Louisiana Special Election Puts Cancer Alley Front and Center

by Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer

After former Louisiana Congressman Cedric Richmond was appointed as an adviser to President Biden and the director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, the special election to fill the seat he held for nearly a decade has put heavy emphasis on the issue of environmental justice. 

Richmond had been criticized throughout his time in Congress for taking donations from fossil fuel industries to the tune of $400,000, while remaining mum on the petrochemical pollution that has plagued the district he represents. 

President Biden cited “Cancer Alley,” a region of south Louisiana plagued by industrial pollution and disease, when he signed environmental justice orders at the beginning of his term, while a UN human rights expert panel suggested that the United States’ federal government finally take the environmental racism in Louisiana seriously

Why This Matters: For years, activists have been raising awareness about the devastating effect of pollution as well as the lax regulatory regime that exists for petrochemical plants in Louisiana. 

Anne Rolfes, director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, told the Guardian: “This district always could and should have had a climate and environmental justice champion. So of course it’s really welcome that people are finally being listened to, at least in election season.”

The Politics: As the New York Times explained, “After sending a succession of powerhouse Democrats to Washington, from Longs to Landrieus, Louisiana has become so red that its only Democratic representation in the nation’s capital hails from its lone predominantly Black seat, the Second Congressional District, which stretches from New Orleans along the so-called river parishes to Baton Rouge.”

The 2nd Congressional district presents an important opportunity to bring more national attention to Cancer Alley as well as to environmental justice more broadly in Congress. 

As of now, Democratic State Senators Troy Carter and Karen Carter Peterson have advanced to an April 24th runoff in the special election for the seat. Both candidates have embraced President Biden’s priorities on addressing climate change and pledged not to accept money from oil and gas interests.

But, as the Times-Picayune explained, Peterson has voiced more progressive stances than Carter, in line with her history as one of the most outspoken, liberal lawmakers in the Louisiana Legislature for more than two decades. 

  • Her policy positions made her the first Louisiana candidate to be endorsed by the national League of Conservation Voters since Rep. Cleo Fields of Baton Rouge in 1994.

Troy Carter, on the other hand, has been less clear on his stance on progressive environmental priorities like the Green New Deal. When asked by a member of the Sunrise Movement whether he supports the GND, he replied that it is a “great framework.” 

Still, for progressives, the fact that neither Peterson nor Carter are in favor of banning the expansion of new petrochemical activities has been a point of contention. As Virginia Views wrote, Peterson’s campaign has withheld calls for a comprehensive moratorium on further industrial development in the region and has disappointed some environmental activists. She believes that any future expansion in this area must be considered “on a case-by-case basis” with greater scrutiny and include “greater decision-making power” for local communities.

Carter has not opposed any industrial projects during the campaign. He said he wanted the Environmental Protection Agency or some other party to install pollution monitors in industrial facilities. He described the current self-monitoring by the industry as “simply inadequate”.

 

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