Louisiana, where no Election Day surprises are expected, follows energy impact of midterms

By: - November 8, 2022 6:00 am
A streetcar rolls past a voting precinct in New Orleans.

A streetcar rolls past a voting precinct in New Orleans. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

With most signs indicating a Republican takeover of the U.S. House, public interest groups in Louisiana are assessing if and how the power shift will affect their efforts. At the forefront are those focused on the energy sector, long a staple of the Louisiana economy that now faces an uncertain future with a growing emphasis on clean renewable sources. 

Logan Atkinson Burke leads the consumer advocacy group Alliance for Affordable Energy. Her focus as of late has been on soaring utility bills, driven higher by Louisiana utilities’ heavy reliance on natural gas as a fuel stock. 

High power bills are not unique to Louisiana, but the state does stand out for its growing hub of liquified natural gas terminals in response to pressure to increase American LNG exports. Under that scenario, Burke expects little to no relief is expected for Louisiana utility customers, who went through a particularly hot summer. But she said the state could see more allies in its fight to bring down power bills once winter heating bills begin to arrive in northern states. 

Outside of taxing the “extreme profits” of fossil fuel companies, Burke said there’s not much Congress, regardless of who’s in charge, can do to alter this course. The same companies are leading the transition to renewable energy, she said, because it’s the cheapest power source available. But unless those lower costs are passed down to consumers, Louisiana is likely to repeat its history of being a natural resource provider that doesn’t benefit from its abundance. 

“Louisiana has long been a sacrificer for our country, for energy systems, and I have a lot of concern that that is going to only get worse,” Burke said.

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Environmental gains

Anne Rolfes with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade has the petrochemical industry on multiple fronts. The organization has challenged pipelines planned through pristine swampland and stood up against the proliferation of smokestacks in predominantly poor, minority communities.   

Along an industrialized section of the Mississippi River known as “Cancer Alley” among environmentalists, the Bucket Brigade recently stood with neighbors opposed to a proposed plastics plant. A state judge revoked the plant’s environmental permit in September, but the company, Formosa Plastics Group, has said it will challenge that ruling.

Rolfes praised the Environmental Protection Agency for its call for Louisiana to close an elementary school next to a rubber plant just downriver. The EPA said the regulatory neglect of two state agencies amounts to “racial discrimination” against minority communities along the petrochemical corridor between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

“I don’t think a Republican Congress can undercut that,” Rolfes said. “Then again, they should be doing more. They should not be issuing any more permits for these facilities.”

 The latest front for Rolfes involves carbon capture technology, whose supporters tout its ability to reduce industrial emissions that contribute to climate change. Its backers include Democratic Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, who has featured it as part of his climate change agenda. Multiple projects are proposed for Louisiana that would store captured carbon underground, requiring extensive new infrastructure investments.

The approach also has its critics, who point out vast amounts of groundwater resources must be expended to use the technology that they aren’t convinced is safe. They see carbon capture as a way for fossil fuel companies to boost continued production of oil and gas while paying lip service to their environmental impact. 

Rolfes questions the wisdom of government leaders putting their eggs in such an uncertain basket, including money specifically for carbon sequestration in the Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act.

“They’re giving tens of millions of dollars to an unproven technology that is throwing a lifeline to the oil industry,” Rolfes said. 

Representatives from the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association and the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association did not respond to interview requests for this story.

GOP dominance continues in Louisiana

Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin predicts Nov. 8 voter turnout will total 45% in Louisiana, with 12% already having cast ballots in the early voting period. That would be a significant drop from the 70% who showed up at the polls for the 2020 presidential election. 

Incumbents are heavily favored to win their congressional races, with Republicans holding five of Louisiana’s six House seats. Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Shreveport, didn’t face opposition in the 4th District. GOP Sen. John Kennedy should dispense of three Democrats challenging his reelection bid.    

The lack of midterm drama for Louisiana, along with no other major statewide races on the ballot, could well contribute to the lower interest.     

Rosalind Cook, an American history professor at Tulane University, stops well short of using the word apathy when explaining her students’ interest in politics. Although more than 80% of Tulane students are from out of state, Cook said she includes discussions of Louisiana issues in her lessons. A long-time election commissioner in her Uptown New Orleans precinct, she is engrossed in local and state politics. 

“You have individuals that are very engaged, but you also have students who know little about the government, about elections, about campaigns,” Cook said, suggesting there should be a greater emphasis on civics at the high school level.

Cook expected at least a couple of absences in her class. A student from Georgia had planned to go home to vote because she didn’t receive her absentee ballot as planned. The same situation occurred with a Massachusetts student who was pondering a trip home.

After she turns in results from her precinct Tuesday night, Cook said she’ll turn on the television and the computer to monitor races around the country. 

“We’re very fortunate,” Cook said. “Years ago, there wasn’t the high tech (to provide fast results). We’d crash often on election night, but we don’t have that situation anymore. Thank goodness.”

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Greg LaRose
Greg LaRose

Greg LaRose has covered news for more than 30 years in Louisiana. Before coming to the Louisiana Illuminator, he was the chief investigative reporter for WDSU-TV in New Orleans. He previously led the government and politics team for The Times-Picayune | NOLA.com, and was editor in chief at New Orleans CityBusiness. Greg's other career stops include Tiger Rag, South Baton Rouge Journal, the Covington News Banner, Louisiana Radio Network and multiple radio stations.

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