Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards
Office of the Governor
PO Box 94004
Baton Rouge, LA 70804
June 15, 2020
Re: Black Leaders Support RISE St. James' Demand for a Moratorium on Petrochemical Industry in St. James Parish
We, Black civil rights leaders, artists, and activists, write to you in support of RISE St. James, whose long-running fight for the survival of its community has become even more urgent as Louisiana, along with the rest of the world, reels from the impact of the coronavirus. This pandemic has fully demonstrated an obvious and glaring truth in the starkest of terms – that those most at risk before the crisis are most at risk during the crisis. The alarming statistics in Louisiana bear this out with reports showing that African Americans, who are 32 percent of the population as a whole, make up 70 percent of those who have died of the coronavirus.
As you well know, African American communities in St. James, and throughout Cancer Alley, have been forced to bear the awful burden of decades of discriminatory siting of petrochemical facilities, sickening and cancer-causing pollution, and lack of access to quality healthcare. The 12 petrochemical facilities already situated within a 10-mile radius of St. James have polluted the air, land, and water, resulting in countless lives lost, and extensive harm to health and devaluation of property. In these circumstances, it is no wonder then that people in these communities are at increased risk of developing COVID-19.
On top of an already dire situation, this community is faced with the prospect of a massive new plastics facility that would double, and in some cases triple, the risk of cancer and other illnesses – in an area that already has one of the highest cancer risks in the country. Even more concerning, that company, the Taiwan-based Formosa Plastics, has a disastrous safety and environmental record in the United States and other countries and has been described as a “serial offender” by a federal judge in Texas. This company has already shown it cannot be trusted to responsibly manage a facility that poses this much more risk to local communities. We therefore join in RISE St. James’ call to end the Formosa Plastics project and for a moratorium on all new petrochemical facilities and expansions of existing facilities. This was an urgent and necessary demand before the corona crisis; it is even more so now.
The recent discovery of graves of people who were enslaved on the plantations that once operated on this site along the Mississippi River underscores the unbroken chain of injustice at play here. The community’s concern about what happens on this land is heightened by the unexpected and bittersweet reuniting with their past, and the ability now to honor and commune with ancestors who suffered immeasurably there.
We urge you to work with RISE to break this chain of generational injustice here and now. You are in a position to turn this situation around and help alter this dangerous, dead-end trajectory and usher in a cleaner, healthier, more vibrant, and just future.
M. Adams (Co-Exec. Director, Freedom.inc)
Amanda Alexander (Founder and Director, Detroit Justice Center)
Michelle Alexander (Civil Rights lawyer, NYT columnist and author of ‘The New Jim Crow’)
Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II (President, Repairers of the Breach / Co-chair, Poor Peoples’ Campaign)
Lisa Crooms-Robinson (Professor, Howard University School of Law)
Ericka Dunlap (Miss America 2004, Diversity Advocate)
Dawn-Lyen Gardner (Writer, and actor in Queen Sugar)
Alicia Garza (Co-creator, Black Lives Matter / Principal, Black Futures Lab)
Justin Hansford (Exec. Director, Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center, Howard University)
Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson (Co-Exec. Director, Highlander Research & Education Center)
Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré (Ret.) (Fmr. Commander, Joint Task Force Katrina)
Reverend Jesse Jackson Snr. (Baptist Minister and Civil Rights leader)
Nsombi Lambright (Executive Director, One Voice)
Gay J. McDougall (Former Vice Chair, United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination; Former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Minorities)
Thenjiwe McHarris (Co-founder, Blackbird)
Aja Monet (Poet, writer, lyricist and activist)
Jacques Morial (GreenARMY, Louisiana)
Colette Pichon-Battle (Founder, Exec. Director, Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy)
Barbara Ransby (Historian, activist and author)
Dread Scott (Artist, Slave Rebellion Reenactment)
Vincent M. Southerland (Exec. Director, Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law, NYU School of Law)
Vince Warren (Exec. Director, Center for Constitutional Rights)