Entergy Gas Plant Opponents Question Integrity of New Orleans City Council as It Gives Final Approval

Larry J. Morgan, a New Orleans resident who opposes Entergy's gas plant, holds up an American flag after he speaks to the city council at the Feb. 21 meeting. Julie Dermansky for DeSmog

By Julie Dermansky

On February 21, the New Orleans City Council unanimously voted to uphold approval of Entergy's proposed natural gas power plant, which faces a growing number of lawsuits, and passed a resolution to impose a $5 million fine on the company for its role in a paid-actors scandal.

Before the vote, in nearly three hours of often emotional testimony mostly against the plant, many contended that the $5 million fine was not a sufficient punishment. This was in light of the council's commissioned investigation, which concluded the company "knew or should have known" that a subcontractor was paying actors to support its proposed power plant at council meetings.

Opponents called for the contentious project's permitting process to start again, in the interest of fairness, and questioned the council's integrity, given several members' past ties to Entergy.

Members of a coalition against the plant, including residents from New Orleans East, where the plant is slated for construction, community activists, and environmental justice groups, argued that the council had yet to make its case the gas-powered plant was needed in the first place.

New Orleans regulates its own utilities, giving the City Council direct oversight of Entergy, the company that provides power to the city. The council's advisors, consultants from the DC-based utility law firm Dentons US LLP, concluded the project, which would provide electricity during peak use, was in the city's best interest.

Monique Harden with The Deep South Center for Environmental Justice youtu.be

"The council decision is corrupted by the influence that Entergy and the advisors have on members," Monique Harden, assistant director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, said via email after the meeting. "It is shocking that Entergy and the advisors can make a side deal for a peaking gas plant and ram it through to approval by the council without any concern for the serious health, safety, and flood risks the gas plant would have on New Orleans East residents, and no demonstration of need, evaluation of alternative options, or meaningful ratepayer protections."

Legal Challenges to Entergy Gas Plant

During the council meeting, Harden said that her organization and the Alliance for Affordable Energy had filed a lawsuit the day before against the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), challenging an air quality permit the agency renewed for Entergy on Feb. 1. The lawsuit seeks to revoke the "unlawful permit and seeks injunctive relief."

The lawsuit asserts that the challenged permit would allow Entergy's gas plant to release more than 1 million pounds of toxic air pollution and more than 1.5 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions.

Furthermore, the suit claims DEQ should not have renewed Entergy's permit because the company submitted its application to renew 18 months before it expired, but later substantially changed the application. The lawsuit argues that the changes are significant enough that Entergy should have submitted an entirely new application. In addition, because the changes were made a month after the deadline for new applications, the permit should have been denied.

Councilmembers Kristin Palmer, Jay Banks and Joseph Giarrusso speak among themselves while a member of the public speaks to the council.Julie Dermansky for DeSmog

Beverly Wright, executive director of Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, speaking at the city council meeting.Julie Dermansky for DeSmog

At a Feb. 14 meeting, Councilmember Jay Banks, who backs the project, cited DEQ's assertion that the plant would not have adverse health impacts on the New Orleans East community when he voiced support for the council's decision to grant Entergy's air quality permit renewal application.

Beverly Wright, executive director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, challenged DEQ's assertions, saying, "We don't have enough information to move forward on this." She reminded the council that the "DEQ is the entity that brought us 'Cancer Alley,'" the 85-mile industrial corridor stretching from Baton Rouge to New Orleans that is home to a large portion of the nation's petrochemical production.

Wright and Harden were among a chorus of voices that challenged the city council's reliance on advisors who favored Entergy's project instead of investigating alternative solutions. Wright challenged the council to impose length-of-contract limits on its advisors. For example, Clint Vince, lead attorney for Dentons US LLP, has advised the council for 30 years. "Thirty years is a long time," Wright said. "The advisors at this point have failed us and, speaking as a college professor, they would get an 'F' at this point."

New Orleans City Council Ties to Entergy

"We cannot ignore the atmosphere of illegitimacy in this process that goes beyond Entergy's use of paid actors," Harden said at the meeting. She pointed out various potential conflicts of interest between councilmembers and Entergy.

Councilmembers Banks and Cyndi Nguyen acknowledged their prior connections with Entergy after potential conflicts of interest had come to light. Banks admitted that he worked for Entergy as a governmental relations consultant a decade ago and Nguyen acknowledged accepting money from Entergy while running a nonprofit. But neither heeded the call made by opponents for them to recuse themselves from the vote.

Others testifying also complained about regulatory capture, which refers to a regulatory agency meant to act in the public interest instead advancing the commercial or political concerns of special interest groups that dominate the industry it is charged with regulating.

Rev. Manning at New Orleans City Council Meeting youtu.be

"When we talk about immorality, we must talk about how sitting councilmembers have been in the pockets of Entergy at one time or another," Rev. Gregory Manning said, admonishing the council before using his public comment time to lead a prayer.

The Lens, an investigative news site, reported that the majority of the council has either worked for Entergy or received campaign donations from their political action committee, ENPAC Louisiana:

"Councilwoman Cyndi Nguyen's non-profit, the Vietnamese Initiatives in Economic Training, received at least $27,625 in grants and payments from Entergy between 2016 and 2018. Some of those payments were for work done on Entergy's campaign to gain approval for the power plant. Helena Moreno received $4,250 from ENPAC from 2010 to 2014, while she was in the Louisiana House of Representatives. Jared Brossett received $3,250 between 2009 and 2013, while he was in the state House of Representatives."

Opponents Question Gas Plant's Need and Impacts

Some at the city council meeting reiterated that the proposed plant won't fix New Orleans' energy reliability issues. Instead, they said, Entergy needs to fix the deteriorating transmission and distribution system that has caused thousands of power outages.

Renate Heurich stands in prayer with members of the Vietnamese community from New Orleans East at the New Orleans City Council meeting Feb. 21.Julie Dermansky for DeSmog

Renate Heurich, a member of the climate activist group 350 New Orleans, told the council that its notion that natural gas is a "clean energy" source was wrong.

Recent reports, including a 2018 study in the peer-reviewed journal Science, show that leaks of the powerful greenhouse gas methane throughout the natural gas supply chain are much higher than previously estimated, effectively wiping out almost any climate advantage over coal.

Ella Stolier Speaking at New Orleans City Council Meeting on Feb. 21, 2019 youtu.be

Echoing a growing number of youth concerned about climate change worldwide, high school student Ella Stolier asked the council if they were really listening. She wondered how the council could vote for a project despite being presented with facts about how their decision would be detrimental to not only the city, but the planet as well. "I fear for my generation and all of those to come, that they will grow up facing the consequences of this travesty," she told them.

Though the council's ultimate decision gave Entergy a green light, the battle against the plant is not over. Next, the battleground moves from city hall to the courthouse, where multiple legal challenges already are pending.

Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

georgeclerk / E+ / Getty Images

By Jennifer Molidor

One million species are at risk of extinction from human activity, warns a recent study by scientists with the United Nations. We need to cut greenhouse gas pollution across all sectors to avoid catastrophic climate change — and we need to do it fast, said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

This research should serve as a rallying cry for polluting industries to make major changes now. Yet the agriculture industry continues to lag behind.

Read More Show Less
Edwin Remsburg / VW Pics / Getty Images

Botswana, home to one third of Africa's elephants, announced Wednesday that it was lifting its ban on the hunting of the large mammals.

"The Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism wishes to inform the public that following extensive consultations with all stakeholders, the Government of Botswana has taken a decision to lift the hunting suspension," the government announced in a press release shared on social media.

Read More Show Less

By Richard Denison

Readers of this blog know how concerned EDF is over the Trump EPA's approval of many dozens of new chemicals based on its mere "expectation" that workers across supply chains will always employ personal protective equipment (PPE) just because it is recommended in the manufacturer's non-binding safety data sheet (SDS).

Read More Show Less
De Molen windmill and nuclear power plant cooling tower in Doel, Belgium. Trougnouf / CC BY-SA 4.0

By Grant Smith

From 2009 to 2012, Gregory Jaczko was chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which approves nuclear power plant designs and sets safety standards for plants. But he now says that nuclear power is too dangerous and expensive — and not part of the answer to the climate crisis.

Read More Show Less
A lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. Brett Walton / Circle of Blue

By Brett Walton

When Greg Wetherbee sat in front of the microscope recently, he was looking for fragments of metals or coal, particles that might indicate the source of airborne nitrogen pollution in Rocky Mountain National Park. What caught his eye, though, were the plastics.

Read More Show Less
Gabriele Holtermann Gorden / Pacific Press / LightRocket / Getty Images

In a big victory for animals, Prada has announced that it's ending its use of fur! It joins Coach, Jean Paul Gaultier, Giorgio Armani, Versace, Ralph Lauren, Vivienne Westwood, Michael Kors, Donna Karan and many others PETA has pushed toward a ban.

This is a victory more than a decade in the making. PETA and our international affiliates have crashed Prada's catwalks with anti-fur signs, held eye-catching demonstrations all around the world, and sent the company loads of information about the fur industry. In 2018, actor and animal rights advocate Pamela Anderson sent a letter on PETA's behalf urging Miuccia Prada to commit to leaving fur out of all future collections, and the iconic designer has finally listened.

Read More Show Less
Amer Ghazzal / Barcroft Media / Getty Images

If people in three European countries want to fight the climate crisis, they need to chill out more.

That's the conclusion of a new study from think tank Autonomy, which found that Germany, the UK and Sweden all needed to drastically reduce their workweeks to fight climate change.

"The rapid pace of labour-saving technology brings into focus the possibility of a shorter working week for all, if deployed properly," Autonomy Director Will Stronge said, The Guardian reported. "However, while automation shows that less work is technically possible, the urgent pressures on the environment and on our available carbon budget show that reducing the working week is in fact necessary."

The report found that if the economies of Germany, Sweden and the UK maintain their current levels of carbon intensity and productivity, they would need to switch to a six, 12 and nine hour work week respectively if they wanted keep the rise in global temperatures to the below two degrees Celsius promised by the Paris agreement, The Independent reported.

The study based its conclusions on data from the UN and the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) on greenhouse gas emissions per industry in all three countries.

The report comes as the group Momentum called on the UK's Labour Party to endorse a four-day work week.

"We welcome this attempt by Autonomy to grapple with the very real changes society will need to make in order to live within the limits of the planet," Emma Williams of the Four Day Week campaign said in a statement reported by The Independent. "In addition to improved well-being, enhanced gender equality and increased productivity, addressing climate change is another compelling reason we should all be working less."

Supporters of the idea linked it to calls in the U.S. and Europe for a Green New Deal that would decarbonize the economy while promoting equality and well-being.

"This new paper from Autonomy is a thought experiment that should give policymakers, activists and campaigners more ballast to make the case that a Green New Deal is absolutely necessary," Common Wealth think tank Director Mat Lawrence told The Independent. "The link between working time and GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions has been proved by a number of studies. Using OECD data and relating it to our carbon budget, Autonomy have taken the step to show what that link means in terms of our working weeks."

Stronge also linked his report to calls for a Green New Deal.

"Becoming a green, sustainable society will require a number of strategies – a shorter working week being just one of them," he said, according to The Guardian. "This paper and the other nascent research in the field should give us plenty of food for thought when we consider how urgent a Green New Deal is and what it should look like."

Amazon Employees for Climate Justice held a press conference after the annual shareholder meeting on May 22. Amazon Employees for Climate Justice

Amazon shareholders voted down an employee-backed resolution calling for more aggressive action on climate change at their annual meeting Wednesday, The Los Angeles Times reported.

Read More Show Less