"You can see a lot of impact," Travis told the reporter, as he described the Purple Air monitors that the Public Lab team has set up outside of homes in St. James parish. These small-scale, inexpensive monitors capture ambient levels of industrial pollutants, where state and federal agencies have failed to monitor.
Travis was featured alongside Sharon Lavigne, an internationally recognized environmental activist, who has spearheaded the environmental movement in Louisiana's River Parishes through her organization RISE St. James. For years, Sharon and her community have fought petrochemical expansion in their community. And, some small battles have been won. The proposed Formosa Plastics facility has been halted until a full Environmental Impact Statement has been conducted, a decision by the Army Corps of Engineers that signaled the Biden Administration's willingness to take action and spurred Public Lab's Game-Over-Formosa project. But with new petrochemical facilities continually slated for development and state leaders who refute industrial culpability in the region's health crisis, the fight is far from over.
To complicate the matter further, Governor Edwards has proposed a solution to curb carbon emissions that environmental activists claim may make matters worse: blue hydrogen. Low carbon, or "blue," hydrogen is produced by using carbon capture technology to sequester greenhouse gasses emitted in the production process and store them deep underground. The result is liquid fuel that leaves behind only water.
An opportunity to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions while increasing industrial investment? For a quickly-eroding coastal state, it sounds too good to be true.
And, in October of last year, Edwards unveiled plans for a $4.5 billion blue hydrogen plan to be constructed in Ascension Parish, near St. James. As the first carbon capture project in the state and one of the largest in the world, the facility will "help the state of Louisiana play a key role in the energy transition," Air Products and Chemicals spokesperson tells NBC news.
Yet, environmental activists argue that blue hydrogen technology is not the solution many have claimed it to be. Rather, carbon capture and sequestration is mere green-washing, many claim, designed to keep the fossil fuel industry entrenched in Louisiana's economy for decades to come, as renewable energy sources gain popularity.
This is because the process to make blue hydrogen is extremely energy-intensive. A recent study found that, throughout its lifecycle, blue hydrogen may emit more greenhouse gases than traditional natural gas. This is because it retains only 70-75% of the potential heat stored in the natural gas from which it was derived. Another study found burning blue hydrogen to be 20% worse for the climate, since it emits methane, a greenhouse gas far more potent that CO2.
What's more, the fossil fuel industry threatens Louisianans' way of life, not only by contributing to climate change, but by the immediate environmental degradation.Webs of pipelines have damaged the coastline are prone to leaks. To make blue hydrogen, both extracted natural gas and methane waste must pass through "reformers, pipelines and ships, providing added opportunities for leaks." Carbon capture, New Orleans one resident tells NBC news, is just an excuse "to ignore the fact that we have to stop using fossil fuels."
In Louisiana, citizen-scientists and professional scientists alike capture excessively high levels of air pollutants every day. Yet, state leaders draw public attention away from the localized environmental issues at hand with flashy new technology that many doubt to be an effective remedy for climate change, nor a safe, long-term solution for our state.
As emissions reductions targets draw ever near, both policy and technological solutions will continue to emerge. Yet, a just transition to clean energy means advancing climate solutions that work for everyone, without introducing or maintaining sources of environmental degradation. For state and local leaders, this means centering the voices of BIPOC and other historically marginalized groups in the decision-making processes. It's time to follow the lead of the locals, asking community members what they would like to see for the future of their home.