Stop Approvals for New and Expanded Petrochemical and Plastic Facilities
President Biden and Administration Officials
The problem with plastic and petrochemicals goes even deeper than pollution poisoning our oceans and waterways. Hurricane Ida is the most recent example of worsening storms every year due to the climate crisis. The production and refinement of plastics is sickening frontline communities that have faced environmental racism for decades, if not centuries, while these same petrochemical facilities continue exacerbating the climate crisis. New or expanded petrochemical facilities obstruct any potential to meet the Paris Agreement goals and any initiatives to mitigate global temperature and sea level rise.
We need to stop petrochemical expansion NOW.
Join the national movement demanding President Biden stop the permitting of these facilities.
President Biden and Administration Officials
From: Sarah Nordgren
We respectfully address you today regarding the significant and harmful expansion of the petrochemical industry across the country. We ask you to recognize and reject the false narratives that allow this industry to pollute, create toxic water and air, contribute to unaffordable water bills, and infringe on the basic human rights of poor people and communities of color. Specifically, we ask that you immediately halt approvals for new and expanded fossil-fueled petrochemical projects, including cracker plants, and create a pathway for fenceline communities to participate in the reform of current air and water quality regulations to ensure that existing petrochemical projects protect public health and safety.
The relationship between those who are suffering from weak environmental protection laws and those also suffering from high mass incarceration rates, non-living wages, unjust immigration laws, high illiteracy rates and low healthcare coverage is clear. There is a direct connection between a community's health and well-being and the health and well-being of its environment. The push by the petrochemical industry to expand is contributing to unacceptable environmental racism, the destruction of natural resources, and the climate crisis.
Our country’s oversupply of cheap fracked gas is no justification for the damages caused by petrochemical expansion. This industry contributes to preventable deaths in environmental justice communities by fouling the air and water and causing devastating mental distress, destroys wildlife and habitat, and deepens the already catastrophic climate crisis. It is clear to the signing individuals and organizations that we need to stop the petrochemical buildout immediately; time is running out for our communities, our climate, our oceans, and the planet.
According to the Environmental Integrity Project, as of May 3, 2021, there were 153 major oil and gas projects under construction or in planning phases, 42 of which are petrochemical and/or plastics plants. This is in addition to the hundreds of facilities already in operation in the US, where oil and gas production has increased more than 50 percent in the last decade in large part to convert the oversupply of cheap fracked gas into petrochemical and plastic products.
The industry aims to increase North American plastics production by at least 35 percent by 2025. This new production of plastic resins and nurdles will be used to manufacture a variety of products, including bottles, utensils, food wrappers, packaging, shopping bags, and other single-use items that account for approximately 40 percent of plastic use and fill our oceans, landfills and landscapes. By 2050, the greenhouse gas emissions from plastic manufacturing could reach over 56 gigatons or 10-13 percent of the entire remaining carbon budget.
Not only does this expansion result in unneeded single-use plastic products that will end up polluting our oceans and environment, each one of the 42 projects represents another community that will immediately feel the harm that this industry brings.
One of several communities already of high environmental justice concern is the industrial corridor along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans known as Cancer Alley. As a result of the already staggering concentration of petrochemical facilities around their neighborhoods, residents—primarily minority and low-income individuals—are more vulnerable to cancer, autoimmune issues, and respiratory illnesses; decreasing property values; and disappearing public services.
Across the country, local and state leaders have declared racism a public health crisis or emergency. Tulane University's School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine found that “[t]he accumulation of daily stressors associated with exposure to racism and discrimination can cause toxic stress beginning at an early age.” Given the mounting evidence that racism contributes to premature death among people of color, why are you allowing the petrochemical industry to poison even more environmental justice communities?
Another area of the country targeted by industry as a future petrochemical hub is the Ohio River Valley of Appalachia. Communities there have already endured generations of heavily-polluting and dangerous extractive industries, yet petrochemical companies are aiming to construct multiple ethane cracker plants fed by fracked gas from the Marcellus Shale formation, thousands of miles of pipelines, and petrochemical storage caverns near major drinking water sources. Several of these projects are seeking government funding from the U.S. Department of Energy in order to build out the next generation of this dangerous and dirty industry, in part due to their weak financial outlook.
The local impact of these 42 planned petrochemical projects would be devastating for the reasons described above. Further, their nationwide and global cumulative impact on the environment and climate would be staggering. Every single resident of the United States lives downstream from the petrochemical industry. Recently, the International Energy Agency (IEA) released a special report calling for the end of licensing and finance for new fossil fuel extraction, stating “[t]here is no need for investment in new fossil fuel supply in our net zero pathway.” Just a month later, a United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report warned of the inevitable and devastating impacts of climate change, even if we were to implement the most obvious measures such as no new petrochemical facilities. The IPCC report also concludes that unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius will not be achievable.
In order to address the crisis of environmental racism in already-overburdened communities, as well to protect our environment as a whole and avoid deepening the climate crisis, we call on you to deliver on your climate, environmental justice, and sustainability commitments and protect the public you serve by immediately halting approvals for new and expanded fossil-fueled petrochemical projects and creating a pathway for fenceline communities to participate in the reform of existing emissions standards.
President Biden, we urgently need your leadership to stop the petrochemical industry from locking us into a dirty, unjust future and fueling the climate emergency.
1. Environmental Integrity Project. (May 3 2021). Emission Increase Database and Pipelines Inventory, https://environmentalintegrity.org/oil-gas-infrastructure-emissions.
2. Center for International Environmental Law, et al. (2017), How Fracked Gas, Cheap Oil, and Unburnable Coal Are Driving the Plastics Boom, https://www.ciel.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Fueling-Plastics-How-Fracked-Gas-Cheap-Oil-and-Unburnable-Coal-are-Driving-the-Plastics-Boom.pdf; Center for International Environmental Law, Plastic & Health: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet (2019), https://www.ciel.org/plasticandhealth/.; Center for International Environmental Law, Plastic & Climate: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet (2019), https://www.ciel.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Plastic-and-Climate-FINAL-2019.pdf.
3. Geyer, R. et al., Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made, 3 Sci. Adv. (2017), doi:10.1126/sciadv.1700782.
4. American Public Health Association. Racism is a Public Health Crisis. https://www.apha.org/topics-and-issues/health-equity/racism-and-health/racism-declarations.
5. Tulane University - School of Public Health, (2021) "Why Racism Is a Public Health Issue," https://publichealth.tulane.edu/blog/racism-public-health/.
6. Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) (2020) IEEFA report: Financial risks loom for Shell’s Pennsylvania petrochemicals complex, https://ieefa.org/ieefa-report-financial-risks-loom-for-shells-pennsylvania-petrochemical-complex/.
7. International Energy Agency (IEA) Flagship Report (2021), https://www.iea.org/reports/net-zero-by-2050.