In your article, “Petrochemical contractors waiting for another boom,” the construction arm of the petrochemical industry inadvertently makes the case that Louisiana needs a Green New Deal.
Louisiana has been in an economic transition away from oil extraction for decades. Crude oil production and refining has declined steadily since the early 1970s. As production declined, the drilling economy was replaced with petrochemical plants that transform oil leftovers and natural gas into new chemicals and raw plastics. Because this industry has become highly automated, chemical plant employment peaked way back in 1999, according to the Louisiana Chemical Association.
The true beneficiary of this build-out — other than mostly foreign-owned chemical companies themselves — has been the construction industry. In a typical chemical plant or oil terminal project, only 10-15 percent of the jobs will be permanent. The rest are construction workers who get a few months of employment before they’re sent packing.
This temporary boom and bust economy always requires new construction to keep people employed, which makes for a volatile Louisiana economy. As your article noted, “The lull between projects in Louisiana is dragging down employment figures.”
The biggest problem with this model is that petrochemical expansion cannot continue and has no future in Louisiana. The plants themselves are hazardous to human health and have contributed to us having the fifth highest cancer mortality rate in 2017. They’re also some of the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters.
Communities who have been fighting this development for years are starting to win. Thanks to Rise St. James, the Wanhua chemical plant is considering scrapping its plans to locate in Cancer Alley. It won’t be the last toxic plant to cave to public opposition.
Our petrochemical bubble is about to burst. We have to act now to save our coast and create a sustainable economy for workers. Construction jobs don’t have to rely on building poisonous plants and pipelines where they’re not wanted. We can put people to work restoring the coast and preparing our communities for climate change. We can create sustainable and stable jobs in the process and ground the process in justice and equity.
My organization Healthy Gulf is supporting the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy in the creation of “Gulf South for a Green New Deal.” This regional policy platform will be written by longtime community leaders and reflect the work has been happening for years. The Gulf South understands how much we will lose through inaction and how much we will gain by being proactive. We’re ready to help lead the national effort against climate change.
The transition away from fossil fuels has already begun. Now it’s up to us to decide what kind of transition we want to have.