Federal lawsuit alleges environmental racism due to petrochemical plants

Staff Report

A lawsuit was filed in federal court in New Orleans against St. James Parish government alleging environmental racism as a result of petrochemical plants in majority Black areas.

Inclusive Louisiana, Rise St. James and Mt. Triumph Baptist Church filed the lawsuit against St. James Parish, the St. James Parish Council and the St. James Parish Planning Commission, seeking a moratorium on plants in majority Black districts.

Inclusive Louisiana shared video of a news conference outside of the Hale Boggs federal building. According to the group, the parish has centralized the petrochemical industry in Black districts, and though they have attended council and planning commission meetings for years, they say their concerns over pollution have been ignored.

The Center for Constitutional Rights and Tulane University Environmental Law Clinic are counsel for the plaintiffs. 

According to a Center for Constitutional Rights news release, parish government has continued to approve petrochemical plants in the 4th and 5th districts despite residents' concerns.

Sharon Lavigne, founder and director of Rise St. James, is shown in a file photo from 2020.

“It’s time to end this discriminatory and harmful land use system in St. James Parish that has roots in slavery and its afterlife, and is now the cause of public health emergencies,” Myrtle Felton of Inclusive Louisiana stated in the news release. “We need to stop adding harmful chemicals that are impacting our health and homes.”

Sharon Lavigne, who is the founder and director of Rise St. James, said the districts have been made into "sacrifice zones for corporate greed and single use plastics."

“Today we are asking the court to bring an end to the discriminatory land use decisions that have led to sickness, cancer and death throughout our community," Lavigne stated.

Some have nicknamed the area Cancer Alley, though officials have criticized President Joe Biden and others for using the term. The 85-mile corridor runs along the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge to New Orleans and includes some 200 petrochemical plants and refineries.

Gonzales Weekly Citizen and Donaldsonville Chief, part of the USA Today Network of Louisiana, cover Ascension Parish and the greater Baton Rouge area. Follow at and