BATON ROUGE — The governor’s Climate Initiatives Task Force met Wednesday for the first time since unanimously passing a climate action plan in January, the first of its kind in the Gulf South.
Fifty public meetings into its 16-month existence, the task force is shifting gears from planning to executing its 84-step action plan. A bipartisan infrastructure act signed into law by President Joe Biden provides a unique opportunity to fund these efforts.
Louisiana is set to qualify for billions of dollars for road repairs, extreme weather preparedness, public transportation, broadband expansion and more. Another $179 billion in competitive federal funds is up for grabs to fund infrastructure projects, with special consideration for climate-focused efforts.
While task force members were optimistic about the prospect of federal funding, they also reckoned with the political uncertainty.
“I really want to encourage folks to pay attention to what’s already being rolled out” in the Louisiana Legislature, Flozell Daniels, president of the Foundation for Louisiana, said, referring to proposals to shield the state’s oil and gas industry from the changes. “Much of it is designed to undermine the considerable work that’s been put into this plan, and we should acknowledge that.”
Federal dollars present a chance to set the task force’s goals in motion.
“This really is a generational opportunity, and that may be putting it mildly because I don’t know the next time it’s going to come,” Gov. John Bel Edwards told task force members. “But this is a rare opportunity to invest in our state, but also to make good on the commitments in the climate action plan.”
Edwards described a “symbiotic relationship” between the state’s action plan and the federal infrastructure law: The climate action plan helps secure federal funding, which in turn helps the state execute the climate action plan.
Not only is Louisiana “more impacted by climate change than any other state in the country,” but it is also “doing more than any other state” to adapt, the governor said.
The task force brought its action plan to Edwards’ desk just under three months after Biden signed the federal infrastructure bill.
Task force member Camille Manning-Broome agreed that the combined federal and state efforts create a “once in a generation opportunity” to accomplish climate goals.
Leaders from around the state and the country convened in New Orleans for a workshop Monday and Tuesday to talk about how Louisiana can build a competitive advantage in grant applications.
Edwards said he made clear to everyone there that the climate action plan is going to drive the way the state approaches the federal law.
The oilfield site restoration program, which spends roughly $8 million annually, is one program that could benefit from formula funding under the law, said Blake Canfield, a member of the legal advisory group for the task force and an attorney for the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources.
The restoration program, established in 1993, focuses on plugging abandoned oil wells, which can deteriorate over time and release oil and gas into the environment.
Canfield said there are about 4,600 orphan wells in the state, a number projected to increase. Louisiana could qualify for $150 million to $160 million in federal funding to expand operations, which would “completely transform this program,” Canfield told the task force.
Task force Chairman Harry Vorhoff called the program a “work in progress, but a fantastic opportunity to really chip away” at greenhouse gas emissions.
The governor and task force members expressed high hopes that the federal infrastructure law will help make Louisiana’s climate action plan a reality.
“Know that I will do whatever I can every single day that I’m governor to advance this cause,” Edwards said.