The EPA comes to Cancer Alley

The EPA comes to Cancer Alley

This week, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan is visiting the largely Black communities across Louisiana that have endured decades of industrial pollution and high rates of illness, particularly cancers. The visit, a part of a “journey to justice” tour of communities around the South, is the first by an EPA administrator to towns such as Reserve and Mossville. The Guardian’s Oliver Laughland writes that Regan expressed understanding of residents who might be skeptical of the federal government after years of protests and complaints have gone unaddressed by his agency:

“I know that we have to rebuild trust. I know that this didn’t happen overnight and won’t be resolved overnight. So our commitment is to do better, leverage our enforcement, work with Congress to get the toughest laws in place that are adequate and protective. And to do this in concert with community members who have been advocating this for decades,” [Regan said.]

Mike Smith of the Advocate will be covering Regan’s Thursday visit to Mossville, a majority-Black town founded in the late-18th century by people freed from slavery, where a major buyout of homeowners to allow for a chemical plant expansion has raised concerns over racial discrimination. A nearby majority white community received higher payouts, and some Mossville residents have refused to accept their buyouts as a result: 

“If we would’ve had one public official around here that spoke on our behalf, we’d have probably gotten treated better,” said [Ronald] Carrier, 67, as he sat next to the shed behind his three-bedroom house on Monday in this community outside Lake Charles, founded by freed slaves. Asked why that didn’t happen, he didn’t equivocate: “Because it was a Black community. That’s why. It was a minority community. No ifs, ands or buts about it.”

A new approach to federal public safety funding
The American Rescue Plan Act delivered about $350 billion in funding to state and local governments that can be spent on a wide range of needs, including public safety. While many would understand “public safety” to mean policing, a new report by Ed Lazere of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities outlines how state and local governments can use this federal money to fund non-police approaches to address important public safety concerns.

Non-law enforcement approaches to issues such as mental health crises, substance use, traffic safety, or school safety — treating them as health, transportation, and education issues — have the potential to address them more effectively than law enforcement strategies and to achieve better outcomes. Shifting to policing alternatives also can address racial and other inequities in the criminal legal system, reducing unnecessary police stops that too often escalate and result in arrests and incarceration that disproportionately target people of color and communities that have been marginalized.

Ida caused ‘significant’ land loss
Louisiana has been combatting land loss along its coastline for decades – including through efforts to rebuild the coast and add land where possible. But regular processes of erosion and subsidence and, increasingly, large storms that are capable of washing away wetland and marsh challenge the state’s progress. Unfortunately, notes Mark Schleifstein for the Times-Picayune|, the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) believes Hurricane Ida was a significant setback for Louisiana’s coastal communities:

“It’s incredibly significant,” Brady Couvillion, a geographer with the U.S. Geological Survey, said of the preliminary estimate. “This is probably the most impactful storm we’ve seen since Hurricane Katrina, and it’s definitely the most impactful event for the Barataria Basin in recorded history.”

There is a strong possibility that some of this lost wetland will rebound, but Ida’s impact highlights the challenges that Louisiana will face as climate change makes natural disasters more intense and gulf waters higher.

Entergy to pass repair costs to ratepayers
At a hearing of the Public Service Commission on Wednesday, Entergy announced its intention to take out a billion-dollar loan while also raising storm recovery rates for the next 15 years to help pay for the over $4 billion in costs accrued over the last two years, mostly caused by major hurricanes that have hit Louisiana. Wes Muller of the Louisiana Illuminator writes that not all members of the PSC were enthused by this announcement: 

“First of all, I appreciate what you did to get people’s lights on. I know it was devastating. I’m not making light of that,” [Public Service Commission Foster] Campbell said. “You got any idea, when we wind up, how much you’re going to have to raise people’s rates? You got any idea what it’s going to cost a month to pay for this? Because, hey, everybody’s not in love with y’all. You know that, don’t you? Everybody’s not on your side. There’s a lot of people who think that y’all have a lot of waste and this and that and the other.”

While Entergy responded that they hope to keep the rate hike low – up to $15 a month – there are already many Louisianans struggling to pay power bills. As WWL reports in New Orleans, the utility resumed power shut offs at the beginning of November, leaving some residents in the dark, including some who say they’ve seen their power shut off even when their bills are paid.

Number of the Day
106 – The estimated number of square miles of coastal wetlands lost during Hurricane Ida (Source: The Times-Picayune|