Billions in Taxpayer Subsidies to U.S. Plastics Plants Support Illegal Air Pollution in Communities of Color

Report: 64% of Plastics Manufacturing Plants Built or Expanded Since 2012 Received Subsidies Totaling $9 Billion. 84% Violated Air Pollution Limits.

For a copy of the report, click here.

For an interactive story map with data and details about plastic plant fires and explosions in local communities, click here.

Washington, D.C. — Billions of taxpayer dollars in the U.S. are helping to pay for dangerous, and often illegal, air pollution from a rapidly-growing plastics industry that disproportionately threatens Black and Latino communities that live beside plastic manufacturing plants, according to a new report.

The Environmental Integrity Project’s report, “Feeding the Plastics Industrial Complex,” examined 50 plants that were built or expanded in the U.S. since 2012, 32 of which received a total of almost $9 billion in state and local subsidies. Two thirds of the more than 591,000 people who live within three miles of the plants are people of color.

The investigation found an alarming pattern: companies that manufacture plastics and their main chemical ingredients receive tax breaks and government subsidies and – to win that taxpayer support – often make public promises to protect health and the environment. But once the subsidies and building permits are in hand, they fail to keep their promises by repeatedly releasing illegal pollution, often during malfunctions, breakdowns, and industrial “upset” incidents that release dangerous chemicals. But they seldom face penalties and never have their public subsidies revoked, no matter how frequent their environmental permit violations.

“We don’t need taxpayer support for private companies that essentially manufacture pollution: single-use plastics that end up as litter, and toxic air pollution that disproportionately hurts communities of color,” said Alexandra Shaykevich, research manager at the Environmental Integrity Project and an author of the report. “The plastics industry deserves penalties and more oversight – not more government handouts – for the environmental harm it is causing.”

The poor environmental track record of plastics manufacturers is alarming because the industry is expanding rapidly, and more communities are being asked to consider public subsidies.  Across the U.S., 10 new plants that make plastics or their main chemical ingredients have been proposed for construction over the next five years, as well as expansions at 17 existing plants, including in Texas, Louisiana, Ohio, and Kentucky.  These could add at least 35 million tons of greenhouse gases a year and 14,493 tons of health-damaging air pollutants, including particulate matter and volatile organic compounds.

EIP’s report examined public records and company announcements about new or recently expanded facilities in the U.S. that manufacture plastics and their main chemical ingredients, including ethylene and propylene (which are base ingredients for a wide variety of plastics), polyethylene (the most common plastic in the world, used in plastic bags and food packages), polypropylene (used to make microwavable containers and bottle caps), polyvinyl chloride (or PVC, used in construction materials), and PET (used for single-use water bottles and other containers). Among the main findings of the report are the following:

  • At least two thirds of these plastics plants (32 of 50) received tax breaks or subsidies from state and local governments worth a total of nearly $9 billion over a decade, or an average of $278 million per facility.
  • On an annual basis, that means more taxpayer money is going to plastics manufacturers than to the combined annual budgets of the state environmental protection agencies in the largest plastics producing states, Texas and Louisiana.
  • Despite frequent claims by the industry that it would protect the environment, 84 percent of the plastics plants (42 of 50) violated their air pollution control permits over the last three years, according to EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance Online database.
  • The plants reported releasing 63 million tons of greenhouse gases in 2021, as much as 15 coal-fired power plants. They also released 471,744 pounds of benzene (a carcinogen), 27,923 tons of nitrogen oxide (which contributes to smog), and 20,182 tons of carbon monoxide (which can cause headaches and dizziness), among other pollutants.
  • On top of all this, 94 percent of the plastic plants reported a total of at least 1,242 accidents and incidents of various kinds over the last five years – including breakdowns, fires, and explosions — that released nearly 34 million more pounds of air pollution.
  • Although these “emission events” often release much more pollution than legally allowed under their permits, companies claim these emissions are “unpreventable” and rarely pay penalties or take serious action to fix the problem.
  • Under-reporting of chemical releases from plastic plants is a widespread problem. Air monitors at seven plastics plants found that the levels of benzene, a carcinogen, at the fence lines between the factories and the community in 2020 and 2021 ranged up to 14 times higher than previously known, based in part on underreporting by the companies, according to an EPA memo cited in the report.
  • For about a third of the plastics plants (15 of the 50), state environmental agencies modified the plant’s permit limits to allow more emissions of one or more pollutants after the initial permitting of the facility or expansion project.

The report provides local case studies of pollution violations – including during explosions, fires, and dangerous chemical releases – in Louisiana, Texas, and Pennsylvania.

LOUISIANA: In Westlake, a Thailand-based company called Indorama that is the largest manufacturer of PET plastics in the world received tax breaks from the state worth $73 million over a decade. After the opening of the renovated plant in 2019, the facility released more than 90 times the amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the first five months of the year than was legally permitted in a whole year, state records show. The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality issued 13 warning letters to Indorama for air pollution violations. But instead of cracking down or penalizing the plant, the state approved changes to Indorama’s pollution control permit four times between 2018 and 2023 that allowed the plant to release more air pollution – including a tripling of its permitted VOC emissions.

PENNSYLVANIA: Northwest of Pittsburgh, the Shell Polymers Monaca plant received $1.65 billion in taxpayer subsidies before it announced a start to operations in 2022. Shell promised a “world class facility” that would “improve the local environment.” However, the plant malfunctioned at least 51 times between January 2022 and June 2023, repeatedly exceeding its air pollution limits and was hit by a lawsuit from environmental groups and then a $5 million state penalty.

TEXAS: North of Corpus Christi, an ethane cracker was built by a partnership of the Saudi Arabian government and ExxonMobil in 2021. Although the Saudi firm SABIC and Exxon are wealthy companies, they received $249 million in subsidies from the state and local school district – money that would have otherwise helped students in Texas.  The companies promised local parents that they be “good environmental stewards.” Then the plant had 63 environmental violations in less than two years and released a half million pounds of air pollutants in numerous “upset” incidents.

Brandy Deason, Climate Justice Coordinator for Air Alliance Houston, said: “The greater Houston area is home to half of the plastic plants in this report, plants that emit unparalleled amounts of air pollution and greenhouse gasses, including carcinogens. Moreover, these same facilities are some of the most common sources of chemical-related disasters, all of which disproportionately impact communities of color and lower wealth. As a Houstonian, I can tell you that the recommendations in this report can’t come soon enough. We need to close loopholes for polluters and stop rewarding those that harm air quality and health.”

Rev. Dr. Theron Jackson, leader with Together Louisiana, said: “The tax exemptions that we grant to Louisiana’s chemical plants would otherwise go to fund our schools, law enforcement agencies and public infrastructure. Local public services are crumbling while profits for multinational corporations skyrocket. Our current model, which risks treating tax exemptions for industry as an entitlement rather than an incentive, undermines our communities’ prosperity, our citizens’ health and the future of our planet.”

Terrie Baumgardner, outreach coordinator for the Pennsylvania-based Clean Air Council, said: “In Pennsylvania, Shell’s ethane cracker, a massive plastics factory, secured $1.65 billion in taxpayer subsidies before opening in 2022.  Now Shell takes this taxpayer money, at the expense of local municipalities, while violating its permits and spewing pollution that poisons our air. Why should Pennsylvania taxpayers continue to subsidize a petrochemical plant that makes single-use plastics from fossil gas, repeatedly violates air quality rules, and creates one of the largest public health hazards in the commonwealth? We must stop subsidizing Shell’s environmental rule breaking.”

John Beard, founder of the Texas-based Port Arthur Community Action Network, said: “Plastic petrochemical proliferation in Port Arthur packs a double whammy. First, the pollution from refined crude forms the basis for plastics building blocks, and then the cracking of those molecules releases even more toxics into the air we breathe. We have some of the worst air in America, yet these companies plan billions more in expansions to further endanger our health and safety. Public subsidies should not be used to poison that same public, and this pollution should not go unchecked and unpunished.”

To address problems like these, this report makes the following recommendations:

  • State and federal regulators should deny permits for facilities that make primary ingredients used mostly in single-use, disposable plastics. Permits that are issued to plastics plants should impose strict and legally required pollution limits that protect the health of nearby communities, minimize climate pollution, and are based on an accurate accounting of emissions.
  • Fenceline monitoring should be required at all plastics plants.  EPA has proposed standards that would require this monitoring for multiple carcinogens, including benzene, and corrective action at about half of the plastics plants studied in this report. These standards should be strengthened, expanded to all plastics plants, and promptly implemented.
  • Plants should face accountability for breaking the law. Under the Clean Air Act, plants must comply with emission limits at all times, including during accidents, startups, and upset events.But plastics plants frequently violate permit limits. Plastics plants must be required to submit prompt, accurate reports of emissions, and then EPA and state environmental agencies must follow through and take meaningful enforcement action.
  • The public should have access to pollution information. Emissions data, including real-time fenceline monitoring results and malfunction reports, should be posted promptly to a public, online database that is easy to use. Communities should receive alerts of any accidents or threats relating to plastics plants.
  • Reject subsidies and tax breaks for plastics manufacturers. Public funds should be used to benefit projects that improve public health. Local entities should reject and revoke subsidies for plastics plants that expose neighboring communities to harmful air pollution and violate their environmental permits. Government subsidies should be contingent upon environmental compliance.

The Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting public health and our natural resources by holding polluters and government agencies accountable under the law, advocating for tough but fair environmental standards, and empowering communities fighting for clean air and clean water.

Media contacts:

Tom Pelton, Environmental Integrity Project, (443) 510-2574 or

Riikka Pohjankoski, Air Alliance Houston, (713) 528-3779 or

Katie Edwards, Clean Air Council (Pennsylvania), (609) 432-0129 or