‘Good starts’ in the climate crisis aren’t cutting it

Associated Press/Evan Vucci

As we finish up the first year of the Biden administration, it’s hard to decipher exactly where this country is headed. I mean, watching President Biden speak at the UN climate conference COP26 last month was a moment so many of us had been working toward. You see, my home state of Louisiana produces more greenhouse gas per capita, and stands to lose more from climate change than any other state in America. Yet, the number of refineries and plants in Louisiana keeps going up, just like our infant mortality rate

The president stood before the world’s leaders and confidently said that “this is a decisive decade in which we have an opportunity to prove ourselves.” 

But when it comes to climate action, has the United States even begun to prove itself? I feel like we just have a mountain of “good starts” that are surrounded by loopholes, no accountability — and no long-term plans. 

In reality, after COP26, 2021 has looked more like business as usual for the oil and gas industry. In fact, the current Interior Department has approved more drilling permits than their predecessors and is set to hold another offshore lease sale soon, but this time near the fragile coastline of Alaska.  

In November, the Interior Department hosted its first oil and gas lease sale since a Louisiana judge decided to halt the administration’s moratorium back in June. Now, I don’t want anyone not to comply with the law, but there are some really good attorneys out there that told me nowhere does it say that an oil and gas lease sale must contain a certain amount of acreage, let alone the 80 million acres the Department offered. Not only that but they used outdated and completely false reasoning for the lease sale. The agency claimed that not having the lease sale would mean more greenhouse gases, which is a direct talking point from the oil and gas lobby themselves! 

After Hurricane Ida this fall, there were major oil and gas spills — some of them could even be seen from space. The common denominator of all of those spills? They all came from the 18,000 miles of legally abandoned oil and gas infrastructure in the Gulf of Mexico. What does this have to do with the rest of the country? Well, every parish (county) in Louisiana has had at least 10 disaster declarations on the books since March 2020, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Guess who funds FEMA. I’ll give you a hint, it’s not the oil and gas industry. It’s every single taxpayer in this country. 

In an effort to be “greener,” industry is hanging their hat on something called liquified natural gas (LNG). Natural gas is methane, and it is extremely flammable and under certain conditions explosive. The LNG export terminal business has set up shop in the Gulf Coast region due to plenty of federal and state loopholes.

In an effort to streamline paperwork, the Department of Energy doesn’t evaluate the environmental or community implications of these export terminals and instead leaves it up to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The commission is still debating if considering surrounding communities when doling out permits should be a thing. However, a Washington, D.C. circuit judge recently thought otherwise and ordered FERC to perform an actual environmental and community review in Brownsville, Texas. 

It should also be said that the same commission is also still waffling on the notion of whether they should examine the effect of greenhouse gases when considering a pipeline permit. I’m no rocket scientist, but I’m thinking they should. The writing is on the wall. Without having long-term plans, federal accountability or closing loopholes, the parasitic relationship that the oil and gas industry has with the United States will continue. 

In 2020 alone, the fossil fuel industry received $5.9 trillion in subsidies and $111 billion in GDP, yet taxpayers are on the hook to clean up after them? Hold these people accountable! Congress and the Senate must close the loopholes that don’t consider our communities and our environment and get plans in place so that we can live up to the standard that was set for us at COP26.

This coming year needs to be the year where we change course. A bipartisan poll taken earlier this year even found that the majority of voters support initiatives to fight climate change. It was conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication. It clearly showed the country is ready and waiting for change.   

Mr. President and lawmakers in Congress — we are ready for a cleaner energy future, but the real question is, are you? This will require action, and it needs to happen now.

Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré (Ret.) served as commander of Joint Task Force Katrina in 2005, a joint operation between the United States Department of Defense and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

This piece has been updated.

Tags Climate change COP26 Energy Environment Fossil fuels Joe Biden Pollution Russel Honoré

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