APTOPIX Biden Inauguration

President Joe Biden signs his first executive order in the Oval Office of the White House, Jan. 20.

Without a doubt, Louisiana is a fossil fuels state whose economy is dependent on the royalties, taxes — an estimated $373 million this year — and the 48,000 jobs oil and gas creates.

Louisiana also is on the front line of global warming. A football field of wetlands vanishes into Gulf of Mexico waters every 100 minutes.

It’s unsurprising that a lot of Louisiana is fretting over President Joseph R. Biden’s moratorium on new leasing on public lands and waters while the federal government looks into the oil and gas industry’s role in climate change and health risks. The pause, if it becomes permanent, endangers the traditional source of jobs and funding for coastal restoration in Louisiana.

Congressmen, legislators, business lobbyists and others rallied last week at the State Capitol to voice how much they think Louisiana could suffer.

Gov. John Bel Edwards’ aides agreed, rejecting the dai gaomao (dunce cap) that some Republicans wanted him, as a Democrat, to wear. He is negotiating with the Biden administration.

Top assistants to Attorney General Jeff Landry promised a lawsuit.

This was a Biden campaign promise — one from which he is unlikely to back away. “We’ve already waited too long to deal with this climate crisis,” Biden said as he signed executive orders less than a week after taking office.

The U.S. Geological Survey reports that extraction and consumption of oil, gas and coal from federal lands and waters account for about a quarter of the nation’s total carbon dioxide emissions. Greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, trap heat and raise the Earth’s average temperature.

Biden’s orders use the federal government to reduce planet-warming emissions. It also reverses the Trump administration’s policies that limited environmental regulations and played down mankind’s role in global warming.

Baton Rouge Republican Congressman Garret Graves pointed out that should the pause turn into a ban, the industry that employs thousands in Louisiana will have to alter business plans. Even the best statistics show that wind, solar and other sources provide only a portion of the energy needed. Fossil fuels will provide the bulk of energy needs for the foreseeable future, he said.

Though pitched as a “what are we going to do” think tank, no alternative voices were heard, giving last week’s hearing of the legislative Natural Resources committees the air of a Cultural Revolution “struggle session” aimed more at venting anger for enemies and demonstrating fealty to big oil than coming up with solutions.

Had he been invited to speak, Darryl Malek-Wiley, of the Sierra Club’s Environmental Justice and Community Partnership Program, said he would have given the hearing an alternative scenario to consider.

“For over 100 years, Louisiana has relied on oil and gas. It’s time to shift away from that,” Malek-Wiley said. “It’s a dying industry.”

Nations around the world are rebuilding their technology to rely more on renewable sources of energy than on fossil fuels. General Motors, for instance, recently announced that it would build only electric vehicles by 2035, he noted.

Louisiana lawmakers should be looking at incentives to expand those energy businesses rather than doubling down on oil and gas companies, he added.

A dockyard in Morgan City is building vessels that can maintain offshore windmills; a New Orleans firm is manufacturing paddles for windmills that it sells to other states. Investments in making Louisiana homes less drafty and more efficiently keep heating and cooling from being wasted would create jobs, lower reliance on energy — all while helping people stay more comfortable, Malek-Wiley said.

Marylee M. Orr, head of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, thought the president’s pause creates an opportunity for Louisiana to slow down and assess the state’s future.

“Louisiana is a prime example of not really thinking things through, determining where we are, how it affects us and where we are the most vulnerable,” Orr would have told the gathering. “Biden didn’t say stop, he said pause.”

The state is literally littered with bad decisions from the past, she said. About 4,000 abandoned wells dot the state that need to be plugged. Louisiana’s workforce is uniquely qualified for that task and the effort would create jobs while cleaning the environment and protecting the public’s health.

As a member of the governor’s Climate Task Force, Orr has suggested several policies, such as coordinating emission reduction targets and permitting.

Louisiana lawmakers need to look at what to do now, tomorrow and into the future. About three months after they took their oaths, the coronavirus pandemic shut down most public access to the State Capitol, leaving the halls clear for special interest lobbyists. They seem to have grown comfortable with that.


Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.