Local citizens have long desired to have better air monitoring. The legislature disagrees.
Sponsored by Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, Senate Bill 2 sprouted from conversations with his constituents after last year’s fire at the ExxonMobil refinery. Thousands of pounds of carcinogenic chemicals were released, but state officials said concentrations weren’t high enough to harm the public. At the end of the day, the people have a right to know what’s in the air, and I think we should benefit from the technology that’s available,” Fields said. Oil, gas and chemical companies are an important part of the Louisiana economy. They also make the state second in the U.S., behind Texas, in total releases of what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies as “core chemicals,” which don’t include mining wastes.nola.com
Right before the vote, the state put a $46 million price tag coupled with the need for 48 more employees to effectively staff this proposal.
“We do believe that our estimate of staff is reasonable,” said Teresa Delafosse, the agency’s financial services administrator. “I know it sounds like a lot, but we don’t have the capacity to review all of this data now. It’s incredibly voluminous.” Opposition from oil, gas and chemical industry advocates, combined with the financial hurdle facing the government, seemed to kill the bill. Attempts to narrow the bill to reduce costs to the state were also blocked. “We already feel like air monitoring systems are adequate,” Robert Schromm, the Louisiana Chemical Association’s manager of governmental affairs, told the Environmental Quality Committee. “It’s unnecessary. The system in place works.”
This is how the committee voted on SB2:
- Against – Sens. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell; Eddie Lambert, R-Gonzales; Bob Hensgens, R-Abbeville
- For – Sens. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans; Ed Price, D-Gonzales; Patrick Connick, R-Marrero
- Absent – Sens. J. Rogers Pope, R-Denham Springs; Stewart Cathey Jr., R-Monroe.
A second bill aimed at creating a public notification system for neighborhoods near plants, known as fenceline communities, advanced from committee with a 4-2 vote. Sponsored by Peterson, that bill requires companies to notify nearby residents and first responders of emergencies within 30 minutes with a state-managed system. Currently, they have an hour. The bill wouldn’t increase penalties for violations. “It’s pretty frustrating, I would think, that we are here in 2021 and legislation like this needs to be filed to protect the public and our environment,” Peterson said. “If we can get a tornado warning on our cell phone … we can surely be able to get a warning when there’s an explosion at a nearby plant.” The notification bill was backed by Russel Honore’s environmental group, the Green Army, and opposed by oil, gas and chemical interests. President Tyler Gray of the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association said companies already notify the public when hazardous releases occur, and that they wanted a more specific definition for an “emergency condition.”
Lambert, Peterson, Price and Connick voted for the bill; Hewitt and Hensgens opposed it. We need to keep pressure on the legislature.