At COP26 summit, Gov. Edwards endorses 'all of the above' approach to combating climate change
As leaders of the world’s largest nations flock to Glasgow, Scotland for the start of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards is a part of a small contingent of U.S. governors attending to discuss the role individual states have in fighting climate change.
Edwards outlined the stakes of that battle in two discussion sessions Monday morning at the conference, which is commonly referred to as COP26.
“We are suffering the effects of climate change in Louisiana to a degree not being experienced in any of the other states,” Edwards said.
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Climate change is fueling sea-level rise, which washes away more of the Louisiana coastline each year and fuels extreme weather events that risk lives and property. In the last two years, five hurricanes have made landfall in Louisiana, including two Category 4 storms that tied for the strongest in state history.
But even as climate change poses an existential threat to the state, Louisiana’s economic dependence on fossil fuels and the petrochemical industry make the state one of the nation’s leaders in carbon dioxide emissions per capita. As many companies take jobs and investments out of traditional fossil fuel production, Edwards said the state cannot cling to industries in decline.
“We can’t afford to be more ‘pro-oil and gas’ than the oil and gas companies,” Edwards said. “They’re rebranding as energy companies and need to do the same thing as a state.”
Edwards endorsed an “all of the above” approach to fighting climate change in Louisiana. He expressed interest in bringing more utility-scale solar projects to the state and shifting more diesel refineries to biomass feedstocks, using corn, soybeans and pine trees instead of petroleum. And he expects the state to capitalize on lease sales slated for next year that could bring offshore wind farms to the Gulf of Mexico.
Edwards said he sees embracing the pivot to green energy as a way to recoup the jobs lost in the state as companies invest less in the traditional fossil fuel industries that for decades have been the lifeblood of the Louisiana economy.
“If you can fabricate an offshore oil platform, you can fabricate an offshore wind platform,” Edwards said. “We don’t want to get 20, 30 years down the road and realize we didn’t take advantage of an off ramp that we had to diversify our approach to energy. If we continue to ride fossil fuels all the way to the end of the road, we won’t be in a very good place.”
Edwards spoke of Louisiana’s unique position to invest in the nascent carbon capture and sequestration industry by capitalizing on the state’s adaptable workforce, existing infrastructure of pipelines and refining facilities and subterranean geological structures.
He touted the recent industrial gas provider Air Products' recent decision to develop a $4.5 billion “blue hydrogen” production facility in Ascension Parish. The plant, which would be the world’s largest carbon capture and sequestration project, is expected to come online in 2026.
State officials and Louisiana’s oil, gas and chemical industries have been in favor of pushing for more carbon capture opportunities, but environmental advocates said this technology could lead to even more investments in fossil fuel infrastructure, which won’t help climate change trends.
The state has also invested heavily in the production of liquid natural gas, a fuel that burns “cleaner” than other fossil fuels and results in less carbon dioxide emissions. But the production of liquid natural gas often requires processes called “venting” and “flaring,” which results in the release of methane, a greenhouse gas that is 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide in warming the Earth.
Edwards said the industry can be an “intermediate step” on the road to a future free of fossil fuels, but only if it can be produced in a manner that minimizes emissions from flaring and venting. He also praised proposed federal legislation aimed at capping so-called orphan oil wells, another significant source of methane emissions. A recent report found that it would take $650 million to address the more than 4,600 orphan wells in the state of Louisiana.
Edwards will remain at the conference through Wednesday and is slated to participate in a panel discussion with White House Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and California Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.
The other governors expected to attend the conference, all Democrats, are Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, Gov. David Ige of Hawaii, Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois and Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon, along with delegations from California, Maryland and Massachusetts.