Documenter Name: Carl M. Ambrose Jr.
Event: Americas LNG & Gas Summit & Exhibition protest, Prien Lake Park
Date: Nov. 2, 2022
The first week of November, the Americas LNG & Gas Summit & Exhibition was held for the second consecutive year in Lake Charles. The city was labeled the LNG export capital of the world as of May 2022.
While this was happening at the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino, environmental groups, shrimpers, community activists, and citizens gathered at Prien Park across the lake to protest the destruction of the environment and the loss of fishing, shrimping, and oyster livelihoods. The event lasted for several hours with speakers, music, food, and lots of T-shirts, stickers, and bandanas.
The southwest Louisiana parishes of Calcasieu and Cameron lose $8 billion in taxes through ITEP, the Industrial Tax Exemption Program. As a result, the LNG producers are changing the way of life along the coast of Louisiana and the rest of the Gulf Coast. Unfortunately, much like “Cancer Alley”—a major stretch of industrial plants between Baton Rouge and New Orleans—, where the cancer rate is way above the national average, the areas around Calcasieu and Cameron have high cancer rates and heart and respiratory illnesses.
Amplifying local voices
A boat flotilla was organized for the first day, Nov. 2, to leave Prien Lake Park and position themselves in full view of the conference. It consisted of shrimpers, fishermen, activists, and citizens. While this was happening, a small group of protesters marched around the park with signs protesting against planned future plants for the area.
“A Category 5 hurricane causes less damage than this; there is no coming back from this,” said Indigenous shrimper and fisherman Travis Dardar from Cameron, La. “This is game over.” He spoke to the crowd about the plant build outs and the decimation of the indigenous fishing, shrimping, and oyster areas along the coast.
One of the shrimpers, Lorean Rodrigue of Cameron, La. said, that “the way the LNG plants have affected the seafood industry….we are no longer allowed to fish near the facilities, we can no longer fish in areas that used to be wild open, that we use to butterfly. Now we have to stay north.”
About 75-100 people gathered for the protest from New Orleans to Houston, representing organizations such as Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Healthy Gulf, and the Vessel Project. Artist Dayna Reggero of the Climate Listening Project and the artistic director of the Gulf Coast Mural Project were in attendance as well.
Several local public officials also showed up, including Calcasieu Parish Police Juror Mike Smith, who welcomed the group to Lake Charles, and Reginald Weeks of the Planning and Zoning Commission.Tia LeBrun, who lost against Congressman Clay Higgins in November, was also in attendance.
“The plans for these plants are kept away from the eyes of ordinary people,” said founding Director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Anne Rolfes. “For example, the plan by our state government and the oil and gas industry is to put 12 football stadium-sized—actually bigger than football stadium-sized— along our coast.”
Other residents also spoke: Debra Ramirez, an environmental warrior from back in the Mossville situation, spoke eloquently about the community’s struggle against big oil and gas companies.
Friendly to industry
Meanwhile, at the summit, high-profile speakers included Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La, Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser, and Mayor of Lake Charles NIc Hunter, who praised the development of gas facilities. Octávio Simões, president and CEO of Tellurian Inc., a natural gas company based in Houston, Texas, and Najla Jamoussi, a director at Cheniere Energy Inc., an LNG company based in Houston, Texas, also spoke. (The summit itself was not open to the public without expensive tickets, and press passes were somewhat difficult to access).
“Spoke to the LNG Americas Summit about the importance of this industry, not just for jobs in Louisiana and across the nation, but for the entire world. The industry impacts our economic security, the security of different nations, and lowers carbon emissions,” Cassidy said in a press release.
According to the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, the Board of Commerce and Industry, which has the authority to approve the exemptions, received about 12,000 applications for exemptions from 1998-2016. It approved 99.95% of them. Between 2000 and 2019, 97% of the projects were completed when their requests were filed—and there has been no requirement that the companies receiving exemptions create jobs.
ITEP has remained virtually unchanged since 1974. In 2016, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards signed an executive order giving local governing bodies affected by the exemptions a say over them for the first time. Research shows that these reforms were successful in netting funds for parish and local services, according to Louisiana Budget Project.
The importance of grassroots organizing
Until people vote and let their voices be heard, and stop the tax giveaway, not much will change, protest or not. Environmental Activism in Louisiana didn’t just start after the storms; it goes back decades and has continued since that point, and non-native residents of Louisiana don’t know the history. Many people behind the scenes do a lot of the work away from the cameras. To those people, we say thanks.
Follow up questions
With all the planned LNG facilities in the area, what effective plans are in place to stop them?
With all of the industries not paying their fair share through ITEP, how can we improve services and the quality of life?
Is effective leadership in the area genuinely concerned with the health, financial burdens, and quality of life issues we face as a community?
How much money is coming into groups here to fight LNG buildouts?
SWLA has had issues with the environment since the first oil- well in Mamou in the 1800’s. The environmental changes were documented in a film entitled Louisiana Story in 1948 made after the arrival of Phillips 66 in 1941. Our first plant. With so much history here, why aren’t the locals that have experienced the devastation caused by the refineries being utilized to tell the stories they actually lived through? They are the true warriors and front line leaders.