ZOLA: JBE’s Chinese Communist Chemical Catastrophe

Gov. John Bel Edwards’ business deal with a Communist Chinese chemical company he once bragged about is now stalled and mired in controversy.

The deal with Wanhua Chemical, a company partially owned by the Chinese Communist Government, promised to bring jobs, tax revenue and economic development from a proposed $1.2 billion plant in St. James Parish. In exchange, Gov. Edwards gave the company a $4 million handout accompanied by a promise of no property taxes for ten years.

The Hayride covered Wanhua earlier this year when President Trump visited Louisiana to tout its growing energy sector. Back then, the new plant was facing challenges due to an escalating trade war with China.

But now JBE’s project with the Chi-Coms has hit a new snag in the local permitting process, as major environmental concerns and news that the company is trying to evade its tax obligations by applying for federal tariff exemptions have come to light. These issues have raised serious questions about whether the project could bring the economic development John Bel cheerleaders originally expected.

The debacle has now earned national attention as well. The Washington Times, which called Wanhua Chemical “an agent of the Chinese Communist Party,” aptly pointed out the dangers of the plant:

The plant will spew some 300 tons of toxic air emissions a year, including 1,700 pounds a year of phosgene — a gas used in chemical warfare. Another 10 million pounds per year of toxic liquid waste will be produced as well. Any sort of mishap at the plant would represent a nightmare scenario too: a 2016 explosion at one of Wanhua’s plants in China killed four workers.

Wanhua Chemical, a Chinese company deeply tied to the Communist Party, is the latest company to set its sights on St. James. It plans to build a $1.25 billion facility here to manufacture MDI, a component of polyurethane foam. The plant will spew some 300 tons of toxic air emissions a year, including 1,700 pounds a year of phosgene — a gas used in chemical warfare. Another 10 million pounds per year of toxic liquid waste will be produced as well. Any sort of mishap at the plant would represent a nightmare scenario too: a 2016 explosion at one of Wanhua’s plants in China killed four workers.

What’s worse, Louisiana taxpayers will be paying for the privilege: Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, has pledged a cash grant of more than $4 million to the company. Nor will Wanhua have to pay property taxes for a decade.

Wanhua has repeatedly dissembled about how tied it is to the Communist Party. Kimberly Terrell, director of community outreach at Tulane Environmental Law Clinic in New Orleans and a scientist by training, says, “In its response to the Land Use Permit Appeal [to St. James Parish], Wanhua falsely claimed that neither Wanhua U.S. nor Wanhua China is owned by the Chinese government.”

However, Ms. Terrell says, “publicly filed documents contradict this claim by proving that Wanhua U.S. is 100% owned by Wanhua China, and that Wanhua China’s ‘ultimate controlling shareholder’ is a municipal government of the PRC. Like all local governments, Yantai is entirely controlled by the PRC central government and the Communist Party of China.” Wanhua even has its own Communist Party committee embedded within the company’s leadership structure.

Since the project’s announcement over two years ago, we’ve covered the fact that Wanhua is controlled by the Communist Chinese government, and several of its board members are part of the Communist Party. Can it get any more obvious that this is a Chinese economic infiltration smack dab in the middle of our trade war?

We’re also now learning that even the company’s supposed U.S. general manager, Jim Newport, has tried to deny Wanhua’s Communist ownership. However, according to the Advocate, Newport did not even know the company was applying for a Federal Trade Zone to skirt even more tariffs, bringing into question his own knowledge of the project itself.

Are we expected to believe that Gov. Edwards – who has made this project a flagship of his administration – had no idea of these major problems? Maybe it was incompetence and ignorance, but it is worth raising the question: what did you know, Gov. Edwards? Do you still support giving our tax money to a company owned by the Chinese government? Was Governor John Bel Edwards or any of his staff involved or know about the secret meetings and backroom deals being horse traded before a key vote in St James parish?

Before the public became aware of all these problems, the Governor bragged about the agreement he worked so diligently to secure, calling it a “testament to the strength of Louisiana’s business climate and unmatched transportation logistics.” That’s likely why he has fought tooth and nail to salvage the fatally flawed deal. His reputation depends on it. As for the consequences for local Louisianans? Tough luck.

Gov. Edwards seems to have no regard for the Louisiana taxpayers, giving their hard-earned money straight to Communist China with little to show for it.

 

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