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Land of Confusion: Still Up in the Air
View north from top of Louisiana's state capitol

All week we’ve been looking into Louisiana’s environmental quality, so what about the air that we breathe?

“Certain standards go above and beyond what EPA calls for. We’re moving in that direction,” DEQ Secretary Chuck Carr Brown told us.

In fact, the Baton Rouge region just had the EPA’s ozone “non-compliance” restrictions lifted in November. In addition, DEQ announced this month they forged an agreement with a LaPlace Neoprene plant to install a $17.5-million thermal oxidizer and reduce their chloropene emissions by 85%  over the next year.

Yet some plants aren’t co-operating with either EPA or DEQ rules.

“When something happens at these plants – there’s a release in violation of the permit –what are we breathing in?  Is it benzene, is it sulfide? Are these chemicals that can harm us?  We need to know,“ Marrero Rep. Patrick Connick said, while presenting HB 469 in the legislative session last spring.

“This will only apply to facilities that have violated their permit three times within a twenty-four month period.  This will make those facilities install a fence-line monitoring system.”

In particular, Connick was targeting Vertex, a facility in his district. It re-refines used oil, has been repeatedly cited and fined for air and river pollution, and is facing a class-action suit brought by residents in the vicinity.

The bill made it out of committee and onto the House floor, and Connick urged passage.

“For the bad guys who continue to repeat time and time and time again, put these monitoring devices on your property, so we know what we are breathing. Please vote yes.”

But when the vote was counted: “24 yeas and 65 nays and the bill fails to pass,” Speaker Taylor Barras announced.

Why aren’t Louisiana’s lawmakers being more aggressive in their constitutional duty to enact laws that protect the state’s environment? Perhaps it’s industry lobbying. Or perhaps they’re simply representing their constituencies, for as Berkeley sociologist Arlie Hochschild found during her recent 5-year study of south Louisiana’s residents:

“They didn’t feel environmentally like this was their land anymore. And yet, it’s hard to blame the private sector, because that’s where you get your jobs.”