‘Cancer Alley’ is about to get 30 percent worse, if that’s possible


Too many times in the past, I’ve taken to this blog to write about the latest pollution outrage in the stretch of Louisiana nicknamed “Cancer Alley.” If you’ve been to my native state or even flown over Louisiana bayou country, you’ve certainly seen it: Large refineries or petrochemical processing plants,  shiny, smoke-shrouded jumbles of steel pipes and massive holding tanks, which line the banks of the mighty Mississippi River from south of New Orleans all the way up to Baton Rouge. In its heyday, these industrial sites did provide good paying jobs to the middle-class workers of Louisiana — and so the citizenry has been willing to put up a lot.

But what the citizens of “Cancer Alley” have had to tolerate has been way too much: Dirty, foul smelling and sometimes toxic air and hazardous-waste dumping that has over the years had a huge, negative impact on some of the state’s poorest communities. Statistically, Louisiana has the second-highest rate of cancer of all 50 states; that’s not all because of environmental factors, but there’s little doubt that pollution is a major contributor to our poor state of public health.

Now, the last few years have brought a new oil exploration boom to the United States — largely thanks to technological advances in fracking, which has opened access to fossil fuels that were once thought impossible to tap. In looking to process these new fuels, Big Oil and Gas has looked, naturally, to Louisiana — and that is very, very bad for the air that I and my neighbors will breathe:

A new report says Louisiana air pollution may skyrocket because of the shale revolution. The report from the Environmental Integrity Project highlights expected emissions from the growing number of petrochemical projects planned nationwide as companies capitalize on low natural gas prices. The projects range from multibillion-dollar chemical plant expansions to new liquefied natural gas export terminals and fertilizer plants.

Of the 44 projects proposed nationwide in 2015, nearly half are in Louisiana, according to the report. Once completed, those projects are expected to release up to 68 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere each year, boosting the state’s emissions by about 30 percent.

That is the equivalent of 15 new coal power plants in the state, the report says. For perspective, Louisiana has six coal-fired power plants operating today.

Eric Schaeffer, a former Environmental Protection Agency director and head of the Environmental Integrity Project, said those who argue the surge in cleaner-burning natural gas has cut emissions by reducing the nation’s dependency on dirtier coal plants have failed to consider areas where the fracking boom is generating pollution. The burst in petrochemical projects is one of those areas, he said. “I don’t think it was factored into the thinking,” Schaeffer said.

The only potential bright spot on this horizon is that Baton Rouge is under new Democratic leadership and the administration of former Gov. Bobby Jindal — who was a disaster for the environment — is over. This provides an opportunity to reinvigorate Louisiana’s moribund regulatory agencies. That can help guarantee that new facilities that would be the most disastrous for the environment won’t be approved, and existing facilities that pollute can be brought under better control.

Over the last century, Big Oil and Gas has been given carte blanche to operate as it pleases in Louisiana, and little if any heed was paid to the environment in a state that markets itself to the world as a “Sportsman’s Paradise.” “Cancer Alley” is the direct consequence of that past mismanagement. Raising our air pollution levels by 30 percent would be unconscionable.

Read more about Louisiana’s growing air pollution from processing fossil fuels: http://www.nola.com/business/index.ssf/2016/02/carbon_pollution_fracking_boom.html

Learn more about the long battle for environmental justice in Louisiana and the Deep Soththe Deepwater Horizon spill in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on Americahttp://shop.benbellabooks.com/crude-justice

© Stuart H. Smith, LLC 2015 – All Rights Reserved

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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