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31.1.19

St. James rejects EBR-like prosperity killing

Maybe Together Baton Rouge ought to speed up plans to expand geographically and combine forces with another equally short-sighted, ideologically mistaken group.

As noted yesterday, the radical leftist interest group has taken not just a public relations hit, but also likely a souring in the mouths of Baton Rouge policy-makers, when its agitprop that sees corporations not as peoples and their lives but as pi├▒atas waiting for bursting caused a real world backfire. Essentially, it goaded enough members on the East Baton Rouge Parish School System Board to deny property tax relief to ExxonMobil, already paying a seriously overburdening rate. In turn, the company signaled it would scale back significantly its area operations, consequently leading to the disappearance of jobs and wealth.

But no such resistance had cropped up in nearby neighbor two-doors-down St. James Parish. Among the parishes it has the sixth-highest property value exempted under this law, the Industrial Tax Exemption Program, and policy-makers there with no opposition recently put it on the hook to relieve an amount that would more than triple the amount of foregone dollars from 2015.

Actions like these have sailed through in St. James with little complaint – until now, it seems. A fledgling group called RISE St. James has fought everything having to do with the plant by Formosa Petrochemical known as the Sunshine Project. As part of that, last week the group held a rally and invited the national interest group the Poor People’s Campaign to attend.

At it, the group’s co-leader Rev. William Barber gave a stemwinder. He told the group not to be afraid to be radical and to pursue acts of civil disobedience that local and state leaders couldn't ignore. He cited acts of civil disobedience by Jesus as described in the Gospel.

Which goes to show that Barber may know how to play to a crowd, but he has no clue as to what constitutes genuine, legitimate civil disobedience, which is to disobey authorities based upon moral principles. More specifically, those engaging in civil disobedience deliberately break the law, generally peacefully, and expect to suffer penalties to alert society that, morally speaking, the law is unjust.

Except, in this instance, there’s nothing unjust about the siting of the plant and tax breaks given to it or, more generally, industrialization in St. James Parish. The company has followed all relevant laws and bent over backwards to accommodate community interests. It went through the proper deliberation to secure the tax break. Long-range planning, with extensive community input, has deemed this and related facilities appropriate for the parish.

Most importantly, no evidence has emerged to support the allegation that the presence of industry and/or insufficient regulation of it has elevated long-term health risks. A 2006-14 study of census tracts by the Louisiana Tumor Registry, for example, shows no significant differences generally in cancer among tracts with higher and lower levels of industrial activity. Put in the context of St. James, “Cancer Alley” is “a commonly used term that has no scientific validity” – which researchers have long known.

So, where’s the unjust treatment? Some backing the opposition allege some kind of “environmental racism,” seeing as a large portion of St. James residents particularly near its industrial areas are black. In their view, industrial presence and development occurs deliberately disproportionately in areas with a higher concentration of blacks as a manifestation of exploitation.

However, research demonstrates that the greater incidence of blacks (but, interestingly, not other minority groups) living nearer industrial concerns with a higher risk of pollution comes from a mix of factors – most prominently income, but also factors associated with race, in a complex manner that makes causal disentangling difficult. In other words, if defining “environmental racism” as a discrimination on the basis of race condoned by society through attitudes and policies that cause blacks to congregate in residential patterns where they face greater risk in suffering from pollution of some kind, that’s a myth.

In essence, RISE ST. James and its fellow travelers seek to delegitimize democratically- and morally-made decisions, because they lose in the electoral marketplace of ideas. With voting majorities finding unpersuasive these arguments against economic development through industrialization without draconian environmental measures attached, they have to conjure an image that something illegitimate exists about the winning policies.

Same song, different verse from Together Baton Rouge, which is more into peddling the odd notion that somehow large corporations by their nature take more from the community than they give back in jobs, tax dollars, and the like. With that group’s recent track record as indicative, maybe it can come up with something to chase away needlessly prosperity from St. James, which, although its population has fallen slightly since 2000, has witnessed a surge of 50 percent in median household income, outstripping the statewide increase by $10,000 over that span and now exceeding the state’s by $5,000.

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