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Carbon capture bills, spurred by residents' concerns, make it to committee; not all move forward

Baton Rouge Capitol Building.
Phoebe Jones
Baton Rouge Capitol Building.

The House natural resources committee was divided on Tuesday after hearing the first round of bills that would tighten restrictions on carbon capture projects in Louisiana.

Republican lawmakers from the Florida Parishes filed nine bills this session in response to local backlash against a major project that would store carbon dioxide about a mile beneath Lake Maurepas, a recreational and cultural hub for the area. On Tuesday, the committee heard five of those bills.

During the meeting, oil, gas and chemical industry representatives opposed stricter regulations, while residents who live near or visit Lake Maurepas and the nearby swamp spoke up in favor. The heated debate over the five bills took more than six hours, forcing an afternoon recess before lawmakers returned to the room to finish their business.

Some of the bills moved forward, while others were essentially killed in committee. See where the bills stand after a day full of debate.

House Bill 453 - Involuntarily Deferred

HB453proposed that any carbon capture project planned in Louisiana could only store its carbon beneath the Gulf of Mexico, effectively banning any storage of carbon beneath state land or inland water bottoms.

After an extensive lineup of testimony, the committee involuntarily deferred the bill, effectively killing it unless two-thirds of the natural resources committee votes to put it back on the schedule. Rep. Sherman Mack, a Republican who serves Livingston Parish, introduced the bill.

“I am not against carbon sequestration in Louisiana. It’s coming, so to be against it would be futile,” Mack told the committee. “But what I am in favor of is the least intrusive means that it has on our citizens.”

Rep. Sherman Mack addresses questions from the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee on May 2, 2023, over his bills relating to carbon capture and sequestration in Louisiana.
Rep. Sherman Mack addresses questions from the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee on May 2, 2023, over his bills relating to carbon capture and sequestration in Louisiana.

This was the bill that kicked off the hours-long, passionate debate between residents, parish officials and industry officials over the future of Lake Maurepas and the surrounding swamp.

Residents, often clad in matching light blue shirts, and local officials backed the bill, all citing their own experiences and frustration with the Air Products proposal, feeling as though it was being imposed on them.

Repeatedly, the industry representatives said the bill could cause Louisiana to miss out on new investments from industry around building out carbon capture infrastructure — spurred by new incentives in the Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act.

Mack said he understood the economic argument in his closing statement:

“It’s about the dollar. I’m a capitalist. I understand, I really do, but I just don’t think you can put a price tag on a way of life.”

Vote: 11-2

In favor of deferral: Rhonda Gaye Butler (R-Ville Platte), R. Dewith Carrier (R-Oakdale), Mack Cormier (D-Belle Chasse), Timothy Kerner (R-Lafitte), Mandie Landry (D-New Orleans), Stephanie Hilferty (R-Metarie), Scott McKnight (R-Baton Rouge), Joseph Orgeron (R-Larose), Neil Riser (R-Columbia), Troy Romero (R-Jennings), Rodney Schamerhorn (R-Hornbeck)

Opposed deferral: Buddy Mincey, Jr. (R-Denham Springs), William “Bill” Wheat, Jr. (R-Ponchatoula)

Abstain: Jean-Paul Coussan (R-Lafayette)

House Bill 454 – Involuntarily Deferred

Mack’s second carbon capture bill, HB454, would have required parishes to hold a local vote whenever a carbon capture project is proposed in the area. It also would have made it so companies looking to locate in the area have to cover the cost of holding such a referendum.

The goal, he said, was to force better communication between companies and residents, which has been a major point of contention in his parish with the Air Products project.

“If you voted to involuntarily defer sending everything to the Gulf, then I don’t know how you vote against giving each specific parish their local option to decide what they want to do,” Mack said.

The bill was met with similar arguments from industry groups. Louisiana Chemical Association Vice President of Political Affairs Brian Landry said the decision would affect economic development in the state.

When asked if there was any place in the state worth avoiding, Landry said the companies’ decision is guided by geology — where there are underground pockets for storage. Landry said it was up to the state to decide if there are areas that shouldn’t be open for business.

Rep. Neil Riser, a committee member who serves Caldwell, Catahoula, Franklin, LaSalle and Tensas parishes, also voiced concerns over the potential for a local election to halt Strategic Biofuel’s $2.8 billion carbon capture and biodiesel project – Louisiana Green Fuels – planned in Caldwell Parish.

The bill was ultimately involuntarily deferred by a smaller margin after discussion.

Vote: 8-6 

In favor of deferral: R. Dewith Carrier (R-Oakdale), Adrian Fisher (D-Monroe), Timothy Kerner (R-Lafitte), Stephanie Hilferty (R-Metairie), Scott McKnight (R-Baton Rouge), Joseph Orgeron (R-Larose), Neil Riser (R-Columbia), Troy Romero (R-Jennings)

Opposed deferral: Rhonda Gaye Butler (R-Ville Platte), Mack Cormier (D-Belle Chasse), Mandie Landry (D-New Orleans), Buddy Mincey, Jr. (R-Denham Springs), Rodney Schamerhorn (R-Hornbeck), William “Bill” Wheat, Jr. (R-Ponchatoula)

Abstain: Jean-Paul Coussan (R-Lafayette)

House Bill 120 - Reported favorably to House floor

Introduced by Rep. Nicholas Muscarello, HB120would prohibit any future structures from obstructing the viewshed of Lake Maurepas or Lake Pontchartrain, stating no permanent structure could be built or installed that “protrudes” above the water’s surface.

The bill sparked the least discussion of all five, and Air Products representative Dana LeBlanc said it wasn’t clear if the bill would have an effect on their project, as they are still studying whether it’s feasible to store carbon under the lake and where structures like platforms or wells would go if the project moves forward.

Vote: No objection to favorable report, unanimous

House Bill 267 - Reported favorably to House floor

Introduced by committee member Rep. William “Bill” Wheat, Jr., a Republican serving Tangipahoa Parish, HB267would place a 10-year moratorium on any carbon sequestration or pipelines under Lake Maurepas and the Maurepas Swamp Wildlife Management Area.

Wheat said it was a bill for the people of the Florida Parishes who have asked for a pause to ensure any project proposed, like Air Products, won’t harm the Maurepas area.

Wheat and residents who spoke in favor of the bill noted that the ecosystem within Maurepas Swamp has been in decline for decades. The state is currently looking to implement a new coastal project to improve the swamp’s health, but residents like Darren Burns worried that adding new industrial infrastructure would make it worse.

“That lake is a very delicate mistress … this could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” Burns said.

Air Products representatives said the moratorium would delay their project, which they hope to have fully operational by the end of 2026 if their ongoing seismic testing reveals that the geology beneath Lake Maurepas is suitable for sequestration and the permit process moves smoothly.

Some committee members asked to amend the bill to shorten the moratorium to six or seven years, but the amendment failed.

Rep. Jean-Paul Coussan, a Republican who serves Lafayette, objected to the bill and the amendment, stating carbon sequestration projects are already moving at “a snail’s pace” and feared it would signal to other companies that they shouldn’t come to Louisiana. Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association President Tommy Faucheux and other industry groups also felt that moving the bill forward could have ripple effects.

Before HB267 was reported favorably out of committee, Wheat told his fellow committee members to remember that the people backing the bill are locals living near the lake, while those opposed have a financial interest in the lake’s future use.

Vote: 9-5

In favor: Rhonda Gaye Butler (R-Ville Platte), R. Dewith Carrier (R-Oakdale), Timothy Kerner (R-Jefferson), Mandie Landry (D-New Orleans), Buddy Mincey, Jr. (R-Denham Springs), Neil Riser (R-Columbia), Troy Romero (R-Jennings), Rodney Schamerhorn (R-Hornbeck), William “Bill” Wheat, Jr. (R-Ponchatoula)

Opposed: Jean-Paul Coussan (R-Lafayette), Mack Cormier (D-Belle Chasse), Adrian Fisher (D-Monroe), Stephanie Hilferty (R-Metairie), Joseph Orgeron (R-Larose)

House Bill 308 - Stays in committee

Under Wheat’s second bill, the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources would be required to conduct an environmental impact statement before approving any coastal use permits for Class VI wells – the type of wells used to inject carbon dioxide — or pipelines through Lake Maurepas and the Maurepas Swamp Wildlife Management Area.

Federal agencies typically put together an environmental impact statement for major projects to scrutinize all of the consequences and decide between various alternatives. The state requires environmental analyses for permits but has never done a report as extensive as an environmental impact statement. DNR Executive Counsel Blake Canfield said each one could cost up to $1.8 million to complete.

Coussan argued against the bill, noting it would introduce a new concept into state law even if it is confined to the Lake Maurepas and swamp area. Industry leaders also cited concerns over setting a precedent for conducting state-level environmental impact statements.

Ultimately, the vote ended in a tie, resulting in the bill remaining in committee. It could be taken up again at a meeting later in the session.

Vote: 6-6

In favor: Mack Cormier (D-Belle Chasse), Adrian Fisher (D-Monroe), Mandie Landry (D-New Orleans), Buddy Mincey, Jr. (R-Denham Springs), Rodney Schamerhorn (R-Hornbeck), William “Bill” Wheat, Jr. (R-Ponchatoula)

Opposed: Rhonda Gaye Butler (R-Ville Platte), R. Dewith Carrier (R-Oakdale), Timothy Kerner (R-Lafitte), Joseph Orgeron (R-Larose), Neil Riser (R-Columbia), Troy Romero (R-Jennings)

Abstain: Jean-Paul Coussan (R-Lafayette)

Carbon capture bills waiting for discussion:

  • HB10: Would prevent carbon capture and storage operators from using eminent domain to acquire property for drilling Class VI wells. (Introduced by Rep. Robby Carter, R-Amite)
  • HB35: Would completely ban carbon sequestration projects in St. Helena Parish. (Introduced by Rep. Robby Carter)
  • HB302:  Would require companies to retain full liability for any damage from carbon sequestration facilities and remove all liability for the state if something goes wrong with pipelines or underground storage. (Introduced by Rep. Robby Carter)
Halle Parker reports on the environment for WWNO's Coastal Desk. You can reach her at hparker@wwno.org.

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