Monday, May 27, 2024

Company hires 25 lobbyists for the Louisiana legislative session to defend attacks against carbon capture projects

by BIZ Magazine

By Julie O’Donoghue, Louisiana Illuminator

A Pennsylvania company and global leader in carbon capture technology hired 25 lobbyists ahead of the Louisiana Legislature’s regular lawmaking session this year as the business faces a slew of bills meant to push back on its “blue hydrogen” plant proposed for Ascension Parish.

Air Products and Chemicals Inc. has active contracts with all but one of the top-tier lobby firms that works at the Louisiana Capitol, according to information provided by the Louisiana Ethics Administration. Those hired range in gender, race and political affiliation — making it likely they have relationships with a wide swath of legislators.

The lobbyists include Kyle Ruckert, a chief political consultant to Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry, and Matthew Block, former general counsel to Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards. Former state Sens. Nobert Chabert and Dan Claitor, both Republicans, are also on the payroll.

“With more than a dozen bills filed addressing carbon capture, we have put together a robust team dedicated to working with lawmakers to help them understand the technology and address their questions,” said Christina Stephens, an Air Products spokeswoman who previously served as Edwards’ spokeswoman.

“We are closely watching legislation pertaining to carbon capture, and we oppose any bill that would hinder any company’s ability to make use of technology, which has been used around the world for 50 years at 30 different locations,” she said. 

Most of the carbon capture bills filed come from legislators who represent Livingston, Tangipahoa, St. John the Baptist and Ascension parishes. Air Products’ plan to build a $4.5 billion “blue hydrogen” plant in Ascension and store carbon dioxide emissions under nearby Lake Maurepas has rattled hundreds of residents living in those communities

Blue hydrogen is the industry term for hydrogen produced from natural gas, with carbon dioxide captured and stored underground. Locals worry the carbon storage proposal could destroy the lake’s ecosystem and affect the drinking water. Last year, the Livingston Parish Council attempted to stop Air Products from moving forward its proposal to store carbon beneath the lake, but was ultimately overruled by a federal judge.

Carbon capture has powerful state supporters. Edwards and the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry — an advocacy organization that often opposes the governor — are fully behind the industry’s plans for Ascension Parish and Louisiana as a whole. 

The governor has touted the economic benefits of the proposed Ascension Plant, which is expected to create 170 permanent jobs with an average salary of $93,000. He also emphasizes that carbon capture is considered more environmentally friendly than other industrial production, though some environmental advocates have questioned that assessment.  

The carbon capture legislation under consideration this year includes new guardrails for carbon storage projects overall and bills that specifically would curb Air Products’ proposal for Lake Maurepas.

One of the state’s most powerful lawmakers, House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, is among those who has filed a proposal on the topic. His bill requires more notice be given to parish governments before the state moves ahead with carbon capture projects. 

Another lawmaker, Rep. Sherman Mack, R-Albany, wants to mandate that local communities have a parishwide vote on a carbon capture project before it could move forward. 

“I do think it’s telling that they’ve hired so many lobbyists,” said Rep. Nicholas Muscarello, R-Hammond, who is sponsoring a bill to prohibit Air Products — and every other company — from building infrastructure on Lake Maurepas and Lake Pontchartrain that can be seen above the waterline.

A few legislative proposals would seemingly bring a halt to Air Products’ plans for Lake Maurepas entirely. 

Mack has a second bill that would only allow carbon sequestration In Louisiana to take place beneath the Gulf of Mexico. Rep. Bill Wheat, R-Ponchatoula, is pushing a 10-year moratorium on any carbon capture projects in and around Lake Maurepas. 

Wheat also has a second piece of legislation that would require further study of carbon capture’s impact on the lake before Air Products’ project could move forward. 

“I don’t know what [the Air Products’ lobbyists] are targeting, but it’s not going to deter me,” Wheat said in an interview this week. 

State Rep. Robby Carter, D-Amite, is also confident that Air Products has hired a large lobbying corps, in part, to fight legislation he drafted. Carter’s bills wouldn’t necessarily affect the company’s plans for Ascension Parish and Lake Maurepas, but could make it more difficult for the carbon-capture industry to operate in general.

He is sponsoring a bill that would remove any company’s authority to seize private property through eminent domain for carbon capture operations. The Democrat said he could be personally affected by such an action. He owns 11,000 acres of land in his home parish of St. Helena, and believes the energy industry might want to take some of his property for a pipeline related to carbon capture.

Carter has also filed a bill that would outright ban any carbon capture project in St. Helena, a rural parish just north of Livingston. 

Most Air Products lobbying contracts — with 17 of the 25 people hired — started in the past three weeks as the bills addressing Air Products’ plant piled up. Each person is being paid up to $24,999 for their work, meaning the company could be spending as much as $624,975 on lobbying for a legislative session that will last just eight weeks.

Almost all of the Air Products lobbyists will also work for several other clients during the session, though Block — considered one of the governor’s closest advisers — has registered to lobby lawmakers exclusively for this company this year. He and a handful of others hired recently declined to comment on their work for the company.

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