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Cedric Richmond was not a spokesman for the environment. That will change regardless of who succeeds him in the House of Representatives.

Over the past decade, environment activists in Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District grew used to Rep. Cedric Richmond’s silence on issues that plagued them in the River Parishes between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. With Richmond’s resignation in January to take a job in President Joe Biden’s administration, they hope to see him succeeded by someone more vocal in their struggle against air pollution and industrial expansion along the Mississippi River. By those standards, the two candidates in the April 24 runoff election for the seat have already surpassed Richmond. Both have incorporated environmental justice concerns into their campaigns and publicly recognized the region’s long-standing, controversial moniker of “Cancer Alley.” State Sens. Karen Carter Peterson and Troy Carter, both seasoned New Orleans Democrats, also embraced Biden’s priorities on addressing climate change and pledged not to accept money from oil and gas interests.

Peterson is more liberal and probably would be more vocal for the environment than Carter but he would not be that far behind. Peterson has received the endorsement of the League of Conservation Voters.

“There’s obviously some significant environmental justice issues in that district, and she would be a really powerful voice in Congress … in looking at our environmental protection with a lens of racial justice,” said Craig Auster, the group’s senior director of political affairs. He pointed to Peterson’s legislative bills to create a climate change policy commission and protections for students against lead in drinking water.

Many feel that the move to the more extreme left by both Peterson and Carter was driven by the candidacy of Gary Chambers of Baton Rouge who has forcefully spoken out against the petro-industry, especially the Formosa plant. Chambers finished third in the voting but not high enough to enter the runoff.

“I think we are the reason Karen Carter Peterson is openly supporting the Green New Deal and Troy Carter is as close as he is to being supportive of the Green New Deal,” Chambers said. “The support that we had showed there’s a mountain of people who believe in those same priorities.” Peterson has committed to supporting the Green New Deal, a broad proposal for addressing climate change, and she recently announced her opposition to the Formosa plant, joining calls for Biden to revoke the permit in a video posted to Twitter. “You have a partner in me,” Peterson told Rise St. James leader Sharon Lavigne while visiting the group ahead of the March 20 primary. “I’m hoping to work with the state leaders and the local leaders to actually save lives because this isn’t fair,” Peterson said in the video. “People at least need to be listened to, and we need to hear them out and understand the health implications. It’s not always just about economic development and jobs. Who cares if nobody’s alive?”

Sharon Lavigne, founder of Rise St. James, said Peterson was the first to visit her community.

“Any one of the candidates [who] tries to save Cancer Alley and save our lives, that’s the candidate … I’m going for,” Lavigne said. “We are the ones struggling, the ones dying; and the candidates [who] want to get our votes, they need to speak about our lives.”

Despite Peterson’s opposition to the Formosa plant, she has not gone further to call for a moratorium on all such plants saying decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis. Carter has not voiced his opposition to Formosa but both candidates said they would open an office in that area of their district. Carter has supported a buyout of the homes of any one in the area who wants to leave.

“Under my leadership, policy positions will be considered through the lens of protecting our communities while working to bring stakeholders to the table so substantial and sustainable change can happen,” he said Friday. “Formosa, Denka and all of the other petrochemical plants in the River Parishes should be held responsible for the harmful effects that their emissions have on surrounding communities.”

Carter has received the most endorsements including from Richmond and the St James Parish President Pete Dufresne.

For St. James Parish President Pete Dufresne, who has endorsed Carter, the next congressional representative must understand the critical economic role that industry plays in a parish where industrial complexes account for almost three quarters of the government’s revenue. He pointed to the projected toll of Shell’s Convent oil refinery closure in December, which threw 695 people out of work. As a result, the School Board recently announced plans to cut 30 teachers due to an anticipated revenue shortage. Carter “feels strongly the same way I do, the strong need to commingle residents and industry in the community so we can all coexist and live and work well together,” Dufresne said. He added that he hasn’t been contacted by Peterson’s team since the campaign began, which he said casts doubt on her ability to work with parish officials.

The only true option is to vote. The choice is between two with similar political backgrounds and in many ways the same beliefs; one more forceful than the other, one a female the other a male. Just remember to vote.

Richmond’s Successors Back Environment
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