Two foreign corporations have announced plans to study the feasibility of building two multibillion-dollar plants in Southwest Louisiana that will convert natural gas to diesel fuel for use in motor vehicles. Qatar is the home of the only plant of this type in the world.
Before the next wave of petrochemical plants/refineries are built in our state, now might be a good time to consider the cost and benefit to Louisiana of having hosted the petrochemical industry (the industry) for a century.
Louisiana, having emerged from the Civil War as an impoverished state, was brought to its knees by the flood of 1927 and the Depression of 1929. Under the circumstances, one can understand why our state in the early 20th century was so anxious to welcome the industry to Louisiana. The industry brought the promise of good jobs and badly needed taxes.
To Louisiana’s credit, one clear beneficiary of our state’s decision to welcome the industry has been the rest of the United States. Although the products produced by the industry have always been vital to the well-being of the nation, both in times of peace and war, petrochemical plants/refineries have not been welcome in the other states, with Texas being the sole exception.
The petrochemical industry did in fact bring the desired jobs and taxes to the state, but at what cost to Louisiana’s air, water, land and people?
In addition to the question of whether or not the petrochemical companies have been good stewards of the state’s environment, have the companies otherwise acted as good corporate citizens? Have they given back to the charities, schools and universities of Louisiana, or have the companies spent the bulk of the money set aside for good works in other states or countries? Exxon (formerly Standard Oil), a 100-year resident, is at least one example of a company that has given back to our state.
The crux of the matter is that all too often in the past Louisiana has been treated by out-of-state corporations as a colony, a place whose natural resources are there to be exploited and, when depleted, a place to be abandoned with the permanent residents of the state left to clean up the mess. The hundreds of cypress tree stumps in the Atchafalaya Basin that can be seen from Interstate 10 along the “Swamp Expressway” stand as silent witnesses to this reality.