There's a Looming 'Existential Threat' to New Orleans That Should Frighten Every Sane American

With the New Orleans city council set to vote Thursday on the future of Entergy's new fracked gas power plant—a $210 million gas-fired peaking power plant in New Orleans East—filmmaker/activist Josh Fox is calling on concerned citizens to stand up and join what he called in a recent email a "crucial fight for environmental justice." He described the proposed plant, which would expose residents to many of the same health risks as living next to fracking wells, as "an existential threat" to New Orleans.

"There is no city in the United States more vulnerable to the immediate effects of climate change," Fox writes. "The facts are simple: If climate change gets worse, there is no more New Orleans. Rising seas threaten to overtake the levees, and the extreme storms we saw in 2017 make Katrina look like a walk in the park. You would think that doing anything that makes climate change worse would be impossible for city government to do, but that is exactly what the New Orleans City Council are in the process of doing."

"Mayor-elect Latoya Cantrell must vote as well," he notes. "We need these council members to understand that they must heed the word of NOLA citizens, but also of the citizens of the United States who are all in jeopardy from climate change."

Thursday's planned full council vote was set into motion with the February 21 approval by the council's utility committee of Entergy's proposal. That vote, writes politics reporter Kevin Litten, was "considered a huge victory for Entergy and a major defeat for local environmental and renewable energy advocates, who have been working for years to block the project from moving forward." He adds that Entergy, which is based in New Orleans with operations across the Deep South, "has long insisted a new electricity-generating facility is needed within city limits since taking a pair of aging units in Michoud offline two years ago. Relying entirely on outside power sources is untenable, utility leaders have said, especially during storm recovery."

Fox, the director of Gasland, the Emmy Award-winning 2010 documentary that helped launch the anti-fracking movement, and more recently, How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can't Change, points out that while battle lines are being drawn in the Big Easy—most recently at the March 3 rally outside City Hall against Entergy's proposed plant—the larger fight against the continued development of fossil fuel is a national one.

"This plant is part of a national power takeover that we need to stop," he said in his email. Bill McKibben of the climate activist group calls each of these fracked gas power plants "a global warming machine" that will last for 40 years. 

"If we don’t stop them, we have no chance of keeping New Orleans or the Louisiana coast above water," Fox said. "Fracking doesn’t happen in New Orleans, but right now, the Big Easy is now under threat from America's shale gas boom. Across the country, the mass build out of fracked gas infrastructure puts many communities on the fossil fuel chopping block. If these plants are built, it's not only NOLA you can say goodbye to. New York City, Washington DC, Miami, Philadelphia, Baltimore and everywhere else along the East and Gulf coasts are endangered."

He notes that "300 new fracked gas power plants are being proposed all across the United States [that will] incur 2 million new fracking wells and hundreds of thousands of miles of pipelines, while locking us into fracked gas as a power source for 40 years."

This reliance on fracked gas, a dirty fossil fuel, is delaying the nation's move to a low-carbon future and increases greenhouse gas emissions for the next several decades. Though the fossil fuel industry promotes natural gas as a "clean, green" fuel, studies show that, when considering the entire lifecycle of fracked gas, which includes the combined emissions associated with extraction, combustion and releases of methane and CO2, fracked natural gas can produce as many greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as coal.

"If just 3 percent of the fracked gas being mined and supplied to the power plant leaks throughout its life cycle, natural gas is worse than coal for global warming," Fox points out.

In a new short film he made to highlight the dangers of Entergy's new plant, Fox asks, "Would you want to live next to a huge fracked gas power plant?" The video continues: "If you live in New Orleans, Entergy thinks it's just fine," listing some of the negative impacts that the plant would bring to the local community: "flare stacks, carcinogenic emissions, particulate matter pollution, explosion risk."

Fox, who has been part of a coalition fighting the CPV power plant in New York for the past several years, called Entergy's proposed plant the "scariest and most upsetting new development on energy and the environment that I have reported on in a long time," framing it as part of the nation's "new energy policy…that puts both fracking and climate change into overdrive."

In the film, Fox also notes that Entergy "want[s] you to pay for it," saying that Entergy is essentially telling the people of New Orleans: "You pay for your own pollution. You pay for your own poison. You pay for your own climate change." He urged New Orleans residents to call the city council members to lodge their complaints about the plant, and posted their phone numbers:

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While Fox and his fellow anti-fracking activists are focused on Thursday's vote, they hope all Americans will join the fight for environmental justice and tell their elected officials that more fracked gas is exactly what the nation doesn't need if we are to properly address the climate threat. 

"This is why we must be with community members fighting to stop Entergy’s fracked gas power plant," Fox said. "If we don’t, the next Katrina is on us."

Watch Josh Fox's new short film about Entergy's proposed fracked gas power plant in New Orleans:

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