Louisiana Legislative Update, Status of Environmental Bills from the 2015 Session

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Here is a rundown on some of the bills on environmental issues that were considered during the Louisiana legislative session that ended on June 11, 2015. Despite this being a "fiscal" session and all the attention given to the state's fiscal deficit there were these notable efforts on the environmental front. Sierra Club and allies were actively working for the environment and public health on these issues.

HB 180 by Rep Joe Bouie of New Orleans is a Green Army supported bill that would have prohibited the construction of any pre-K through 12th grade school on property formerly used for the disposal, storage, or deposition of sewage sludge, solid waste, hazardous waste, or oilfield waste. The bill sponsors hoped the bill would become law in time to stop the planned construction of a school on the old Clio Street/Silver City Dump in New Orleans. Monique Harden and with technical help from Wilma Subra of LEAN did a great job of shepherding the bill through successful votes in House Education Committee and the House floor. The bill stalled in Senate Education Committee over concerns that the bill would apply too broadly statewide. The bill was opposed by the New Orleans Recovery School District, Louisiana contractors and the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

Update On Oct 21, 2015 it was announced that the Recovery School District (RSD) has cancelled its controversial plan to land bank the Cohen High School building and relocate the students, teachers, and staff to a proposed new school on a portion of the Clio Street/Silver City Dump, where the Booker T. Washington School (BTW) was built
in the 1940s. This is a 180 degree turn of events which was forced by the opposition of Walter L Cohen school alumni and many local citizens groups including Sierra Club. This was the reason for proposing HB 180 and represents a victory of citizens over an unresponsive school system bureaucracy. See the full statement attached to this legislative report.

HB 590 by Rep Kenny Cox of Natchitoches is another Green Army supported bill that would have required industrial facilities that are required to have an operating permit under the Clean Air Act to install fence-line air monitoring systems. Such systems would measure and record air pollutant concentrations along the property boundary of a facility to detect an exceedance of air quality standards or a threat to public health. Ten minutes before the first hearing on the bill in House Natural Resources and Environment Committee (HNR) a fiscal note was delivered that identified a fiscal impact in excess of $100,000 which would have compelled the bill to go first to House Appropriations committee. The fiscal note effectively stopped the bill in a legislative year when it was known that there would be no new money for programs. The bill was opposed by DEQ.

HB 597 by Stuart Bishop of Lafayette would have allowed industries to voluntarily conduct an environmental audit and be protected from disclosure of any information discovered in the audit. The law would have prevented public agencies or citizens from finding out anything once a facility decides to conduct a voluntary audit and would provide extended exemption from compliance with regulations or imposition of penalties. The bill was a darling of the Louisiana chemical industry. We named it the Louisiana Regulatory Compliance Escape Act. Sierra Club, LEAN and Green Army launched an early campaign in hopes of preventing the bill from even being considered in committee. Thanks to all who helped by calling and writing emails to legislators asking them to vote no on this bill. The bill was twice pulled off the agenda of HNR so was never heard in its first committee. Stopping this very bad bill is a big success for Sierra Club, LEAN and Green Army.

HB 779 by Erich Ponti of Baton Rouge turned out to be the operative bill on tax credits for solar. The bill went through numerous amendments in lengthy debates through the legislative session. A compromise among all in the debate had been reached in the 2012 legislative session with a law that would phase out state tax credits for solar installations by the end of 2017. But in the frenzy to do something about this year’s $1.6 B fiscal deficit the legislature went after solar again. The debate pitted deficit hawks vs pro solar, and solar sales vs solar leasing firms. HB 779 finally passed both House and Senate, leaving tax exemptions in place for purchased or leased systems to expire end of 2017 but with a cap on the per system tax credit of $10,000 and restrictive caps on the total amount of tax credits available in the fiscal years leading up to end of 2017. Tax credits will be doled out on first come first served basis. These caps will severely limit the number of new solar system leases and sales that will receive tax credits.

HB 779 signed by the Governor, Act 131, effective June 19, 2015.

SB 214 by Sen Ronnie Johns of Sulphur creates the Solar User Rights and Disclosures Act. This is a nice sounding name for a bill that was designed to regulate the Louisiana solar nearly to death, imposing many needless requirements. SB 214 was very early identified as one of the two worst environmental bills in this year’s legislative session. The solar industry along with Sierra Club and LEAN raised so much early opposition that the bill was never heard in its first committee.

HCR 29 by Rep Joe Harrison of Gray tells USEPA to withdraw proposed guidelines for reducing CO2 emissions from fossil fuel fired power plants and urges the governor and state attorney general to take legal action to prevent the guidelines from being implemented. The proposed resolution has the hallmarks of ALEC bills written by corporate lobbyists and distributed to state legislators in the attempt to stop progress on clean energy. Sierra Club Delta Chapter testified and lobbied against this resolution at every opportunity. The resolution passed HNR, House floor and Sen Environment committee. The real fight was on Senate floor where Sen Dorsey-Colomb spoke in opposition to the resolution and proposed amendments so as to generate a floor debate. Sen JP Morrell also spoke in opposition citing the absurdity of Louisiana’s vulnerability to coastal land loss and its failure to do anything about climate change. The resolution passed both House and Senate.

HCR 172 by Rep Gene Reynolds of Minden directs the Louisiana National Guard not to accept waste explosives at Camp Minden after August 1, 2015. After an explosion that occurred at the Explo Systems, Inc. operations at Camp Minden in 2012, responders found large quantities of waste artillery propellant, M6 improperly stored. The plan was to conduct an open burn of the explosives. Local citizens with help from environmental groups organized effective opposition resulting in re-evaluation of alternative disposal solutions. This resolution passed both House and Senate.

SCR 46 by Sen Gerald Long of Winnfield expresses the right of the state of Louisiana to manage its water resources. The true intent of the resolution is to obstruct the recently published USACE USEPA rule to define the jurisdiction of waters of the US to be regulated under the Clean Water Act. The resolution characterizes the new rule as a significant expansion of jurisdiction whereas the purpose of the USACE USEPA rule is to more clearly define waters of the US that have always been under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. The state resolution declares the State’s historical and constitutional right to be the ultimate authority to manage the use and protection of its water, despite the fact that federal authority takes precedence over state law in regard to Waters of the US. The resolution passed both House and Senate.

SCR 89 by Sen Bret Allain of Morgan City establishes a task force of stakeholders and experts to study the regulation of oil and gas wells and management of orphaned wells. The task force identified in the resolution has eleven members, one of which is selected by the board of directors of the Sierra Club. The task force is created in order to accomplish recommendations of a performance audit released by the Louisiana legislative auditor analyzing the oil and gas regulatory program, which is administered by the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources. The resolution passed House and Senate.

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