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U.S. EPA Administrator Michael Regan visits Mossville on “Journey to Justice” tour

Published: Nov. 18, 2021 at 7:43 PM CST
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Lake Charles, LA (KPLC) - Accusations of racial inequity and environmental concern mount as the feds make a stop in Calcasieu Parish.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency visited with people in Mossville to find out how they’re faring years after industrial expansion and buyouts. They’re calling it the “Journey to Justice” tour as EPA Administrator Michael Regan travels through three states, including Louisiana. He spent Thursday morning in Mossville.

There’s a study suggesting those buyouts may not have been fair.

Regan stopped first at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Mossville where those gathered heard about a research project that suggests white people who were bought out got more for their houses than black people.

“What we found was the median buyout amounts in Mossville were statistically, significantly lower than those in Brentwood which was 90% white community subject to the exact same formula as the people in Mossville,” said Ruhan Nagra with the University Network for Human Rights.

The full report is “They Didn’t Pay Us for Our Memories”

From the church it was on to one of the areas where people were bought out. But not everybody left.

Prater says he wants a buyout, but that they did not offer enough money.

“They come back offering me $350, but I’m not going to take $350 when you just gave a man who has half what I have $350. It’s kind of like an insult,” said Prater.

He says his neighbor took the $350,000 offer.

Next, a visit to a Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality monitoring station and John Stine Road. And finally, back to the church, where administrator Regan said it was surprising how close some people live to industry.

It’s astonishing to see the level, the presence of industry surrounding this community.

“It appears that this community is in an environmental justice community because of race and that there has been inequality in the protection of this community and the buyout scenario. And we want to get under all of that,” said Regan.

Sasol, which did the buyouts, adamantly denies any racial bias or forced displacement-- and calls accusations egregiously false and misleading.

Sasol released the following statement:

Sasol corrects misinformation alleging racial bias in property acquisition program

Sasol has responded quickly and forcefully to false allegations alleging that race played a role in determining property values for two property purchase programs.

The University Network for Human Rights, an organization that identifies itself as a network of “supervised undergraduates engaging in the practice of human rights at colleges and universities,” released a study earlier this week that sought to profile Sasol’s Voluntary Property Purchase Program as discriminatory based on race, alleging that Sasol paid more for properties based on the ethnicity of property owners.

Sasol implemented the Voluntary Property Purchase Program several years ago at the request of the community of Mossville, a neighboring community to the Lake Charles Chemical Complex. As part of the VPPP, Sasol agreed to buy property we neither needed nor wanted – at prices significantly above market value – simply because our neighbors asked us to.

In an earlier and unrelated property purchase program, Sasol purchased a small number of properties needed for construction of the Lake Charles Chemicals Project (LCCP.)

“We’re not in the habit of responding to every criticism; in fact, we welcome constructive criticism. But when accusations are made against us that are egregiously false and misleading, it’s our duty to set the record straight,” said Sasol spokesperson Kim Cusimano.

Below is an excerpt of a response provided by Sasol Corporate Affairs to external stakeholders related to the study release. Employees and community members are encouraged to visit the Sasol and Mossville page on the Sasol America website which includes a listing of some falsehoods that have been spread about Sasol’s engagement with the community of Mossville, along with the truth.

“Sasol was not given an opportunity to review the study released today by the University Network for Human Rights. That’s unfortunate, because had we been given the opportunity to review the study before it was released and sent to media, we would have provided important clarification to many of the claims the report misrepresents as fact. While we are still reviewing the 121-page document, a few inaccuracies should be noted immediately—chiefly, the allegation that Sasol forcibly displaced Mossville residents. A completely false statement.

The truth is Sasol has a long history of engaging with our Mossville neighbors and supporting projects that better our community. We are proud of our engagement with our neighbors and have consistently worked with Mossville residents to keep them informed of our plans and solicit their input on how we can make a positive difference in their community.

One example of this is the voluntary property purchase program (VPPP) we executed at the request of our Mossville neighbors. The VPPP was just that – voluntary. No one in the VPPP area was forced to move; in fact, many chose to stay. Sasol instituted the VPPP to give our near neighbors choices – choices they asked for and were given the opportunity to provide input on during the program development phase. The more than 85% program participation rate and the positive reception (noted by several residents in this video) is indication that the VPPP and the other collaborative social investment programs executed by Sasol and Mossville residents were well-received.”

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