Sierra Club Delta Chapter State Legislative Summary Update, Jun 8, 2016

State Capital w tree

The 2016 Regular Session of the Louisiana State Legislature adjourned on June 6 at 6 pm and the Special Session convened at 6:30 pm to continue action on state fiscal issues. The end of the regular session concludes action on bills that were part of The Green Army and Sierra Club legislative agenda. Here is a recap of Sierra Club and Green Army priority bills and their legislative outcomes:

HB 11 by Rep Gene Reynolds to ban open burning of waste munitions met with such strong industry opposition that the sponsor turned it into a negotiated study resolution (HCR 118) which requested LDEQ air sampling and a citizen’s dialog committee. Legislative hearings on the bill were successful in putting the principal offender, Clean Harbors Inc, on the hot seat to explain why they conduct open burns when closed vessel incineration would give much better control air emissions. We will have to check on the LDEQ air sampling and watch what happens with the dialog committee.

HB 371 by Rep Joe Bouie to prohibit construction of schools on toxic waste sites finally got a hearing on May 18 and passed out of House Education Committee but got referred to another House committee (HNR&E) for hearing the next week. With the late start for hearings on the bill and its double committee referral the chances for this bill to make it through the process became almost nil. The bill never received a hearing in HNR&E and died on the vine.

HB 469 by Rep Connick to require fenceline air monitoring for industrial facilities next to residential communities did not pass the House. The bill had been amended down to affect only one industry (Vertex oil recycler) and still met with full on industry opposition from O&G, chemical industry, and LABI (business and industry) lobbyists. They were all around for the House floor vote where this much reduced bill went down to defeat 24/65. Industry in Louisiana clearly does not want any air quality monitoring going on near their facilities. Rep Pat Connick did a great job in pushing this bill as far as possible. He followed up with introduction and successful passage of HR 186 which requests LDEQ to study the feasibility of sharing internal real-time emissions data from certain facilities with first responders.

HB 553 by Rep Denise Marcelle would have designated five parishes (EBR, WBR, E. Feliciana, West Feliciana, & Pointe Coupee) as “critical areas of ground water concern,” would limit conflict of interest on the part of members of the regulating commission, and limit large industrial ground water withdrawals in order to protect the resource. The intention of the bill was to slow down the intrusion of salt water into the Southern Hills aquifer. The bill failed to get enough votes in HNR&E committee. The bill was converted to a study resolution, HCR 115 by Robert Carter, described further down in this list.

HB 632, 819 Rep Morris - A contest between competing visions of improvements to Oilfield Site Restoration rules pitted bills by state Sen Brett Allain against several bills by Rep Jim Morris. Sen Allain’s effort was in response to an audit of the LDNR Office of Conservation program which found many deficiencies and limited progress in closing out abandoned oil wells. Rep Morris sponsored competing bills which were more to the liking of the oil industry lobby. Negotiations between Sen Allain and Rep Morris produced compromise legislation (Morris HB 632, 819) approved in Sen Natural Resources Committee which marginally improves incentives for closing out old wells.

HB 900 by Rep Chris Leopold authorizing increases in fees collected by LDEQ passed House and Senate with amendments and goes to the Governor for his signature. We are pretty sure the Governor will sign the legislation providing needed revenue to the department for staffing and operation of environmental regulatory programs. It is worthy of note that only six senators voted No on this common sense bill. They were Cortez, Donahue, Erdey, Milkovich, Mizell and Riser.

HCR 110 and HCR 115 - Two resolutions of note by Rep Robbert Carter were approved in Sen Natural Resources Committee. One is HCR 110 requesting the LDWF and LDNR to study the effects of using water from Louisiana Scenic Rivers for fracking. The other is HCR 115 requesting the Office of Conservation to study the effects of ground water withdrawals from the southern Hills Aquifer system which supplies water to the Baton Rouge area. This resolution started out as HB 553, referenced above. which passed House and Senate. It requests LDNR Office of Conservation “to study the effects of ground water withdrawals from the Southern Hills Aquifer System.”

We have a significant victory in stopping HB 192 by Rep Paul Hollis. This was a dangerous bill seeking to deprive local communities of the option to prohibit plastic bags. But it was not just about plastic bags. This is part of a national push by big industry lobbying groups to outlaw local options that would prohibit anything including fracking and other industrial insults. Sierra Club and Green Army mounted an early call your legislators and lobbying effort which demonstrated significant resistance to this bill. The night before its first committee hearing we found out that HB 192 was pulled from the committee agenda and would not be considered.

Under the political conditions of this legislature the conversion of many of our bills to study resolutions is not a bad outcome. By proposing these pieces of legislation we have been successful in bringing wide visibility to our issues and we have gained some movement on the part of industry and regulatory agencies on correcting the issues that were raised. Many times successful passage of proposed legislation is a multi-year process. Sierra Club and Green Army can propose legislation in the future that may have better chance of passage because of visibility already given to the issues.

Sierra Club conducted two Legislative lobby days, occurring on April 20 and May 24, 2016. These were days on which our allied groups in the Green Army could bring their members to the State Capitol to visit with their legislators and lobby on behalf of our bills.

We also expanded our Legislative Action List this year so that we could email direct legislative updates and action alerts to a list of persons who requested to be on the list.

We want to thank all of you who called and/or wrote emails to legislators to support our Green Army and Sierra Club proposed legislation. You have helped us to put forward a much increased presence and better visibility in this State legislative session. Industry is spending time and resources on the defensive to fight our bills. They know we are there and that we will speak up for a clean and healthy Louisiana.

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