Community-led action in the fight against petrochemical pollution


Sam Parry

The fight for a healthier, safer, more resilient future free from petrochemical pollution is happening now – and frontline communities are leading the way. Local heroes and environmental justice champions are working tirelessly to put an end to the harmful impacts of the petrochemical industry in their communities.   

Petrochemical operations are disproportionately sited in Black, brown, and low-income communities, due to legacies of systemic racist and discriminatory policies. For decades, the petrochemical industry has emitted toxic pollution that threatens the health and safety of people who live next door — creating “sacrifice zones” where residents are left to face the often devastating health consequences, including lung cancer, respiratory illness and asthma.

In response, communities located on the frontlines of petrochemical industry pollution have fought for the health of their friends, families and neighbors, and they’ve secured some monumental wins. Last September, a Louisiana court vacated air permits for an enormous $9.4 billion petrochemical complex in St. James Parish in the heart of Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley.” This came just days after an almost decade-long community effort forced South Louisiana Methanol to abandon plans for another petrochemical complex in the area.  

St. James Parish, Louisiana

Community groups like Rise St. James have played a crucial role in securing these victories, defending the health of communities and building incredible momentum in the fight against petrochemical pollution — and dedicated support is needed to build on this stunning community-led success.

As we’ve seen in Louisiana, community organizations have the insight and experience to prevail over major petrochemical polluters. To achieve climate action goals and improve the health of communities, we must amplify the advocacy and voices of those on the frontlines of petrochemical pollution and stand behind community leaders working to hold the industry accountable.

The will and success of these  advocates is inspiring, especially in the face of a series of recent industrial emergencies resulting in catastrophic environmental impacts for communities like East Palestine, Ohio and Deer Park, Texas. The rapid expansion of the petrochemical industry is a throughline connecting many of these preventable disasters.

It is imperative that big green organizations like EDF lend our resources to support frontline community efforts in the fight against petrochemical pollution. With support from Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Beyond Petrochemicals campaign, CLEAR Collaborative works to amplify community leaders and equip community groups on the ground to powerful resources to hold polluters accountable and protect the health and safety of all communities. In the coming months, we’ll share data-driven stories, tools to support advocacy efforts, and opportunities to engage in the fight for healthy, thriving communities, free from petrochemical pollution.

Communities around the world need resources to halt the rapid expansion of the petrochemical industry, reduce emissions from existing facilities and protect public health. To build a more equitable future that is safe from the harmful impacts of petrochemical pollution, industry and government must be held accountable to address legacy impacts of pollution and ensure a safe, healthy environment for all.

Dionne Delli-Gatti is the associate vice president, Community Engagement with Environmental Defense Fund.