Grassroot groups give Louisiana lawmakers an ‘F’ on the environment

They say Republicans and Democrats have state ‘moving backwards’

By: - July 7, 2021 12:21 pm

Sen. Bret Allain (R-Franklin), will delay the implementation of the solar lease program until regulations are established and a funding source is identified to pay staff at the Department of Natural Resources to oversee the program. (Photo by Sirisak Boakaew | Getty Images)

Louisiana is among the nation’s top energy producing states. It’s also among the states most vulnerable to climate change, which is driving more intense hurricanes and rising seas. That combination of energy production and geographic vulnerability means state lawmakers are in a powerful position to address the environmental impacts of energy production.

So how did they do during this year’s regular session? Together Louisiana, Louisiana Budget Project, the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy and the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice scored lawmakers on how they performed on a range of issues, including clean air, land and water. “We want to increase accountability so that folks can’t hide their record,” said Erin Hansen, who worked on the legislative scorecard.

The grassroots groups gave lawmakers an overall F grade for environmental issues. “The public is way more interested in this,” she said. “That’s why it feels like we’re moving backward at a time when science tells us we can’t do that.”

When it comes to environmental issues, Louisiana Republicans and Democrats voted in favor of bills that would make it harder for the public to get information about environmental violations. Likewise, there was a bipartisan effort to stall bills that would have increased public transparency around air pollution events.

Here’s a run down of environmental legislation we covered this session and how those bills fared. Legislation signed into law by the governor will become effective on Aug. 1, 2021, unless otherwise noted:

House Bill 72, by Rep. Jean-Paul Coussan (R-Lafayette), allows industrial facilities to disclose environmental violations to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality in exchange for reduced fines and confidentiality for up to two years. How it fared: The bill was signed into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards on June 29.

Senate Bill 97, by Sen. Eddie Lambert (R-Gonzales), paves the way for chemical recycling, a variety of processes that use heat, pressure and or solvents to break down plastics to be remade into new plastics or fuel. Environmental advocates warn that chemical recycling is an unproven technology likely to bring more air pollution to communities already breathing in toxic emissions. How it fared: The bill was signed into law by Gov. Edwards on June 24.

Senate Bill 129, by Sen. Fred Mills Jr. (R-New Iberia), creates a statewide accountability system that would give each water system a letter grade reflecting the system’s water quality and performance. Water systems graded D and F would be mandated to use 100% of water payments toward fixing and maintaining the water system. How it fared: The bill was signed into law by Gov. Edwards on June 4.

Senate Bill 185, by Sen. Bret Allain (R-Franklin), will delay the implementation of the solar lease program until regulations are established and a funding source is identified to pay staff at the Department of Natural Resources to oversee the program. How it fared: The bill was signed into law by Gov. Edwards on June 14.

Senate Bill 203, by Senator Mack Bodi White, Jr (R-Baton Rouge), would have made it legal for Baton Rouge’s groundwater district commissioners to be paid by companies that pull water from the aquifer that they oversee. Environmentalists called the bill an “ethics carve out” that would further jeopardize the Capital City’s drinking water, which is already at risk of saltwater intrusion. How it fared: Gov. Edwards vetoed the bill on June 21, calling it a “blanket exception to the ethics code.”

House Bill 265, by Rep. Ken Brass (D-Vacherie), increases the maximum fine for the second offense of flying a drone above oil and gas infrastructure and grain elevators from $2,000 to $4,000 and increases the possible prison sentence from one year to two years. How it fared: Gov. Edwards signed the bill into law on June 14.

House Bill 481 by Rep. Matthew Willard (D-New Orleans) would have mandated iron testing in drinking water systems in single-family homes that contain copper pipes with lead solder installed after 1982, contain lead pipes or have a lead service line.  How it fared: The bill died in committee.

House Bill 535, by Rep. Joseph Orgeron (R-Larose), would have banned menhaden fishing within a quarter mile of Louisiana’s shore. Recreational fishers said the bill was necessary to protect red drum and speckled trout. How it fared: The House rejected Senate amendments to the bill and the legislation died in the conference committee.

House Bill 549, by Rep. Danny McCormick (R-Oil City), stops Louisiana State Police from being able to ticket pipeline companies for failing to immediately notify them of small natural gas releases by changing the definition of a pipeline from a mode of transport, which the state police have authority over, to a facility, which they don’t. How it fared: Gov. Edwards signed the bill into law on June 14.

House Bill 617, by Rep. McCormick, would have prohibited state employees from enforcing any federal act, law or regulation that “negatively impacts fossil fuel energy in Louisiana.” How it fared: The bill died in committee.

House Bill 655, by Rep. Chad Brown (D-Plaquemine), removes the possibility of imprisonment for minor wildlife crimes, such as possessing an undersized commercial fish. How it fared: The bill was signed into law by Gov. Edwards on June 11.

House Bill 662, by Rep. Coussan, would have exempted production of oil from abandoned wells from severance tax. How it fared: The House rejected the Senate amendments to the bill and the legislation died in the conference committee. But a Senate version of the bill — SB171 by Sen. Allain — was signed into law by Gov. Edwards on June 16 and became effective the same day.

House Bill 691, by Rep. Tony Bacala (R-Prairieville), would increase the cost of hunting and fishing licenses to help close the gap on a $16 million budget shortfall at the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. How it fared: Gov. Edwards signed the bill into law on June 14. Some sections of the law will not become effective until 2023.

House Concurrent Resolution 37 by Rep. Stephanie Hilferty (R-Metairie) tasks the Department of Environmental Quality with implementing permits that mandate zero discharge of plastic and require companies to have a spill prevention plan in place How it fared: The resolution was adopted by the House and Senate and does not require the governor’s signature.

House Concurrent Resolution 40 by Rep. Clay Schexnayder (R-Gonzales) blocks solar projects that file for the Industrial Tax Exemption Program on or after July 1 from being eligible for the tax breaks until July 10. How it fared: The resolution was adopted by the House and Senate and does not require the governor’s signature.

House Concurrent Resolution 70, by Rep. Malinda White (D-Bogalusa), encourages the recycling of campaign signs by urging and requesting the secretary of state to work with local governments to establish and promote events to collect the signs and transport them to a recycling center. How it fared: The resolution was adopted by the House and Senate and does not require the governor’s signature.

Senate Concurrent Resolution 20 by Sen. Barrow Peacock (R-Bossier City) and Rep. Gregory Miller (R-Norco) encourages closer economic ties with Taiwan. Dating back to 2014, similar resolutions have mentioned Formosa Plastics, the company behind a hotly contested plan to build a giant plastics manufacturing complex in St. James Parish. How it fared: The resolution was adopted by the Senate and House and does not require the governor’s signature.

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Sara Sneath
Sara Sneath

Sara Sneath is a freelance environmental journalist who lives in New Orleans with her dog and three bikes.

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