Callin’ Baton Rouge: a Recap of the EPA’s Primacy Hearings at the Capital

Last week the EPA held three days of public hearings on Louisiana’s application for primacy over Class VI well permitting. Originally scheduled to occur over a single day on June 15, 2023, the hearings were expanded due to high speaker sign up. Each speaker was allotted three minutes before the microphone to accommodate everyone who signed up and keep the hearings on track.

Over 100 people gave live testimony over the course of three days. The speakers were varied including energy industry leaders, professionals, workers and retirees, environmental organization representatives, tribal leaders, and interested Louisiana citizens from all walks of life. Some of the businesses and organizations represented included LOGA, LMOGA, Deep South Environmental Justice, Environmental Defense Fund, Center for International Environmental Law, Healthy Gulf, Climate Reality Project, Commission Shift, Alliance for Affordable Energy, United Houma Nation, Sierra Club, ExxonMobil, United Lands, Grow Louisiana Coalition, and SWCA Environmental Consultants.

Those in favor of primacy, such as LOGA and LMOGA, framed it as a way to guarantee Louisiana’s continued place as an energy leader. After all, the statements went, Louisiana’s DNR knows the geology and current well landscape better than a far-off agency and, as a member of the community, has a vested interest in seeing that permitting is proper. Citizens in favor of primacy spoke of ensuring Louisiana’s energy economy can thrive while still meeting Louisiana’s 2050 net zero carbon goal and having cleaner air quality for the next generation. Speakers in favor also pointed out the bipartisan nature of CCS, being endorsed by both President Biden and Governor Edwards, as well as a large majority of Louisiana’s legislature, which recently killed several bills aimed at stymying CCS projects in the state.

Those opposed to primacy pointed to past DNR failures related to Class II wells, a lack of local resources and staff, and, what one speaker called, “a history of underinvestment in oversight.” Many do not trust DNR to properly vet permit requests and believe that Louisiana will expedite over twenty pending projects without enough staff to ensure environmental safety. Some speakers were opposed to CCS altogether, not just Louisiana having primacy in the area of permitting. These speakers highlighted environmental disasters such as Bayou Corne and the CO2 pipeline leak at Satartia, Mississippi as examples of why CCS should not be permitted and instead the economy should be moving away from, rather than toward, petrochemical projects.

At times, speakers on both sides of the argument made the same points but disagreed on whether they were for the better or worse. For example, one speaker from the Alliance for Affordable Energy noted that North Dakota has permitted five Class VI wells in the time it has taken the EPA to permit two. While that speaker saw this as reason to halt Louisiana’s primacy application, energy industry leaders saw this as the perfect reason to move forward. Both sides view primacy as a tool to propel industry forward, but disagree on whether that is a good or bad thing.

Although there was a great divide in opinion, every speaker spoke with genuine feeling about the desire to see Louisiana succeed. What that success looks like and what the future holds for Louisiana under a granting or denial of primacy varies widely depending on who sat before the microphone. The hearings showed that people from all walks of life are actively engaged in the process and public dialogue will be increasingly important no matter the outcome of the primacy application.

The EPA is accepting written comments through July 3, 2023. After that, it will begin the process of reviewing and responding to the comments received throughout this phase of the process. Gordon Arata will continue to monitor the primacy application process and stands ready to advise on its impact on CCS projects in Louisiana.

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