Gov. Edwards creates task force to respond to climate change

February 23, 2020 GMT

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration plans an expansion of coastal restoration and flood protection efforts that for the first time will target greenhouse gas emissions by Louisiana industry as a way to reduce future sea level rise.

“Louisiana will do its part to address climate change,” Edwards said Thursday. “Science tells us that rising sea level will become the biggest challenge we face, threatening to overwhelm our best efforts to protect and restore our coast. Science also tells us that sea level rise is being driven by global greenhouse gas emissions.”

The Democratic governor said he was forming a new Climate Initiatives Task Force that will come up with “next steps” for the state to take.

Edwards’ speech marked the first time a Louisiana governor had announced such intentions, according to The New Orleans Advocate/The Times-Picayune. But the governor offered few specifics about how aggressive a line he would take towards reducing emissions.

“We are not announcing targets today, or metrics, and we are certainly not starting with a series of regulations,” he said.

Edwards praised Louisiana’s energy industry and stressed that the carbon reduction efforts would be as industry-friendly as possible.

“Our state economy, and the nation at large, depends on Louisiana’s strong industrial sector,” he said. “We provide the energy and the petrochemical products the country runs on.”

Those industries also produce a lot of greenhouse gases, and amid a building boom, the numbers have been going up. In January, the Environmental Integrity Project reported that facilities in three industry sectors in 2018 emitted 764 million tons of greenhouse gases -- carbon dioxide and other compounds linked to global warming. That was 8% more than in 2016.

New oil and gas production and new and expanded existing industrial facilities could add another 227 million tons of greenhouse gases a year to the atmosphere in Louisiana by 2025, an increase of almost one-third, the group said.

Global warming is linked to rising sea levels, among other problems.

Environmental Quality Secretary Chuck Carr Brown said the governor’s task force will determine the volume of greenhouse gases emitted by industry and other sources in the state, and then come up with ways to reduce them.

In what may be a sign that Edwards’ greenhouse gas reduction proposal is not overly aggressive, the plan was welcomed by the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, which represents mid-size and large oil and gas companies.

Tyler Gray, the group’s president, said in a statement the organization looks forward to “work collaboratively with the governor and his administration on his 2020 priorities, including efforts to continue reducing emissions and to protect our coast.”

Environmental groups praised the governor’s effort.

“The ambitious priorities outlined by Gov. Edwards today can have a lasting positive impact on Louisiana for generations to come,” said Steve Cochran, a vice president with the Environmental Defense Fund and campaign director for Restore the Mississippi River Delta.