Mossville is a small, predominantly African American unincorporated community on the outskirts of Lake Charles in Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana. The community was founded in 1790 by a freed slave named Jim Moss, and is one of the first settlements of free blacks in the South. Today, Mossville isn’t a thriving community but one that is marred by chemical contamination and the building of a chemical plant may wipe out the whole town.
SASOL, a South African chemical company, plans on building the chemical plant and will also receive $2 billion in incentives from the state budget. The Bobby Jindal backed plan is slated to be the largest industrial project in Louisiana.
But that massive plant will come with a steep environmental price. It will produce more greenhouse gases than any other facility in the state. And the project will almost certainly spell the end for the 224-year-old settlement of Mossville, a poor enclave that has been forced to play host to industrial facilities no one else wanted in their backyard.
An analysis conducted by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) in February determined that the new project “will result in significant net emissions increases” of greenhouse gases, promethium, sulfur oxide, nitric oxide, and carbon monoxide. By its calculations, the plant will spew out more than 10 million cubic tons of greenhouse gases per year. (By contrast, the Exxon-Mobil refinery outside Baton Rouge, a sprawling complex that’s 250 times the size of the New Orleans Superdome, emits 6.6 million tons.)
But what about the people already living in the community? Well they’re not interested in leaving anytime soon, even though by staying they’ve already risked their health. The toxins in the town’s air is 100 times higher than the national standard, and a study showed that 84% of the residents of the town had some sort of central nervous system disorder.
“These people are not interested in moving,” says retired Lt. General Russel Honoré, a Louisiana native who managed the Army’s response to Hurricane Katrina and has formed an organization, the Green Army, to push for environmental justice on the Gulf Coast. Honoré, who is considering a run for governor next year, became involved in the effort to block the plant from being built at the request of Mossville residents last fall. “This is their ancestral home. These are descendants of slaves that moved here when they weren’t wanted in any other parts of the community.”
SASOL has offered buy-outs to the residents that live in the town at 160 percent of their appraised value, and many have accepted.
“They think it’s a very generous offer because they’re living in shacks anyhow,” Honoré says.
But there are those residents who are still holding out,not only because they don’t want to leave their homes, but even with the 160 percent, they may not be able to afford homes in non-polluted areas.