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The debate over how much environmental protection a state should provide for its citizens usually devolves into this choice: business success vs public health. Businesses fight against tighter environmental laws because they could hurt their profits while also warning those costs will hurt the state’s attractiveness to other businesses. I say the debate “devolves” to that question because it’s a false choice. It’s like a debate over how many cigarettes it’s safe to smoke. Or how many times you can play Russian roulette without losing. There is only one correct answer, and not just because the wrong one can kill you. It’s also because history shows the correct answer — environmental protection should always be the priority — is also the best choice for long-term business success.

Louisiana is on the wrong side as we keep looking to the polluters.

All of which leads me to this nugget from U.S. News & World Report’s 2021 ranking of “Best States” for quality of life: Louisiana ranks last. And we were last in 2020, 2019, 2018 and 2017 — which is as long as the magazine currently lists those rankings on its web page. t says the rankings are based on measuring 70 metrics across eight categories: health care, education, economy, infrastructure, opportunity, fiscal stability, crime and corrections and natural environment.

All is not lost, however, as we do lead the nation in one area – the highest risk from pollution because we have the highest incidence of toxins in our water and soil. The other aspect of this report is that the top states are both red and blue and on the coast and center of the country. Some are even fossil fuel states. They also have good economies and healthy environments.

So imagine you’re the CEO of a growing company searching for a location to place a major expansion. Louisiana comes to mind because of its vast and intricate port system based on the Mississippi River’s gateway to the world. You can ship your products in bulk for much less if you have easy access to that system. And you’ve heard so much about the interesting and enjoyable culture, the friendly people — and the friendly government. But then you think about competing with other industries for the best and brightest employees. So you also begin looking at those USNWR rankings, and others. You look at Louisiana’s scores at or near the bottom in literacy, education, poverty, general health, infant mortality, total pollution, life expectancy, crime and incarceration. So then you start looking elsewhere. Unless you’re in a pollution-heavy industry. Then you look at the state’s history of giving huge tax exemptions for polluters — especially foreign-owned companies — and asking very little in return in terms of permanent employment. You smile at the history of state legislators and its congressional delegation fighting against tightening of pollution regulations and joining former President Donald Trump in his assault on climate regulations. And as a polluter, you know you’ve found a happy home. Because history also tells you that anytime the state tries to get serious about choosing environmental health over your profits, you can threaten to leave, and the state’s elected officials will come around — and keep getting reelected, anyway.

You are home, hokme to stay until profits begin to drop as the demand for your product declines. You then leave Louisiana leaving Louisiana still in 50th position. What a legacy.

We are the 50th State and Polluters Love Us
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