Louisiana Climate Justice Advocates To Biden: You Must Act To Address Environmental Racism

environmental racism Louisiana's Black residents face---like those who live along "Cancer Alley".
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Photos: YouTube

In the following open letter to President Biden, the Foundation for Louisiana asks the administration to tackle the environmental racism Louisiana's Black residents face---like those who live along "Cancer Alley".

President Biden, we have been observing in great interest your administration’s appointments and positions on climate issues that continue to impact our country. Climate change is a high-priority area for this administration. We can see that you want to deliver on your promises of protecting Americans from the devastating impacts of climate change.

As residents of Louisiana, we would like to offer some additional feedback and insights.

Over the last year, we've watched a deadly pandemic ravage Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities - leaving a loss of life and hope in its wake. While the light at the end of this tunnel may edge closer for some, it is in reality, a wildfire that only drives the neglected masses towards the next crisis even faster. While the COVID-19 pandemic has not only exacerbated the existing inequities that communities of color are facing, it has further highlighted the environmental and climate challenges that these same communities are experiencing.

These disparities are deeply tied to wealth and inequity, a historical arc resulting from racial injustices embedded in our history. Whether it’s air pollution from petrochemical plants typically located in Black neighborhoods or lack of recovery resources following a devastating hurricane, our communities need our support in confronting climate change head-on.

Quite simply, climate change and climate justice must be presented as the next major piece of national legislation. Without speedy national action, climate change will continue to draw ineffective institutional responses and exacerbate existing inequities. Under your leadership, we can correct this course.

The Foundation for Louisiana (FFL), and its many longstanding city and state-based partners have worked tirelessly for the last 15 years to highlight climate and environmental injustice faced by Louisiana’s most impacted communities. Through the work of countless advocates and policymakers, FFL has raised over $5.4 million in grants and leveraged $54 million in capital towards projects and programs representing disadvantaged communities toward climate justice in just the last five years.

This work aligns with the millions raised statewide to aid families who suffered toxic air pollution, contaminated water from plants and refineries, and the chaos of natural disasters such as extreme flooding that causes material loss and ongoing existential erasure. Our work is just beginning, and our work is to hold local, state and national lawmakers accountable to its constituency to truly enact changes that will ensure a healthy planet for all. Without meaningful action, climate change and any responses to it will only exacerbate and entrench our communities' existing inequities, with no end in sight.

To help push the United States to carbon neutrality by 2050, we must all recognize the urgency of this work and the commitment needed to right the wrongs of environmental racism, which continue to plague our nation at this critical point of our history. Any further delay will force our nation and world into expedited suffering and secure inevitable, apocalyptic catastrophe. We have a unique opportunity now to negate some past harm and prevent future environmental collapse by forming a unified front and engaging in the following recommendations:

  • Be wary of false solutions.

1. We need groundwater solutions. Your administration plans to utilize and resource emerging Carbon Capture Storage (CCS) and Carbon Capture Utilization and Sequestration (CCUS) technologies to solve the myriad impacts of dangerous emissions.

2. CCS and CCUS are recently developed technologies used to store, utilize, and shut away carbon dioxide to demonstrate a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. These technologies are new and unproven and may have considerable harmful impacts on the communities' health and will require significant industrial expansion and financial contributions.

3. The effectiveness of this technology is debatable and has demonstrated measurable failures around the world. Examples of investments in CCS or CCUS have proven to be extremely costly with minimal benefits. We are concerned about the viability of permanent underground storage, especially in the face of subsidence and sea-level rise, both nationwide and in Louisiana in particular. Plans for carbon capture investments place the burden of increased industrial infrastructure on Louisianans.

4. We don’t need to double down on industrial expansion in the backyards of Louisianans. These technologies require mostly new infrastructure buildout. Louisiana and the Gulf South should not have to be the nation’s landfill for industrial waste or the nation’s experimentation site.

5. You must prioritize the communities most vulnerable to climate injustice in solution-making. You have the choice to improve or further degrade health outcomes in our communities. The industries that caused and contributed to the problem aren’t the people equipped to fix it.

6. We cannot continue investing in systems that maintain our existing reliance on fossil fuels, are financially irresponsible, have negative health impacts in our communities, and aren’t proven to work.

7. To make CCS and CCUS financially viable requires substantial government subsidy. Instead of increasing corporate welfare, our tax dollars could go further in our communities if we invest in new futures instead of maintaining the profitability of the fossil fuel industry.

8. We need to invest in blue and green businesses that will remediate the harms that have already been done in our local communities. We can create alternative economies and produce energy, expanding community control, ownership, and decision-making in our communities. Results indicate that manufacturing is the largest economic driver for offshore wind development. We must Invest in our communities, not corporate welfare.

Invest in a diverse economy focused on empowering the people who live and work in our communities by delivering a holistic response to the global transition to renewable energy that does not leave anyone behind.

1. With the global transition away from historic energy production, the industry’s once “good jobs” will not be here for long. Our country deserves to take its rightful place as a global center for alternative energy sources like battery storage, solar panel and wind turbine manufacturing.

2. It is imperative to support this country as it shifts with the global transition to renewable energy by creating and investing in emerging energy/adaptation/toxic remediation jobs.

3. Future investment in climate solutions should not rely on the industries that have been machines for oppression. Instead, solutions should center the self-determination and power of those most susceptible to harm's way, seeking their voice and expertise in designing solutions.

4. We are asking for a just transition for those populations who have been grossly impacted by the fossil fuel industry’s status quo and seek an equitable path forward. This must include financial security, health and mobility, as we simultaneously develop pathways for those who have benefitted from the status quo. Our tax dollars could be reinvested in our communities if we actively lobbied against the political and monetary opportunism that supports the fossil fuel industry and their interests. The same investment in renewable energy would reduce more CO2/carbon while reducing air pollution, pipelines, refineries, gas stations, oil tankers, spills, and leaks, to name a few. We simply cannot leave anybody behind.

Climate impacts are not a future scenario. Invest in the development and growth of adaptation projects, programs, policies, and practices that center communities that have seen systematic and institutionalized disinvestment and underinvestment.

1. Without strategic and intentional action, climate change and our institutional responses to it will exacerbate existing inequities solidified within our built environment and through the policies and practices that maintain and develop it.

2. We must ensure that any information regarding climate hazards is not only brought to constituents but that it is presented alongside tangible pathways to tackle those challenges and help them identify the appropriate path to mitigate these risks.

3. We must leverage resources to catalyze inclusive economic opportunities in our communities that are receiving investments to mitigate and address evolving climate risks, thus, enhancing the capacity of residents and communities to adapt over time.

4. Federal climate services can also bridge these gaps by developing iterative communication and coordination practices between the agencies that reveal and project ongoing environmental change, those that work to address those impacts across environmental fields, and those that typically don’t consider themselves environmental such as housing and development, transportation, education, economy and jobs, and public health.

5. Additionally, our coastal communities have borne the brunt of catastrophic global warming-induced weather disasters. Frontline residents face natural disasters, food insecurity, job instability, loss of culture, and population/taxation woes. Gulf states have all experienced challenges related to coastal erosion, flooding and hurricanes.

6. If we don’t heavily invest in coastal restoration, adaptation, and preservation, these coastal issues will continue to move inland. As of 2017, roughly 95 million Americans live on the coast in this country, and nearly 65 million reside in regions vulnerable to the effects of hurricanes. Our coastal communities are counting on us to make a difference.

7. We must ensure that the billions of U.S. dollars in public funding are funneled directly to support coastal restoration, water management, and climate adaptation work over time.

As part of your $2 trillion American Jobs Plan, we hope you consider including some of the ideas outlined in this letter. We should be prepared to properly invest and confront the environmental, social, and climate-related challenges faced by communities across the U.S. We are presented with the unique opportunity to address these historical injustices and enhance the quality of life for all Americans in affected communities. We implore you to actively confront the most existential crisis in our nation's history and help us meet the future that Americans can currently only imagine.

President Biden, thank you for your time and consideration of the recommendations addressed in this open letter. While this is an unprecedented time for our nation, we thank you for your leadership. We hope you have the opportunity to reflect on these recommendations and to call on accompanying elected officials and leaders to work together to solve our climate crisis.

Sincerely, Foundation for Louisiana, our partners and grantees

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