Smoke is seen rising in the distance from the BioLab Westlake after Hurricane Laura passed through the area on August 27, 2020, in Lake Charles, Louisiana.(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
After a long, hot summer of helping people throughout the Gulf Coast who have lost their homes and livelihoods to hurricanes and calling on elected officials in Washington to stop the proliferation of fossil fuel plants, we decided energy officials needed to see what’s happening here firsthand. So we invited the commissioners of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to tour our respective towns of Port Arthur, Texas, and Sulphur, Louisiana, to see how their decisions impact our lives.
To our surprise, they agreed.
For too long, fossil fuel corporations have overburdened coastal communities of color like ours. Roishetta, for instance, was rendered homeless by hurricanes Laura and Zeta and was forced to raise her six children in a FEMA trailer for more than a year. She’s far from alone in her community along Lake Charles. Hundreds of families have been living in trailers, hoping for the day when their homes are restored and inhabitable again after being ravaged by flood waters.
John’s hometown of Port Arthur hasn’t been spared either. It’s been hit by five major storms over the past 15 years, and despite the fossil fuel industry’s endless promises to improve our quality of life, that never happened.
What is happening is a dramatic escalation of fossil fuel infrastructure. There seems to be plenty of corporate money to build 19 more gas export terminals along the Gulf but none at all to address the environmental fallout caused by the fossil fuel industry.
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These terminals forever alter our coastline by removing natural barriers like sandbars and dramatically increase the emission of greenhouse gases that lead to global warming. In fact, three new terminals under construction now — Golden Pass in Texas and Plaquemines LNG and Driftwood LNG in Louisiana – have permits to release up to 22.6 million tons of greenhouse gases each year.
And despite the fact that our coastlines are being overrun by more gas export terminals than anywhere in the world, FERC Chairman Glick and Commissioner Phillips hadn’t toured these facilities along the Gulf Coast before, nor had they met the people whose lives depend on their decisions.
Earlier this year, the commission issued a historic policy that would require our government to factor in the potential harms to indigenous people and communities of color before approving new gas projects. In a nutshell, this policy would bring our communities into the rooms where gas permitting decisions are made for the first time. We need that policy to become reality. And soon.
By approving a new gas policy that would protect communities of color, our country can make real progress in halting the proliferation of greenhouse gases and the devastation of our coast.
In our “lowlights tour” we gave Chairman Glick and Commissioner Phillips a front row seat to the roots of the climate crisis, visiting petrochemical facilities where crude oil is transformed into chemicals, and viewing the toxic waste they expel. We drove by gas export terminals that displaced entire neighborhoods. We walked along formerly pristine wetlands and showed them boxes of poisonous sludge we’d extracted from that wetland just that morning.
We stopped by a community health center crowded with people suffering from health conditions caused by Hurricane Ida. For the commissioners, it was all new. For us, it was just another day reckoning with the environmental costs of corporate greed.
It doesn’t have to be this way. By approving a new gas policy that would protect communities of color, our country can make real progress in halting the proliferation of greenhouse gases and the devastation of our coast. This won’t stop the devastation due to gas export terminals that are already approved, but it could prevent future terminals and give our communities a fighting chance.
Right now, our hopes turn on members of Congress confirming Chairman Glick to continue to lead the commission. With the chairman’s leadership, our communities may finally be respected, represented, and heard. On behalf of our communities and all communities carrying the burden of climate change, we’re urging Congress to hold hearings on Chairman Glick’s nomination as soon as possible.
Lives hang in the balance as we demand environmental justice. It’s past time for our elected leaders to listen to brave people throughout the Gulf Coast who are speaking out to save our families, our homes, and our communities.
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