WASHINGTON — Both supporters and critics of the Green New Deal have one thing that they agree on: Louisiana — perhaps more than any other state — would be heavily impacted by the sweeping Green New Deal proposal to address environmental and inequality concerns.
Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing depends on whom you ask.
Republican members of the state’s congressional delegation have loudly mocked the idea.
In South Louisiana, where miles of coastal land are swiftly eroding, Rep. Clay Higgins called the Green New Deal an attempted “socialist takeover” with “zero grounding in reality.” Rep. Garret Graves called it “irresponsible.” And U.S. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise described it as “openly hostile” to agriculture, energy production and the transportation industry.
But back in their districts, dedicated groups of advocates are trying to build support for the ideas outlined in the Green New Deal. They argue that drastic measures are needed to save the planet and ensure prosperity for future generations.
“It’s not a new idea,” said Kendall Dix, an organizer with New Orleans-based coastal protection advocacy group Healthy Gulf. “It’s a tremendous opportunity for Louisiana.”
The Green New Deal has recently rocketed into the national spotlight, propelled by support from a more liberal — and vocal — wing of first-termers in Congress. Many of the swath of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates also have embraced at least some aspect of the ideas that make up proposal.
In front of Congress currently is a Green New Deal resolution — an ambitious proposal that outlines broad goals that eventually would be used to develop policies and programs that would not only address environmental issues but also employment and health disparities.
It calls for development of a 10-year plan to move America to 100 percent clean and renewable energy, create higher-paying union-backed jobs and insure environmental and economic justice, among other concepts.
“(T)he Federal Government-led mobilizations during World War II and the New Deal created the greatest middle class that the United States has ever seen, but many members of frontline and vulnerable communities were excluded from many of the economic and societal benefits of those mobilizations,” its text reads.
U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, the only Democrat in the Louisiana delegation, hasn't taken a public position on the Green New Deal. The New Orleans representative isn't among the dozens of Democrats who have signed on as co-sponsors.
Though it’s backed by Democrats, Green New Deal supporters have declined to bring it up for a vote in the House, which the Democrats control.
Now Republicans are trying to force a vote on the Green New Deal through the use of a discharge petition — a procedural maneuver that would effectively side-step House leadership and bring up the resolution if 218 signatures are collected. Republicans would need 20 Democrats to join the effort, along with signatures from all GOP members. There are 89 Democratic co-sponsors.
Scalise, a Jefferson Parish Republican, was among the first to sign onto the GOP-led discharge petition.
“Republicans are pushing for a vote on this legislation because Americans deserve to know where their representatives stand,” Scalise said after the petition was filed Wednesday. “The Green New Deal is too extreme and there is too much at stake to let this radical Democrat scheme go unopposed, and Republicans welcome the chance to go on record against this false ‘green dream.’”
Higgins, R-Port Barre, also was among the first members to sign on. He said he also thinks people should know where their representatives stand on the matter.
“Do they support a socialist takeover of our economy or do they stand for American jobs, American families, and continued economic growth?” he said.
Graves, who is the ranking GOP member of a special House committee tasked with addressing climate change and also serves on the Natural Resources Committee and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, hasn’t signed it yet. But he said he plans to do so.
“Climate and the sea rise problems we are experiencing in Louisiana — it’s a real problem, a huge problem. It’s a global issue,” said Graves, who previously led Louisiana's Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority under then-Gov. Bobby Jindal. “There are things that are changing and the changes are having a disproportionate impact in Louisiana.”
But Graves said he thinks the Green New Deal proposal is impractical.
“I love that people come up with these wild ideas, but this isn’t something that should have ever left that closed-door meeting,” he said.
Though it’s generated a lot of talk in Washington, few voters are familiar with the particulars of the Green New Deal, according to a December 2018 poll from Yale and George Mason University’s climate change communication programs. More than 80 percent of those surveyed said they had heard “nothing at all” about it.
Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat running for re-election this year, hasn't taken a firm position on it.
"The Governor is unaware of a Green New Deal pending in the Louisiana Legislature. He is fighting for a much needed and long overdue teacher pay raise in Louisiana," Edwards spokeswoman Christina Stephens said in response to The Advocate's request for comment. "He has not reviewed the federal legislation pending in Congress, but if news reports are even close to accurate, he would certainly oppose it."
Dix, with the Healthy Gulf advocacy group, said he doesn’t believe many of its critics have read the Green New Deal resolution that’s been proposed or realize it was meant to generate discussion and not necessarily come up for a vote. He was especially frustrated by a recent op-ed that Scalise penned.
“I think it’s pretty clear he doesn’t understand what it represents,” Dix said.
Healthy Gulf, formerly known as the Gulf Restoration Network, has long advocated for preparing Louisiana to be more resilient for severe weather events and other coastal disasters. Many of the goals outlined in the Green New Deal resolution are ideas that advocates have been kicking around for years, particularly following the devastation that Hurricane Katrina brought in 2005.
Green New Deal supporters from across the Gulf region will hold an event in New Orleans on Tuesday and are launching a mega-group called Gulf South for a Green New Deal.
“Anyone can read (the resolution), and I would encourage anyone on whatever side of the aisle they think they are on to come out and give it a good faith listen,” Dix said.
Colette Pichon Battle, executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy, said 750 people have registered to attend the event.
“For most of us who are living on land that is about to be taken by the sea, this is not a question,” she said.
In Pichon Battle’s view, what state would benefit more from the Green New Deal policies than Louisiana — a state rapidly losing land to coastal erosion, with some of the worst health disparities and a high poverty rate?
“This is an opportunity for us to actually shift,” she said. “Not only do we have something to lose if we don’t change, but if we do change, we could become a leader on this.”
During a recent congressional recess, Scalise brought eight House Republicans to an offshore rig — an annual venture — to see energy production firsthand.
In his op-ed, Scalise warned that the Green New Deal is a threat to Louisiana’s entire economy.
“In light of such a proposal, this year’s offshore trip felt particularly urgent,” he wrote. “Educating members of Congress on the full impact American energy production and fossil fuels have nationwide is critical.’
Higgins also suggested the Green New Deal ideas would harm Louisiana’s economy.
“Democrats want the federal government to tax and regulate the oil and gas industry out of existence. Their plan would cripple our economy and wipe out millions of American jobs,” he said. “The Green New Deal is a dangerous plan, reflective of how far left the Democratic Party has shifted in the last two years.”
An analysis from economist Loren Scott released last year concluded that the oil and gas industry has been a boon to the state.
“The energy industry, and its accompanying multiplier effects, has been a powerful engine for economic growth,” Scott wrote.
Tyler Gray, president of the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, said the Green New Deal “would significantly alter Louisiana and America as we know it.”
“Any proposal that would fundamentally reorder American energy — and the way of life in this country — should be evaluated by its impacts on consumers, the economy and America’s opportunity for future success,” he said.
Gray said the oil and gas industry supports 260,000 jobs and "creates opportunity for social mobility and economic prosperity for Louisiana families.”
Gifford Briggs, president of the Louisiana Oil & Gas Association, applauded Scalise for taking up the role of outspoken critic to the idea.
“This ‘Green New Deal’ is no deal at all,” Briggs said. “With an estimated cost of $93 trillion over the next 10 years, this would have a crippling effect on the American economy, Louisiana working families and the oil and gas industry."
Dix, the Green New Deal proponent, said he thinks a shift to green energy makes sense in spite of the state’s prolific oil and gas sector. He said he doesn’t believe the benefits of a strong industry outweigh what the state gives away in incentives and what it receives in pollution, land loss and health issues that some attribute to it.
“The industry that got us into this mess that has, frankly, been a bad deal for Louisiana,” Dix said.
Pichon Battle said Louisiana could re-direct federal money that it already receives for mitigation projects toward paying for the Green New Deal shift.
“In Louisiana, we have the money to do it,” she said.
Graves agrees that climate change and coastal erosion are issues that need to be addressed for Louisiana's future, but he isn't convinced the Green New Deal would work.
“It lacks any degree of practicality, of experience on the ground,” Graves said. “This isn’t a high school term paper, this is real deal consequences.”