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1,400 bills later, how did Louisiana's environment fare after the 2024 legislative session?

The Louisiana Capitol on April 4, 2023, in Baton Rouge, La.
Stephen Smith
/
AP
The Louisiana Capitol on April 4, 2023, in Baton Rouge, La.

In this year’s busy legislative session, just under 500 of the more than 1,400 bills filed by Louisiana lawmakers have been signed into law. Hundreds failed to muster enough support, while many of those that did succeed are still awaiting the governor’s signature. The wide-ranging session included the passage of numerous bills with significant environmental implications. Here’s a roundup of some of the bills and resolutions that made it through the legislative gauntlet.



Severance Tax

A bill that would cut the amount of taxes Louisiana collects from companies that own inactive and orphan wells is sitting on Gov. Jeff Landry’s desk. House Bill 418 would also give companies more time to apply for the severance tax — a discounted tax rate for wells not in full use — moving the deadline from 2023 to 2028. If signed, the move could result in the loss of up to $90 million from the state general fund over the next five years as well as millions from parishes.

Coastal Restoration

As the federal and state government look to promote offshore wind development in the Gulf of Mexico, House Bill 305 will direct the state’s share of revenue from all energy production in federal waters – the outer continental shelf – to coastal restoration if it’s signed by Gov. Landry. A constitutional amendment with a similar purpose also passed. If wind energy projects move forward, they could boost funding for coastal restoration as the state faces a steep fiscal cliff for that work when mitigation money from the 2010 BP oil disaster runs out in 2032.

The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority board will have three fewer members if House Bill 806 is signed into law. Members of six state agencies, including the Department of Transportation and Office of Homeland Security, will no longer be represented. The bill swaps the six positions for three at-large members selected by the governor. The bill came as the Landry administration considers reorganizing agencies like CPRA and the recently renamed Department of Energy and Natural Resources.

Air Quality

As millions of federal dollars funnel to groups for community air monitoring, Louisiana became one of the first states to place restrictions on the use of such data under Senate Bill 503. The law requires community air monitoring to be conducted using best practices set by the EPA if it will be used to allege a violation of air quality standards. It also forbids state agencies from taking any environmental enforcement action based upon data that was not collected in accordance with the strict guardrails established by the law.

The most recent attempt to implement state-led, real-time air monitoring at the fencelines of industrial plants moved forward in the form of Senate Concurrent Resolution 30. The resolution directs LDEQ to create a task force to study the costs and benefits of such a system, which would also include public notifications. The first meeting will be on Aug. 1.

Public Records

If signed by Landry, House Bill 461 will allow local governments to shield from the public records associated with an active economic development negotiation, marking them confidential until the conclusion of the negotiation. Parish and local leaders will not be allowed to enter any development agreement without a vote during a meeting of the local governing body, which must be open to the public. Records will also become public if the negotiation remains active for more than 12 months after the date when governmental officials determine it should be confidential. The law would sunset on Jan. 1, 2028.

Carbon Capture

If signed, companies looking to capture and store carbon dioxide underground in Louisiana will be required by House Bill 516 to submit an emergency response plan for each storage facility. The response plan will be shared with the top parish administrator and disseminated to various other agencies. It would also mandate that companies provide regular trainings for emergency response and conduct a simulation with local emergency responders.

The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Conservation Fund, under House Bill 934, would receive more than a two-thirds of the money generated by storing carbon beneath state land and water bottoms owned by the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

House Bill 966 is a bit wonky. But, if signed, it will allow the state to consolidate separate claims to pieces of an underground reservoir to allow a carbon-storage project to move forward. Three-fourths of those with claims to the pore space must give consent for underground storage. Each would also get a cut of the revenue.

Under House Bill 937, now a law, landowners will not be held liable for any damage caused by carbon being stored under their property, even if they entered into a contract to allow for the use of their land.

Under two resolutions, the state will create a Clean Hydrogen Task Force and a Louisiana House committee will study sources of local revenue that can potentially be generated from carbon capture.

Seafood

Seafood was a popular topic in the Legislature this session, with several bills aimed at cracking down on foreign imports. Senate Bill 166 banned misleading packaging on products, requiring companies to make it more clear when seafood is imported.

Other bills awaiting signature by the governor include banning schools from serving imported seafood, implementing a license fee for anyone dealing in imported seafood, imposing a quota or tariff on imported seafood and other bills aimed at ensuring the safety of seafood for consumption.

Utilities

If signed, House Bill 913 will require landlords to provide tenants with original utility bills upon request.

Other legislation aims to fix billing issues specific to the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans. Under House Bill 965, SWBNO now has to provide residents with the option of paying a fixed monthly rate until a SMART meter can be installed at their homes. It also establishes a program by which two appointed arbiters for each council district will review bills disputed by customers. If signed, House Bill 525 will mean SWBNO can only bill customers for actual water and other services provided, not estimated services, unless those customers enroll in a fixed-rate billing plan.

Senate Bill 305 would consolidate New Orleans’ drainage system under the authority of SWBNO. Management of the system is currently spread between the utility and the city’s Department of Public Works.

Senate Bill 64, pending approval by Gov. Landry, will designate money under the Water Sector Program to provide grant funding for water and wastewater system upgrades and repairs. The Community Sewerage System Infrastructure Sustainability Act gives state officials more power over sewerage systems across the state. Sewerage utilities now have to appeal to state officials when they want to change rates, get more state funding or take on more debt.

Disaster preparedness and recovery

House Bill 788, now law, means that money in the Hurricane Ida Recovery Fund can now be used to compensate for damage or loss from Hurricane Ida that is not strictly related to property.

If signed, Senate Bill 484 will make changes to the state’s Fortify Homes Program, which gives grants to homeowners of up to $10,000 to fortify their roofs. The bill allows the insurance commissioner to go after federal funds to bolster the program and for its grants to be awarded to nonprofits, rather than only homeowners.

After hundreds of wildfires burned through thousands of acres and forced evacuations last year, Senate Bill 328 established a training program to teach volunteer firefighters to battle wildfires. Another fire-related bill, Senate Bill 328 now allows people who have not been certified by the state to do prescribed burns as long as they get a permit.

Miscellaneous (EVs, raw milk, etc.)

In addition to the many other bills passed, here are a few highlights of other environmental legislation that was sent to Gov. Landry’s desk:

  • If signed into law, the sale of “raw,” or unpasteurized, milk will soon be legal in Louisiana, like it already is in many other states. 
  • Big changes were made to how Louisiana’smedical cannabis and hemp industriesoperate. 
  • Several new laws prohibit restrictions that would discourage the use of fossil fuels. For example, Act 515 prohibits the governor from preventing or limiting the sale of conventional gasoline-burning cars. Another new law bans local governments from regulating fuel used for farming and fishing machinery to ensure diesel and other petroleum-based fuels are allowed.
  • For fun, April is now Native Plant Month in Louisiana.

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Eva Tesfaye covers the environment for WWNO's Coastal Desk. You can reach her at eva@wrkf.org.
Halle Parker reports on the environment for WWNO's Coastal Desk. You can reach her at hparker@wwno.org.