Anne Rolfes’ mission, as she sees it, is to provide a complete picture of Louisiana’s petrochemical industry.
“I was born and raised in Lafayette, so I grew up surrounded by the jobs, the economic benefits the industry brings,” she said, “but I also know what science tells us, and that is the rates of cancer, of respiratory illness, that we see. The facts are the facts. These chemicals being created are carcinogens.”
For the past 20 years, Rolfes has run the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, an organization dedicated to ending pollution in the state. Though small — her staff ranges from three to five people — the Bucket Brigade is empowered by hundreds of volunteers and partnerships with groups such as Rise St. James, 350 New Orleans and Tulane Environmental Law Clinic.
The organization is currently focusing on challenging the permit for the Formosa plastics plant planned for St. James Parish.
“This would be one of the largest plastics plants in the world,” she said. “Our state is allowing it even though the company’s own country, Taiwan, is not allowing the plant to be built there because it’s too dirty. We are allowing other countries to use our state as their dumping ground.”
Rolfes said she believes there’s another way.
“This industry could be a win/win for everyone,” she said. “We could be employing people to repair pipelines, fix equipment. I’d like to see us pivot to something more positive for everyone, including the petrochemical industry.”