Chinese ownership of a methanol plant worries Louisiana parish residents

can be found on the DEQ Web site using the agency’s interest number for the application, 194165. She adds that the information could be obtained through a public records request.

Still, many locals claim they heard nothing about the project prior to the July 2014 announcement. “Really, I haven’t heard a lot about it,” said Raymond Zeringue, a worker on a local sugar cane farm. “Other than there’s a methanol plant that’s being built, no information has been made public. They should have had better information handed out — more pros and cons to it.”

Recently, Shandong Yuhuang, parent company of the proposed plant in St. James, has received bad press in China for reportedly neglecting environmental laws, including releasing toxic emissions in the city of Heze, which environmentalists have connected to rising cancer rates and contaminated water. St. James residents fear that the new plant will not only release toxic waste in the area, but regulators will fail to notice violations before it is too late. “It’s not feasible to just hope they will abide by regulations. Most of the industry environmental reporting requirements are done by companies without a secondary check with the Department of Environmental Quality or EPA,” said St. James Parish gas station owner Kenny Winchester. “In effect, if a company was doing wrong, it would have to write itself a ticket. I know every time I’m going down the interstate too fast and there’s no cop, I pull over and write myself a ticket … No, it doesn’t happen that way.”

The St. James plant is to be one of several plants in the works between Chinese firms and Louisiana development authorities. The state plans to give Yuhuang Chemical an incentive package worth $9.5 million over the next five years if the project proceeds and a sizable portion of the plant’s 400 jobs are sourced locally.

“St. James benefits from its location on either side of the Mississippi — deep water access,” said Greater New Orleans Inc.’s (GNOINC) president and CEO, Michael Hecht. GNOINC, an economic development nonprofit which receives 25 percent of its funding from the state government, helped select the plant’s site. “When you have our labor rates, the abundance of cheap natural gas as a feedstock, we’re becoming — if not a low-cost — a good-cost, high-convenience location for foreign companies.”

Hecht anticipates the New Orleans and Baton Rouge markets will receive at least one major new plant announcement per year in the coming years. He warned, however, that the “challenge we have in Louisiana is to figure out how to engage … Chinese investment in a way that not only benefits the Chinese investor but the Louisiana community. That is still a question to be determined. What type of investment do we want? What requirements do we want to put on it? That’s a question to answer as a community.”

The DEQ is currently studying the plant’s impact on the local environment and will deliver its decision on 6 March.