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Jeff Landry’s proposal to merge Louisiana’s coastal agency with energy offices is on hold

Louisiana Gov. Jeff Landry speaks during the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association's annual meeting at the Four Seasons Hotel in New Orleans, Monday, Feb. 5, 2024.

Posted on April 3, 2024

Gov. Jeff Landry’s proposal to move the state agency overseeing coastal restoration and hurricane protection under the Department of Energy and Natural Resources seems to be on hold for the moment.

With the deadline to propose bills for this legislative session approaching on Tuesday, the merger has not been put on the table. Other, less consequential changes to the Coastal Restoration and Protection Authority are however being sought.

The proposed merger had concerned coastal advocates who feared the state’s land loss crisis could be deprioritized under such an arrangement.

One new bill proposed Thursday would remove representatives of six state agencies from the CPRA board, and a second would require a major restructuring of DENR, including ending the independence of its Office of Conservation, which oversees oil and gas activities in the state.

The CPRA board change bill is authored by state Rep. Brett Geymann, of Lake Charles. The DENR restructuring bill is authored by Geymann and state Rep. Jacob Landry, of Erath. Both are Republicans.

“The concept is not to ‘move CPRA under DENR,’ but to integrate the agencies that allows the best practices of both to be shared as part of a more holistic approach to managing the intersection of our natural resources, energy and the environment — including, but not limited to, our coast,” said a statement on the legislation issued by DENR.

“The work is still ongoing to determine the best path forward on that integration and what is needed at the legislative or executive branch level to ensure it is accomplished as smoothly as possible without sacrificing the current functions of the agencies involved.”

In a Feb. 1 executive order, Landry directed DENR Secretary Tyler Gray to review ways to “coordinate, consolidate or reorganize” CPRA and numerous other boards and commissions dealing with natural resources and energy issues.

Gray launched a review that included a request for public comments. A 172-page list of 216 initial comments on the proposals included only a few in favor of restructuring DENR, including the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association. Even fewer specifically recommended putting CPRA under the energy agency.

Gov. Landry wants to speed up Louisiana coastal projects, signals further support of oil and gas

“We recognize the importance of a streamlined regulatory framework that not only ensures environmental stewardship and public safety but also fosters industry growth and competitiveness,” said Tommy Faucheux, president of LMOGA, in a letter not mentioning CPRA.

Comments on restructuring DENR

Opposed to the idea were the president and chief executive of the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the New Orleans-based Bureau of Governmental Research, the Restore the Mississippi River Delta coalition and its member environmental organizations (Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation and Pontchartrain Conservancy) and the leaders of and Women of the Storm, organizations that lobbied for major improvements in hurricane levee construction — including formation of the CPRA — in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

“Moving the restoration and protection functions currently housed at CPRA under the Department of Energy and Natural Resources would dilute and diminish the importance of the coastal crisis by diminishing the agency’s status as a stand-alone, independent entity prominently seated at the forefront of state government,” said the Delta coalition. “This proposed change in structure would be a misguided and ill-timed de-prioritization of an issue that still demands the state’s attention at the highest levels.”

The merger also was opposed by R. King Milling, retired founding chairman of the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Coastal Protection, Restoration and Conservation.

“Now is the time for Gov. Landry to embrace and take pride in CPRA’s many accomplishments. Now is the time for Gov. Landry to give his imprimatur to CPRA and its importance as an independent agency under his domain,” Milling said.

The bill proposing to reduce the size of the CPRA board would remove the secretaries of the Department of Transportation and Development and Department of Economic Development, the commissioners of the Administration, Insurance and Agriculture and Forestry departments, and the director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

The board would continue to have representatives of DENR and the departments of Wildlife and Fisheries and Environmental Quality, the lieutenant governor, a member each from the state House and Senate, eight members appointed by the governor to represent leveed areas along the coast, the executive assistant to the governor for coastal activities, and the chair of the advisory commission.

The bill reshaping DENR would end the present independence of the Office of Conservation, which oversees oil and gas exploration and production in the state and has been put in charge of regulating proposed carbon capture and storage deep underground injection facilities.

The DENR secretary and senior department officials would oversee and direct Conservation activities.

“One of the most common issues DENR and the Office of Conservation have in interacting with the public, legislators and regulators from the federal government and other states is confusion over the ‘special relationship’ Conservation has with DENR — in which they are the same agency sharing budget and personnel, but the Commissioner of Conservation has regulatory authority completely independent of the Secretary of DENR,” the DENR statement said. “It was a quick fix for an administrative issue in the 1970s and has outlived whatever usefulness it had.”

The bill also creates three new offices in the department:

— Enforcement, which will oversee inspections and the enforcement of all regulations assigned to DENR.

— Energy, which the bill says is aimed at overseeing the deployment and operation of alternative energy infrastructure in the state and also will oversee the creation of a new unified energy data and information program.

— Land and Water, which will oversee management and permitting of state lands and water bottoms, energy-related rights of way (such as for pipelines) on state lands and water bottoms, energy-related leasing, and administration of quality issues for groundwater, surface water and other water resources under state control.

The legislation also moves the Louisiana Oil Spill Coordinator’s Office from the Department of Public Safety to DENR. That office oversees oil spill cleanups and helps develop plans to restore natural resources they damage.

The bill creates a new Louisiana Natural Resources Trust Authority to oversee the funding and management of natural resource-related projects, with the goal of working with the State Bond Commission and other state financial entities.

“A key element of the vision there is better oversight and financial management of financial security instruments for oil and gas operators to ensure they are designed in a way that provides sufficient funding to plug wells and clear sites when well operators are orphaned,” said the DENR statement on the bill.

There are thousands of “abandoned” oil wells that the state is attempting to properly close and cap so they don’t leak methane, which is a major contributor to global warming, and do not pollute freshwater aquifers. The state has already received millions of dollars in federal funds to address some of those wells.

“Louisiana has long looked for a workable solution to the orphaned well issue, and this could be part of that. The NRTA would also help in the oversight and management of funding for public/private projects in the future to ensure that dollars are spent efficiently,” the statement said.


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