Louisiana climate task force holds first meeting

‘Our kids are counting on us,’ Gov. Edwards says

The Louisiana Highway 1 Bridge, also known as the Gateway to the Gulf Expressway, rises above the marshland and coastal waters on August 25, 2019, in Leeville. Louisiana has been losing its coastal landscape at the rate of almost a football fields worth of land every hour, and the state's congressional delegation says offshore drilling revenue should be used to restore the coast, not to fund maintenance in the country's national parks. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Louisiana’s Climate Initiatives Task Force, a body Gov. John Bel Edwards created through an Aug. 19 executive order,  held its inaugural meeting at the capitol building on Monday, and its chairperson said the task force’s effort will be about “leading us away from environmental disaster and economic hardship and towards a better future for our families, our neighbors, and yes, the environment.”

Last week, Edwards announced that Chip Kline, executive assistant to the governor for coastal activities, would chair the 23-member group.

“This effort is about taking the reins and steering our future,” Kline said during Monday’s meeting.

Since 1970, cumulative carbon emissions from fossil fuel combustion and flaring have tripled. Furthermore, global annual average surface temperatures and ocean temperatures have risen significantly over the last 30 years, leading to a rise in sea level and an increase in the intensity, frequency and duration of North Atlantic hurricanes, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

“We need a common understanding of what the science is telling us about climate change and greenhouse gas emissions,” Kline said. “Following the science has been fundamental to our success in the coastal program, and it will be our guide here as well.”

Kline said it’s not so much about getting people in Louisiana to start using the term “climate change” but rather creating a real tangible path that Louisianans are ready to take.

The members of the task force come from a wide range of sectors and include politicians, environmentalists, oil lobbyists, academics, scientists and bureaucrats.

This was done purposefully to try to “balance out the two fundamental truths about Louisiana,” Kline said. “Number one: We’re extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change across the board. Number two: Our economy is incredibly carbon intensive. That means we are deeply anchored in today’s way of doing business because it provides jobs to so many people in this state.”

The task force also has a non-voting member from a federal scientific agency, Dr. Virginia Burkett, chief scientist for Climate and Land Use Change at the USGS. Burkett is a former director of Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and a 2007 Nobel Peace Prize winner for her work on the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 

Louisiana, in particular, emits the fifth highest amount of carbon dioxide in the nation, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The state’s minimum average annual temperature and precipitation levels are steadily increasing, according to the USGS.

“We’re getting warmer winters,” Burkett said. “As the governor said, we’re seeing more precipitation due to a warming atmosphere, and it’s shown here in the Louisiana data.”

Without significant action, the continued subsidence and sea level rise could lead to a loss of up to 4,120 square miles of Coastal Louisiana over the next 50 years, according to the state’s 2017 Coastal Master Plan.

The task force’s duties include investigating and developing ways to reduce Louisiana’s greenhouse gas emissions in order to achieve three goals: (1) By 2025, reduce net emissions by 26-28 percent of 2005 levels; (2) By 2030, reduce net emissions by 40-50 percent of 2005 levels; and (3) By 2050, reduce emissions to net zero.

When the governor announced the formation of the task force, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, an environmental nonprofit that fights against the expansion of the petrochemical industry, suggested that the governor’s professed interest in lowering emissions is inconsistent with his economic development strategy.  The governor has welcomed Formosa Plastics, which plans a huge manufacturing complex in St. James Parish that its own plans say would emit 800 tons of toxic air pollution each year, which would roughly double the toxic air emissions in St. James Parish.

Although the task force has five years to meet its first goal, it has only until Feb. 1, 2021 to present an interim report to the governor and to the Coastal Protection and Restoration Board containing strategies, policies and incentives on how it will meet that goal. Its next deadline is a year later, Feb. 1, 2022, at which point the task force is expected to present a detailed plan. Thereafter, the task force will meet at least annually and submit an annual status report.

The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Board shall consider the recommendations of the task force for inclusion in the comprehensive plan for a sustainable coast.

The governor spoke at the beginning of the meeting Monday, urging the members to study and consider existing technologies, such as wind and solar power and carbon storage to meet the task force’s goals.

“We have oil companies that are rebranding as energy companies,” Edwards said. “It doesn’t mean that they’re going to abandon oil or gas — that would not be good for us either — but it does mean that there’s a different focus.”

The governor pointed out that four Louisiana companies helped build the nation’s first commercial offshore wind farm — in Rhode Island — a project he would like to see done here as well, he said.

“Our kids are counting on us,” Edwards said. “Our kids are really counting on us in many ways.”

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The task force appointees are:

  1. Colette Pichon Battle, Executive Director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy, as a member of the environmental
  2. Chip Kline, Executive Assistant to the Governor for Coastal Activities, Chairman
    Designee: Harry Vorhoff, Deputy Director, Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities
  3. Dr. Chuck Brown, Secretary, Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality
  4. Jay Dardenne, Commissioner of Administration, Division of Administration
    Designee: Mark Moses, Assistant Commissioner, Facility Planning & Control
  5. Bren Haase, Executive Director, Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority
  6. Thomas Harris, Secretary, Louisiana Department of Natural Resources
    Designee: Jason Lanclos, Director, State Energy Office
  7. Don Pierson, Secretary, Louisiana Economic Development
    Designee: Brad Lambert, Deputy Secretary, Louisiana Economic Development
  8. Mike Strain, Commissioner, Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry
    Designee: Joey Breaux, Assistant Commissioner, Office of Soil and Water Conservation
  9. Dr. Shawn Wilson, Secretary, Department of Transportation and Development
    Designee: Dr. Eric Kalivoda, Deputy Secretary, Department of Transportation and Development
  10. Timothy Hardy, Breazeale, Sachse & Wilson, L.L.P., designee for the President of the Louisiana Senate
  11. Selby Bush, Head of Corporate Affairs, BHP Petroleum, designee for the Speaker of the Louisiana House of Representatives
  12. Bill Robertson, designee of Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell
  13. Tyler Gray, President and General Counsel, Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association
  14. Gregory M. Bowser, President and CEO, Louisiana Chemical Association
  15. Jonathan Bourg, Director of Resource Planning and Market Operations at Entergy, as a representative of an electric utility
  16. Dr. Virginia Burkett, Chief Scientist for Climate and Land Use Change at the United States Geological Survey, as a nonvoting representative of a federal scientific agency
  17. Karen Gautreaux, Director of Government Relations at the Louisiana Nature Conservancy, as a member of the environmental nonprofit community
  18. Flozell Daniels, President and CEO of the Foundation for Louisiana, as a member with experience in community development and engagement
  19. Dr. Terrence Chambers, Director of the Energy Efficiency and Sustainable Energy Center at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, as a member of Louisiana’s academic community and climate justice community
  20. Chief Shirell Parfait-Dardar, Tribal Chief of the Grand Caillou/Dulac Band of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw, as a member of an indigenous tribe, nation, or community
  21. Robert Verchick, Gauthier-St. Martin Eminent Scholar and Chair in Environmental Law at Loyola University New Orleans, as a member with special qualifications and experience in climate change policy
  22. Camille Manning-Broome, President and CEO of the Center for Planning Excellence, as a member at-large
  23. A representative of local government perspectives – TBD