…………………… : Plastic Peril Politicians Breed Pollution in Calhoun County BY DAVID ARMSTRONG AT 11 A.M. ON Monday, Oct. 31, 1988,400 residents of Calhoun County one of Texas’ most eco nomically depressed regions were lured to the Bauer Community Center in Port Lavaca with promises of a big surprise and a free lunch. The facility was elaborately decorated for the occasion; a thousand balloons were released outside and potted plants and bouquets of flowers lined the chamber within. Big-name politicians from Austin and Washington, D.C., turned out to greet the locals, setting off a media feeding-frenzy as reporters and camerapersons from around the state descended on the tiny hall. On the wall behind the podium, a huge, multicolored sign provided at taxpayers’ expense by the Texas Department of Commerce declared: “Texas: An Economy on the Move Welcomes Formosa Plastics.” When the crowd eventually settled into place, the announcement everyone had anticipated finally came: Taiwan’s Formosa Plastics Corp. would build an enormous new $13 billion petrochemical factory complex in Point Comfort, a tiny community on the Lavaca Bay in Calhoun County, 100 miles southwest of Houston. The plant, an extension of the much smaller Formosa facility already operating at Point Comfort, would be the largest of its kind built in the United States in over 10 years, they were told, and the largest ever constructed in Texas. The complex would be erected over a three-year period, employing as many as 4,000 construction workers. More importantly, the completed facility would add 1,500 permanent jobs to the county’s moribund economy. The announcement was greeted by cheers from those gathered inside the auditorium; economic development, they said, would draw the county out of its financial morass. Then-Gov. Bill Clements hailed the decision as “another strong sign that the Texas economy is on themove.” Formosa Chairman Y.C. Wang, speaking through an interpreter, humbly thanked the good people of Texas, who, he said, had done so much for him. praise to Clements, U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, then-Lt. Gov . Bill Hobby, then-Secretary of State Jack Rains, state Sen. Ken Armbrister and state Rep. Steve Holzheauser \(both of given to make this day a reality.” That “critical support” went well beyond kind words and encouragement, however. To woo Formosa away from other eligible suit Formosa Facility at Point Comfort ors, this formidable political cadre offered Wang an almost irresistible package of in centives. Inducements included: property tax abatements, port and ship channel improve ments, suspension of state sales taxes, assis tance in obtaining visas for Formosa engi neers, and rapid processing of environmental permits. The total cost to taxpayers has been estimated at between $168 million and $230 million. An article in the Feb. 1989 issue of Texas Monthly revealed that the direct cost for each job created for Texas workers by the Formosa facility will run about $112,000. Even worse, the beneficiary of this public largesse is a certified industrial polluter that has fouled its island homeland and left a toxic trail across large portions of the United States. Bad Chemistry Y.C. Wang, an elementary-school dropout, began his career at age 15 as a laborer for a Taiwanese rice merchant. Within a year, Wang and his family had scraped together the money to purchase a rice mill. The plant was destroyed by American bombers during World War II, but was diligently rebuilt by the budding entrepreneur. In 1954, Wang abandoned the rice trade in favor of plastics, founding Formosa with a $670,000 develop ment loan from the U.S. government. By 1986, the company was taking in over $4 billion a year worldwide. Recent estimates place the petrochemical giant’s gross annual earnings at closer to $6 billion, according to the Houston Press. While Formosa’s financial rise has been impressive, its environmental track record leaves much to be desired. Both at home and abroad, Wang’s company has earned a reputation as a major environmental outlaw. When Wang announced a massive expansion of Formosa’s Taiwan facilities in 1989, for example, 1,000 angry farmers took to the streets protesting the environmental hazards. The uprising succeeded, at least temporarily, in blocking the proposed development. In this country as well, Formosa has a long history of flouting environmental law and failing to control toxic discharges. A case in point is Formosa’s Delaware City, Del. operation. Accroding to court records, when highly carcinogenic vinyl chloride gas escaped into the atmosphere on Oct. 15, 1985, Formosa failed to report the incident to Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources later, a second, more serious vinyl chloride leak occurred, setting off the plant’s sprin 4 MAY 17, 1991
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