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Opponents say planned ExxonMobil plastics plant would devastate Gulf Coast environment

January 26, 2019

Corpus Christi Caller-Times
By John C. Moritz
Original article here

Kevan Drake of the Texas Campaign for the Environment protests the plastics manufacturing plant planned for San Patrico County, Texas, while in Austin, Jan. 24, 2019. (Photo: John C. Moritz/USA Today Network)

AUSTIN — A proposed plastics manufacturing facility in San Patricio County promising to bring up to 6,000 high-paying jobs and pump as much as $90 billion into the Coastal Bend economy would be an environmental nightmare and fall short of its economic forecasts, according to environmental groups.

“They chose to locate where the complex and all of its operational components will have a devastating impact on our environment and public health,” said Errol Summerlin of the Coastal Alliance to Protect Our Environment at a Thursday news conference near the state Capitol.

Summerlin, a retired lawyer, said he lives about a mile-and-a-half from the proposed site. He and others opposing the Gulf Coast Growth Ventures, a partnership between ExxonMobil Chemical Co. and Saudi Basic Industries Corp. to build the word’s largest plastics plant, are urging the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to reject permit applications.

Thursday’s press conference coincided with the first day of a contested case hearing in Austin that will determine whether the TCEQ issues the permits Gulf Coast Growth Ventures needs to begin construction.

According to Gulf Coast Growth’s website, the manufacturing operation would be what’s called an “ethane cracker” and would provide several compounds to produce products like polyester for clothes-making and the plastics used for beverage bottles. The company said it is committed to ensuring the plant would be safe for both its workers and the surrounding community, which is already home to several refineries and other petrochemical industries

“The health and safety of our employees and the community go hand in hand,” the website says. “Many project employees and their families will live in the communities where we operate our facilities, and their goal every day is to work safely, go home safely to their families and make sure their coworkers go home safely too.”

Gulf Coast Growth Ventures said once construction starts and then ramps up, as many as 6,000 construction jobs would open up. Once manufacturing starts, the company “expects to create over 600 new permanent jobs with good salaries and benefits.”

The company has also set up a job application page on its website. The planned site on 1,300 acres near Gregory sits in the part of the Coastal Bend with the region’s highest jobless rates.

But the opponents at Thursday’s news conference organized by the Texas Campaign for the Environment said they were skeptical. Early projections, they said, forecast the creation of about twice that many jobs. However, it was later learned that many of those would actually be off-shore because the products would be exported for manufacturing plants overseas.

They also warned of emissions and plastic waste that would be left behind in the environmentally sensitive coastal region. And that could undermine the economic benefits of recreation and tourism in the region, said Robin Schneider, executive director of the Texas Campaign for the Environment

“There is also the existing economy in terms of fishing — commercial and recreational — the birding, the tourist economy that could be endangered by the build-out of this plant and others that are on the drawing board for the region,” she said.

Dewey Magee protests the plastics manufacturing plant planned for San Patrico County, Texas, while in Austin, Jan. 24, 2019. (Photo: John C. Moritz/USA Today Network)

Gulf Coast Growth has an application pending before the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which will decide if the plant would comply with sundry state and federal regulations. The permitting process is already about a year-and-a-half in the making and could still be several months away from final resolution.

Even though permit applications are pending, construction work is under way at the site near Farm-to-Market Road 2986 and U.S. Highway 181 in San Patricio County.

“They said they would only be doing dirt work until the permits are completed, but there are buildings and infrastructure being erected all around us,” said Dewey Magee,a retiree-turned-metal artist who lives about a half-mile from the site. “Everything they have said has been skewed. It is no wonder we have trouble trusting them.”

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