Edwards hopes to get oil leases, permitting ‘back on track’

Gov. John Bel Edwards. (AP Photo/Lee Celano, File)

The best medicine for the Louisiana economy will be overcoming COVID-19 and its impact on consumer confidence and business activities.

That’s according to Gov. John Bel Edwards, who addressed a Jan. 29 Leadership Power Webcast hosted by Business Report. Tourism, a staple for the New Orleans economy, has especially been hit hard by the pandemic and is struggling to rebound while cases continue to bounce.

While the state will have excess revenue in the current year thanks to federal assistance and an additional $292 million recognized by the state’s revenue estimating conference, Edwards says state economists downgraded next year’s revenue estimate by some $228 million. He noted that he had a meeting scheduled with economists to address that decline, and said it could take a full two years for the state revenue to recover to pre-pandemic levels.

During the webcast, Edwards also said he was committed to having a strong working relationship with President Joe Biden, who, in an executive order this week, placed a moratorium on new oil and gas lease sales on federal lands and in federal waters, including the Gulf of Mexico, which Edwards says will have an adverse effect on the Louisiana economy.

“I’m working as hard as I can to influence the policies that come next to make sure leases and permitting get back on track as best we can,” Edwards said, noting he’s also had meetings with oil company executives who are stakeholders in the Gulf. “I think there’s a strong case to be made that there are advantages for the environment to produce oil in the Gulf as opposed to other areas, and we’re going to make that case as best we can.”

Edwards says the state is already making progress toward adopting solar panels and other alternative energy options, including the possibility of wind energy from the Gulf. He points to carbon capture and sequestration, a method of lowering emissions by capturing the carbon produced through manufacturing, as an opportunity for Louisiana to continue to curb greenhouse emissions.

“Louisiana has natural advantages unlike other states because we have pipelines to transport carbon, we have subsurface holding areas to sequester carbon and we also have refineries emitting the carbon,” Edwards said. “We’re uniquely positioned, I believe, to receive investment dollars and we’re starting to see that. This is one area that I believe Louisiana can be a leader in the country in a way to provide job opportunities.”

Sen. John Kennedy, who also spoke during the webcast, called the moratorium on leases the “worst news I’ve had in a long time.”

“President Biden’s team has declared war on oil and gas,” Kennedy said. “It’s bad. There’s no way to bubble wrap this. …There seems to be a sentiment by some people surrounding President Biden that if you support energy, especially oil and gas, you don’t care about the planet.”

Ultimately, Kennedy is worried people will leave Louisiana to find jobs if the oil and gas industry here shrinks.

“To any of my Democratic friends and colleagues out there: Call the president’s people—tell him to put down the bong,” Kennedy said. “We have to have oil and gas in this country, otherwise we’ll have to buy from Russia and China and the Middle East, and we’ll be right where we started.”

The final panelist, economist Loren Scott, backed up Kennedy’s concerns, saying that he was also scared.

“I am more than a little concerned,” Scott said. “I’m with Sen. Kennedy on this—we have some serious problems. If you look at the signals coming out of the Biden administration, look at what he’s done in the last three weeks.”

Along with the moratorium, Scott pointed to Biden’s choice of Deb Haaland to lead the Department of Interior. He described her as “(Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) on steroids.”

Watch the full Leadership Power Webcast.