Fossil Fuels Lobbyists in Louisiana

From Global Energy Monitor

Background of Fossil Fuel Industry in Louisiana

Louisiana’s fossil fuel industry started with the first successful oil well in 1901. Since then, the oil industry has contributed greatly to the state’s economy due to its geological location in the southeast region of the United States. The state’s proximity to the Gulf of Mexico has also made it a prime location for offshore drilling, which began in the state in 1947. In 2015, the fossil fuel industry brought $72 billion in sales to Louisiana businesses. Despite being a huge source of the state’s economy, the industry has been extremely harmful to the environment as refineries have released 24 million pounds of air pollution and 25 million gallons of water pollution since 2005. In addition to emissions, the fossil fuel industry has a history of producing major ecological harm to Louisiana’s environment. This has most notably been seen through the 2010 British Petroleum oil spill, which polluted waterways and negatively affected human life, wildlife, and the environment. The oil spill cost $61.6 billion to clean and severely damaged the safety and economy of the state. Dredging activities from Fossil fuel production have also contributed to coastal wetland loss by increasing subsidence. This is very detrimental to the state because of the importance of the wetlands as a habitat for seafood (a $1 billion industry) and a natural barrier from storms and hurricanes.

Impact of Fossil Fuel Lobbyists on Federal and State Government

The fossil fuel industry also has impacts on state and federal legislation through lobbying. In 2020, the oil and gas industry spent around $112 million on lobbyists. The fossil fuel companies with the highest spending were Chevron and Exxon Mobil, who both spent over $8.5 million on lobbyists in 2020. In Louisiana, senators and representatives such as Steve Scalise and Bill Cassidy have accepted sizable donations from the fossil fuel industry ($1,571,345 for Cassidy, $500,385 for Scalise). Fossil fuel lobbying attempts to influence both state and government policy towards climate change for the benefit of oil and gas companies. This can best be seen by the recent leaked video of an Exxon lobbyist bragging about his influence towards senators in undermining the climate aspects of Biden’s infrastructure plan. Fossil fuel lobbyists look to stop policies that can hurt the fossil fuel industry and oftentimes use their influence to undermine efforts to combat climate change.

Conflict of Interest between Louisiana Organizations and the Fossil Fuel Industry

Global Energy Monitor, an NGO which catalogs worldwide fossil fuel projects and shares information in support of clean energy, recently conducted a report looking at the shared lobbyists between fossil fuel companies and other organizations. For Louisiana, the findings showed that fossil fuel lobbyists had a widespread connection to organizations throughout the state. Universities, city governments, sports teams, local organizations, and utilities all shared lobbyists with the fossil fuel industry.

Universities and Education:

More specifically for universities, University of Louisiana Lafayette (ULL), Southern University, and McNeese State all share lobbyists with Cheniere Energy or ExxonMobil. In addition, local education school boards such as the East Baton Rouge Parish School System and the Orleans Parish School Board share lobbyists with ExxonMobil. This brings up conflicts of interest as these educational organizations are sharing lobbyists with companies that are contributing to climate change and the destruction of Louisiana’s coastal environment. In 2019, Cheniere Energy exported 1,455,161 million standard cubic feet of natural gas and emitted 172,399 metric tons of CO2. In the same year, Exxon Mobil released 120 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. Since 1965, Exxon has released more than 40 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. Sharing lobbyists with these companies creates a conflict especially for ULL. ULL has established university climate objectives which include reducing campus-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 15% by July 1, 2021 and developing strategies with stakeholders to protect local and regional outdoor air quality and minimize particulate matter pollution. Supporting the fossil fuel industry by employing fossil fuel lobbyists is a conflict for educational organizations and they should reconsider their connections to the fossil fuel industry.

Municipalities and City Governments:

In addition to universities, city governments in Louisiana also share lobbyists with the fossil fuel industry. The cities of Shreveport, Lafayette, Broussard, Alexandria and a few others share lobbyists with companies such as ExxonMobil, Cheniere Energy, Chevron, Chesapeake Energy, as well as the Louisiana Oilfield Contractors Association. These cities sharing fossil fuel lobbyists come at odds with Governor John Bel Edwards’ Climate Initiatives Task Force and Louisiana’s GHG emission goals. In 2019, Governor Edwards established the Climate Initiatives Task Force via an executive order to come up with a strategic plan to reduce Louisiana’s greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28% of 2005 levels by 2025, 50% of 2005 levels by 2030, and net zero by 2050. By employing lobbyists who also work for companies that increase greenhouse gas emissions in the state, these city governments are acting counter to the state’s climate goals and are not contributing to the fight against climate change.

Sports Teams:

Well-known professional sports teams in the state such as the New Orleans Saints and the New Orleans Pelicans also share lobbyists with the fossil fuel industry. Both teams share lobbyists with the Louisiana Oilfield Contractors Association. This brings up an interesting conundrum for these sports teams, especially the New Orleans Pelicans. The Louisiana Oilfield Contractors Association promotes oil businesses in Louisiana, the same industry which contributed to the 2010 BP oil spill. Multiple 2014 studies found that the oil spill had drastic effects on the health of pelicans as well as other wildlife. 12% of brown pelicans, an endangered species, were wiped out due to the oil spill. In total, the prediction of how many birds died due to the spill is 800,000. Both the Saints and the Pelicans are owned by the same owner, Gayle Benson, and it is baffling how the teams are connected to an industry that directly negatively affects pelicans and the community. In addition to this, both teams have formed a joint Social Justice Leadership Coalition. Sharing lobbyists with the fossil fuel industry is problematic for these sports teams as these industries contribute to climate change, destroy wildlife and affect the air quality of the community which undermines the social justice work that the organizations are striving for.

Local Organizations:

The scope of the employment of fossil fuel industries also reaches local organizations, including those that are working to combat climate change. Organizations such as the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Louisiana Food Bank Association, Keep Louisiana Beautiful, the Mississippi River Delta Coalition, and the Louisiana Alliance of Boys and Girls Clubs all share lobbyists with the fossil fuel industry. The Greater New Orleans Foundation shares lobbyists with Chevron and ExxonMobil. In addition to this, they also partner with Chevron and receive donations from ExxonMobil. This falls contrary to some of the goals of the organization as one of Greater New Orleans’s coastal environmental programs focuses on the area of coastal restoration and the protection of the Gulf Coast. Despite this, they are partnered with ExxonMobil and Chevron. Chevron released 697 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2019 and has no current ‘net-zero’ commitment or alignment to temperature goals of the Paris Agreement. Other organizations such as Keep Louisiana Beautiful and the Mississippi River Delta Coalition also focus on the protection and restoration of Louisiana’s coast while sharing lobbyists with ExxonMobil. By having a connection to the fossil fuel industry, these organizations are hindering the progress that they are working towards in terms of protecting Louisiana’s wetlands. The fossil fuel industry is contributing to the destruction of Louisiana’s environment and the employment of fossil fuel lobbyists by these organizations is hypocritical.

Utilities and Health:

The connections to the fossil fuel industry also reach the state’s utilities and health systems. Utility companies such as the Greater Ouachita Water Company, New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board, Baton Rouge Water Company, and Lafayette Utilities System share lobbyists with the fossil fuel industry. These companies share lobbyists with ExxonMobil and Cheniere Energy, two of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases, as well as the Louisiana Gas Association and the Louisiana Oilfield Contractors Association. Hospitals and health providers in the state also have this conflict as Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana, Lake Charles Memorial Hospital, Ochsner, and Louisiana State Medical Society also share lobbyists with these fossil fuel companies and groups. These utilities and health providers are meant to be supporting the health of the community rather than hindering it. The fossil fuel industry has a direct impact on the air quality of the community and has led to some areas of the state having greater rates of cancer. “Cancer Alley” is an area along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans with nearly 150 oil refineries, plastic plants, and chemical facilities. The residents in the area are predominantly low-income, African-Americans and some have up to 20 plants within 10 miles of their house. The area has an incredibly high cancer risk (105 cases per million in some parts). Through the employment of fossil fuel lobbyists, health providers and utilities are contributing to these environmental injustices and hurting the community.