Vision 2020: Lafayette has the chance to lead a state lagging on climate change action

Photo by Christiaan Mader
UL's experimental solar farm located off Eraste Landry Road.
This letter is part of an ongoing series intended to provoke and inspire ideas about Lafayette's future. It’s our belief that The Current should make space for discussion — not just about what is but what could be. Vision 2020 is that space. If you have a vision of what Lafayette could be, share it with us. Email your idea or your feedback to inbox@thecurrentla.com.

  •   A drawing board of big ideas about Lafayette's future beyond 2020.

Lafayette and the state of Louisiana are lagging in areas on environmental protection, sustainability and renewable energy. Citizens even slightly involved in the conversation are very aware of this conviction. All too often, these subjects are lumped into the category of “green issues” and set aside as environmentalist ideals. These issues should not be regarded as mere concerns from a small group but as a global effort — one that Lafayette and Louisiana at large are simply choosing not to participate in.

The global movement

The Paris Agreement is the most prevalent evidence of a global movement to cleaner and sustainable industrial practices. President Trump famously withdrew the U.S. from the pact, a choice not technically in effect until 2020. However, one could argue under the current administration that the U.S. is practically out of the movement.

Putting aside the federal initiatives, American cities have swiftly responded to climate change since the withdrawal in 2017. In fact, more than 100 cities have since committed to 100% renewable energy targets between 2022 and 2050, and six cities have already achieved this feat. Georgetown, Texas, for example, is a town that lost millions from a dip in oil business and is now a leader in renewable energy. The Republican mayor of the city (population – 70,685 and home to Southwestern University) cites isolation from regulation and price fluctuations to be a driving factor for moving to wind and solar contracts. There are also several examples of cities adapting other forms of sustainable practices such as banning plastic bags. As of now, Abita Springs is the only Louisiana city committed to a renewable energy objective and plans to achieve it by 2030.

On the state level, Louisiana is one of the 13 states that have not implemented any kind of standard or target for renewable energy. Data tracker site WalletHub ranked Louisiana last in environmental quality, last in eco-friendly behaviors, last in water quality, last for energy consumption, and 49th in combating climate change and in LEED-certified buildings.

Meanwhile, in the current legislative session, our government leaders are still debating deregulation on environmental quality audits in favor of “self-reporting” (the bill failed), imposing the highest electric vehicle tax in the country, and continuing to grant large property tax exemptions (like, 99% large!) to petroleum and chemical companies in the state. Unfortunately, it seems Louisiana is choosing to oppose the global trends of setting renewable energy targets, combating climate change, protecting the environment, promoting electric vehicles, etc.

What exactly is the plan?

Considering the norms presented, why is it that Louisiana is so hesitant to join the movement? Why are these problems not treated with the same urgency as they are in other states? Do the people of Louisiana oppose cleaner air and water? Does the majority reject climate change? Or reject the validity of sustainable economic growth under renewable energy?

Consider that Louisiana also ranks near the bottom in education, economy and in public integrity.

Of course, these lists are a dime-a-dozen, and the metrics could be debated. I challenge you to find one article in recent years where Louisiana is not among the worst for education or economic standing.

The point is when observing the trends in more educated and wealthier states, we consistently see actions against climate change and environmental stewardship. So, ask yourself: Do Louisianans know something those states don’t? Will Louisiana benefit from remaining stagnant (or regressive) on these issues? Do you think perhaps it is time for Louisiana to follow suit?

I, for one, do not think our government officials have a better plan underway than embracing renewable energy and environmental stewardship. I also reject that doing nothing or cutting back on regulation are legitimate options. I think it is time for Louisiana to jump on the bandwagon.

Here’s an idea.

If you agree that Louisiana should act, the bright side is that even small contributions will have a meaningful impact. For instance, installing public electric vehicle charging stations would help showcase the growing market of electric vehicles and make it easier for citizens to own one.

Furthermore, there are several examples across the nation in cities just like Lafayette for us to mimic, learn from and improve upon. Lafayette could even become the second Louisiana city to set a renewable energy objective. If Abita Springs can do it, why can't we?

About the Author

Jeff LeBlanc holds a doctorate in chemical engineering from City College of New York and leads Bayou Electric Vehicles

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