Photo courtesy of Sierra Club

In a speech this week unveiling a series of executive orders targeting climate change and industrial pollution, President Joe Biden said two words rarely uttered from such a high federal office, or even state-level ones in Louisiana: “Cancer Alley.” “With this executive order, environmental justice will be at the center of all we do addressing the disproportionate health and environmental and economic impacts on communities of color – so-called fenceline communities – especially … the hard-hit areas like Cancer Alley in Louisiana or the Route 9 corridor in the state of Delaware,” Biden said Wednesday.

Just the mention of “Cancer Alley” is enough to spur hope that help is on the way. Industry says there is no spot that has worse health than others and the State is pro-industry. Yet Biden’s words imply some assistance.

“It feels so positive, so wonderful that we now have a president who cares about the lives of the people here,” said Sharon Lavigne, director of Rise St. James, a group opposing the $9.2 billion Formosa Plastics plant near the Sunshine Bridge and the $2.2 billion South Louisiana Methanol plant near Welcome. “We want jobs here, but clean ones – not jobs that harm us and poison us.”

The toxic air pollution is bad and increasing. The effect is not spread evenly but more concentrated in poor and minority neighborhoods. The prior administration cut environmental regulations to assist industry while the Biden administration is working to revoke these cuts and re-impose safety measures that protect people. The administrations goals are to protect people while creating well-paying jobs.

“We’re going to work to make sure that they receive 40 percent of the benefits of key federal investments in clean energy, clean water and wastewater infrastructure,” Biden said. “Lifting up these communities makes us all stronger as a nation and increases the health of everybody.” The orders don’t directly address the petrochemical industry or communities in Louisiana, however. The lack of detail in Biden’s orders makes Anne Rolfes, director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a bit skeptical about their effect on the state’s chemical industry. “We’ll see if things trickle down and we actually do get some action here,” she said.

While the President grew up near and industrial and has memories of his mother wiping oil off the windshield the question of the possibility of change is questionable. The State, both Governor and state units are pro -industry. The industry itself is strong and is fighting for survival as they see change coming.

Edwards and the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association warned that Biden’s restrictions on oil leasing could cause serious harm to the state’s economy. “It is abundantly clear that limiting energy development will stifle Louisiana’s economic growth and threaten thousands of jobs,” association President Tyler Gray said.

The other question is the administrations new senior advisor, Cedric Richmond. As an area congressman Richmond represented the “Cancer Alley” area but it is doubtful he brought this issue to the President.

“He’s absolutely been missing in action on the subject,” Rolfes said, echoing longstanding frustration with Richmond’s unwillingness to meet with residents about air quality issues.

We can only wait and see what happens.

Will “Cancer Alley” get help?
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