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Photo of the ExxonMobil refinery behind the I-10 bridge in Baton Rouge, by Johnna Crider.

Air Quality

Oil, Gas, & Chemical Companies Don’t Want Louisiana Residents To Know What’s In The Air

A Louisiana state committee has rejected a bill that would have required 473 plants to install real-time air monitoring systems and pay for it. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Cleo Fields (D-Baton Rouge) and it was inspired by conversations with his constituents after last year’s fire at the ExxonMobile refinery — the explosion that woke me up at 5:00 am one morning.

Nola.com noted that thousands of pounds of carcinogenic chemicals were released that day, but state officials say the 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. I agree. However, the plants and some Louisiana Republican senators don’t.

On the day prior to the committee hearing, the Department of Environmental Quality priced the bill at $3.6 million and stated that it would need to hire 48 more employees to process the data sent by the plants. For now, it has 7 staffers that look at the data provided by 42 state-managed monitors. Teresa Delafosse, the agency’s financial services administrator, told Nola.com, “We do believe that our estimate of staff is reasonable.” She added, “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.”

What Killed The Bill

The bill was heavily opposed by oil, gas, and chemical industry advocates. Even attempts to narrow the bill to reduce costs to the state were blocked. Robert Schromm, the Louisiana Chemical Association’s manager of governmental affairs, told the Environmental Quality Committee that the bill was unnecessary.

“We already feel like air monitoring systems are adequate,”  he said. “It’s unnecessary. The system in place works.”

Nola.com broke down how the committee voted on the bill.

  • 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.

There’s another bill that is focused on creating a public notification system for neighborhoods near plants — fenceline communities. The bill was sponsored by Peterson and it requires companies to notify nearby residents and first responders of emergencies within 30 minutes with a state-managed system. Currently, they have an hour.

“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 told Nola.com. “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.”


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Written By

Johnna Crider is a Louisiana native who likes crawfish, gems, minerals, EVs, and advocates for sustainability. Johnna is also the host of GettingStoned.online, a jewelry artisan and a $TSLA shareholder.

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