lists dozens of examples of selective policy-making by the Parish, including that a ban on solar farms was approved by the council last year after the mostly white community of Vacherie complained the farms could lower property values and cause damage during hurricanes.

Shamyra Lavigne of RISE St. James said: ‘White residents didn’t want solar farms in their backyards because they didn’t like the aesthetics. But we have petrochemical plants in our backyards, and they’re polluting us.’

Barbara Washington of Inclusive Louisiana said: ‘They always promise jobs and economic opportunity, but our neighborhoods don’t see any of that. All we see is smoke and smog and smell the pollution.’

The lawsuit is demanding: ‘a moratorium on all new sitings of industrial facilities and expansions of existing facilities, protection of unmarked cemeteries of people once enslaved in the Parish, and a court-monitored process involving directly-affected communities to help assess remediation and guide transformation.’

 

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