Bill to make Louisiana a fossil fuel sanctuary state signals lawmakers’ discontent with Biden administration

State official warns Louisiana agencies could be stripped of their authority to enforce environmental regulations

A gas flare from the Shell Chemical LP petroleum refinery illuminates the sky on August 21, 2019 in Norco, Louisiana. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

An attorney for the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources said Wednesday that a bill to make Louisiana a fossil fuel sanctuary state could jeopardize the state’s ability to enforce environmental programs.

There are several federal environmental regulations — including the Clean Water Act and intrastate pipeline safety requirements — that the state is granted primary enforcement authority, said Blake Canfield, executive counsel at Louisiana Department of Natural Resources. But, Canfield testified at a hearing of the Louisiana House Committee on Natural Resources and Environment, the state is granted that authority under the stipulation that its laws and policies meet federal standards. House Bill 617 by Rep. Danny McCormick (R-Oil City) would prohibit state employees from enforcing any federal act, law or regulation that “negatively impacts fossil fuel energy in Louisiana.”

The bill’s current language could cause the Environmental Protection Agency to revoke Louisiana’s enforcement authority for some federal environmental programs, Canfield said. That would mean the EPA would be charged with overseeing the programs at the state level, he said, and the EPA’s staff is stretched thin. If DNR can no longer inspect oil and gas facilities and approve permits, the state could see a slow down in permitting, he said.

The chairman of the committee, Rep. Jean-Paul P. Coussan (R-Lafayette), expressed concern that the bill could have an effect that’s opposite McCormick’s intent by giving more authority to the federal government when it comes to the oil and gas industry. Despite other questions about the constitutionality of the bill, several representatives signaled their support to push back against President Joe Biden’s energy policy.

“I don’t trust the people in Washington right now,” Rep. McCormick, who built his career in the oil and gas industry and owns M&M Oil, said. “All I know is that the goal is to regulate the oil and gas business out of business.”

The bill was voluntarily deferred Wednesday, but Rep. Coussan vowed to work with Rep. McCormick to tighten up the language of the bill to avoid jeopardizing the state’s enforcement authority. Lawmakers painted a desperate picture of oil and gas jobs put at risk by the Democratic administration’s attempt to address climate change. But Haywood Martin, the chair of the Sierra Club Delta Chapter, said those jobs are already at risk from low oil prices and automation.

Despite pushes by former-President Donald Trump to expand oil drilling leases on federal lands, the amount of acres leased in the Gulf of Mexico has continuously decreased over the past decade. And, Louisiana companies that service the offshore drilling industry have jumped at opportunities for business in the offshore wind industry.

Still, Louisiana politicians have consistently argued that a transition away from fossil fuels would devastate local economies. A letter sent by Gov. John Bel Edwards to the Biden administration urging the White House to reconsider its halt on new oil and gas leasing on federal land included talking points from the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, according to a Huffington Post report. LMOGA offered its support of Rep. McCormick’s bill Wednesday.

Last month, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry led a 13-state lawsuit against the Biden administration for the pause on leases. Healthy Gulf, an environmental advocacy group focused on the Gulf of Mexico, intervened in that lawsuit Wednesday.

It remains to be seen whether the political push back will undermine the Biden administration’s climate policy, or if lawmakers are simply signaling their discontent. This point came up at the committee hearing when Rep. Buddy Mincey, Jr. (R-Livingston) asked Rep. McCormick, “Does this bill really do anything? Or does it just look good and sound good?”