Wednesday, February 28, 2024

LaRose: Landry sends mixed messages with ‘carbon neutral’ comments, trial lawyer ties

by BIZ Magazine

Gov.-elect Jeff Landry’s pick for Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality secretary last week was something of a head-scratcher. It’s not so surprising he picked a former Trump administration employee for the job, but Aurelia Skipwith Giacometto’s background as leader of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has many questioning why she would be considered a good fit.

Perhaps even more befuddling was Landry’s take when asked about his views on Gov. John Bel Edwards’ Climate Action Plan, specifically its carbon neutral goals. The current governor wants Louisiana to reach net-zero carbon emission status by 2050, stair-stepping from a 26% to 28% reduction in the next two years and 40% to 50% by 2030, all based on 2005 CO2 pollution levels. 

“Trying to be carbon neutral at this time is extremely destructive on the economy and on the backs of working people,” Landry said. “Our petrochemical industry — our oil and gas industry — has lifted more people out of poverty globally than any other industry on the planet.”

The governor-elect’s statement seems to ignore the 30 or so carbon capture projects planned for Louisiana, many of them with the petrochemical industry’s support — philosophically, financially or both. 

Landry’s climate plan criticism likely has more to do with his friendliness toward fossil fuel interests, although carbon sequestration itself has ample skeptics. Environmentalists have noted emissions from sources needed to power some methods of carbon capture more than offset the benefits. Plus, neighbors of storage projects proposed for Louisiana and elsewhere fear their impact on groundwater, ecosystems and the environment.

It will be interesting to see if Landry lines up with carbon capture opponents if the fossil fuel industry continues to support the technology. The next governor just might be signaling carbon neutrality won’t be a priority for his administration, meaning industry interests can punt on capture and sequestration for the foreseeable future. 

“We want to be able to balance our environment and our industries and the jobs they create,” Landry said. “Worrying about one over the other is counterproductive to growing Louisiana.”

An optimist would look at Landry’s comments and say he plans to seek balance between industrial growth and limiting pollution, but is there such a thing as water or air that’s “clean enough?” 

Scales at the Department of Environmental Quality have long been tipped in favor of industry, to the point that critics see the agency as little more than as a reflexive rubber stamp in the permit process. Giacometto’s pending appointment and Landry’s mixed messages have done nothing to sway that impression.  

Another wait-and-see scenario for Landry involves the big-time campaign contributions he received from trial lawyers, a group often at odds with Big Oil in Louisiana. State records show they gave close to $1 million to Landry and his political action committees heading into the October primary. That includes money from attorneys leading individual parish lawsuits against exploration companies seeking billions to repair damage they’ve caused along the state’s coast. 

Landry also accepted major donations from oil and gas companies and Republican mega-donors linked to the industry. Besides, it’s easy to conclude trial lawyers, historically a profession linked to Democratic causes, simply want to stay in the next governor’s good graces now that he and the legislature put the GOP in full control of state government.   

Anne Rolfes has long called for greater accountability from oil and gas companies as director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, an activist group that seeks to curb the petrochemical sector’s unbridled growth. She told the Illuminator she’s less concerned with Landry’s views on climate change than his grasp of the connection it has to other problems Louisiana faces.

“Given all of the disasters in the state — from wildfires and droughts to flooding and skyrocketing homeowners insurance — curbing emissions that warm our planet would be prudent,” Rolfes said. “The measure of Jeff Landry’s administration will be how he handles these multiple disasters. I don’t care if he acknowledges that they are caused by climate change or not. The bottom line is: Will his administration take the existential threats seriously and start to halt emissions and industrial expansion? For the future of our state, I hope so.”

Greg LaRose is editor of the Louisiana Illuminator and has covered news for more than 30 years in Louisiana.

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