FOSTER CAMPBELL: Letter to Lincoln Parish

Louisiana Should Respond to Climate Change

The punishing heat wave in the western United States and heavy flooding in the Northeast from Tropical Storm Elsa provide more evidence that the world’s climate is changing.

I think of Al Gore. The former U.S. senator and Vice President held the first Congressional hearings on global warming in the 1970s. His 2007 documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, offered a clear-cut message of the threat of climate catastrophe and won him a Nobel Peace Prize.

Gore’s public acclaim made him a threat to the special interests under pressure to change their climate-warming ways and the politicians who defended them.

Now we know from legal proceedings and independent reporting that fossil-fuel interests knew in the 1950s their products were warming the Earth. An ExxonMobil internal document in 1982 declared the science on climate change was “unanimous” and would cause “significant changes in the earth’s climate.”

But the oil industry publicly doubted its own science, much like Big Tobacco did when its research blamed smoking for cancer and heart disease. Exxon and other companies launched a systematic campaign to question the science of global warming and prevent meaningful action.

My home in Bossier Parish lies in the middle of the Haynesville Shale gas fields. As a landowner, state senator and utility regulator I have had a great deal of involvement with Louisiana’s oil and gas industry. It has provided tax revenue, good jobs and economic benefit. But I have seen firsthand the industry’s heavy hand on our political leadership.

In the early 1980s Governor Dave Treen, a conservative Republican, proposed the Coastal Wetlands Environmental Levy. CWEL was designed to address industry’s damage to our fragile coast with a tax on oil and gas produced offshore and processed in our state’s refineries and facilities.

In reply, industry and its allies, supporters of Treen when he ran in 1979, turned on him and helped defeat him for re-election in 1983.

Oil representatives in the 1990s similarly rejected my plan to modernize Louisiana’s 1920s system of taxing oil and gas. I said taxing only the oil and gas produced in Louisiana was wrong when far greater volumes of hydrocarbons produced offshore but processed in Louisiana were untaxed.

These hard lessons have convinced me that Louisiana suffers from the Resource Curse. The phrase refers to a nation (or state, in my example) with its wealth concentrated in a few industries. The industries develop enough influence and power to undercut the public interest and bend the government to their will.

For Louisiana, the Resource Curse helps explain why our state finishes poorly in measures of economic wellbeing despite our fossil-fuel resources, forests, rich soils and assets like the Mississippi River.

At the Public Service Commission, I have urged Louisiana electric companies to favor energy efficiency and solar and wind power. This has proved a challenge due to our abundant natural gas, cheap lignite coal and low rates for electricity. Early in my tenure I promoted power from offshore wind and rooftop solar.

The utilities, confident of backing from other PSC members, ignored wind and actively opposed rooftop solar.

In our last debate over rooftop solar I predicted the utilities would begin building their own solar plants to replace some of their fossil-fuel generation.

That is where we are headed. We are an energy state, not just an oil and gas state. We have a task force studying climate change and are promoting offshore wind. Our coastal industries are helping to build a wind-power sector. Utilities are investing in renewables.

Al Gore was right on climate. Louisiana is now recognizing that it is vulnerable to rising seas and damaging storms. We can fight climate change, develop new industries and jobs, and watch our state prosper. It is not too late.

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3 thoughts on “FOSTER CAMPBELL: Letter to Lincoln Parish

  1. Mr. Campbell cites the recent extreme rain and high temperatures as evidence of climate change. Our nation experienced high temperatures and drought during the 1930’s. The Mississippi River flooded after heavy snowfalls and rain in 1927. Extreme variations in weather are not evidence of climate change. Our climate has changed over time. That change took place well before oil companies began developing our nations petroleum reserves.
    Mr. Campbell also called for more solar and wind sources for electricity. Did he not notice how Texas faired with solar and wind generation during the blizzard of this past February. Did he not notice how Texas has faired during the heat wave earlier this summer. Did he not notice California’s continuing problem with a lack of generating capacity last summer and this summer.
    Solar and wind do provide some generation capacity but they are not dispatch-able. That is, you only get electricity from solar when the sun is shining. We expect to have electricity when we want it, not just when the sun is shining. You only get power from wind when the wind is blowing. How did the wind turbines in Texas work back in February.
    Mr. Campbell serves as chairman of Louisiana’s Public Utility Commission. I hope he is not trying to require Louisiana’s electric companies do like those in California and Texas have done and rely too heavily on non-dispatch-able sources.

  2. The only thing I agree with in Foster Campbell’s letter is that their is climate change. It’s always changing!!! The rest is political dribble! He must be fixing to run for a new public office. He needs to do his current job better, like getting our area better Internet service, unlike when he stopped Claiborne Electric from going into the internet business. When you look at what Louisiana spends on our yearly budget plus Federal Money, Louisiana doesn’t have a “Resource Curse” , it has a over spending addiction!!

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