Federal court jams brakes on Biden admin’s effort to shut down major petrochemical plant

A federal judge granted the Biden administration's request to cancel the trial in a case in which it argued a petrochemical plant in Louisiana must immediately shutter.

A U.S. district court granted the federal government’s request to indefinitely pause a trial concerning a major petrochemical plant in Louisiana, despite the Biden administration’s insistence that the facility poses an imminent health threat.

In a ruling late Friday, Judge Carl Barbier of the U.S. District of Eastern Louisiana abruptly canceled oral arguments in the case scheduled for this week and the subsequent trial which had been set for mid-March. The Department of Justice, which is litigating the case on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), asked Barbier to delay the case on Feb. 9 after arguing for months about the dangers of the plant.

Following the court’s decision, synthetics manufacturer Denka Performance Elastomer (DPE), the defendant in the case, blasted the EPA for misusing resources in pursuit of the case against it. The ruling comes one year after the EPA first sued DPE, seeking to compel the company’s LaPlace, Louisiana, facility – the sole domestic plant that produces neoprene, a synthetic rubber common in military equipment – to vastly reduce emissions of chloroprene.

“EPA’s request to delay the trial indefinitely belies the ‘emergency’ that the government claims in this unprecedented action,” DPE counsel Jason Hutt said in a statement shared with Fox News Digital. “EPA’s lawsuit has come at great expense to both this country’s only Neoprene facility and its dedicated employees.”


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Hutt added that EPA’s case has been pursued “solely for political gain.” And he said the federal government is poised to withdraw the lawsuit altogether in light of a regulatory proposal that would require manufacturing facilities to conduct additional testing of certain chemical emissions, including chloroprene, and which the White House is set to finalize in the coming weeks.

“DPE is prepared to litigate this case and address the unfounded fears fomented by EPA, including a clear showing that the science underlying EPA’s allegation is outdated, contorted and based upon an overly conservative risk assessment,” Hutt continued. “Since purchasing the facility in 2015, DPE has invested more than $35 million in chloroprene emissions reductions.”


“As a result, chloroprene emissions are at historical lows today, as confirmed by DPE’s continuous dual monitoring systems,” he said. “DPE will continue production at this facility, which employs hundreds of Louisiana residents and provides tremendous economic benefit to the local and state economy.”

After the EPA filed its complaint against DPE on Feb. 28, 2023, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said he was committed to taking strong action to protect Louisiana residents from the LaPlace neoprene plant’s emissions and added that DPE hasn’t “moved far enough or fast enough” to reduce said emissions. The action was taken as part of the administration’s “environmental justice” agenda.

According to the complaint, the plant’s emissions pose a cancer risk to residents in St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana, and therefore present an “imminent and substantial endangerment to public health and welfare.”

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Then, one month later, the Justice Department filed a motion for preliminary injunction in the case, asking the court to enforce a shutdown of DPE’s facility if the company failed to immediately implement substantial emissions reductions. Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim said the motion “shows our determination to address environmental justice concerns.”


DPE argued in a response motion that the federal government’s actions are “tantamount to a shutdown order that would have catastrophic consequences for DPE,” adding that it would lead to “complete loss of revenue streams, substantial loss of work force, supply chain disruptions and contractual impacts, and regulatory challenges.”

The company also characterized the Biden administration’s efforts against it as politically driven, unsupported by real-world science, and outside its legal authority under the Clean Air Act. DPE pointed to how its LaPlace facility has sharply curbed its chloroprene emissions and complied with environmental permits, as Hutt noted.

DPE further pointed to Louisiana Tumor Registry data showing that St. John the Baptist Parish, the region where its neoprene facility is located, has recorded one of the lowest cancer rates of any region in the state.

Additionally, DPE revealed late last year that it uncovered evidence during discovery in the case that EPA officials appeared to manufacture a paper trail to make it easier to litigate the case, revelations that sparked a House Science, Space and Technology Committee probe.

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EPA didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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