by Sharon Lavigne, Louisiana Illuminator

Last week, Congressman Clay Higgins made the social media post about Michael Regan, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, leaving us perplexed ever since.

“This EPA criminal should be arrested the next time he sets foot in Louisiana,” Higgins wrote on X. “Charge his ass with extortion. (Louisiana Revised Statute) 14:66. I’d charge him a count for every Louisiana employee he’s threatening. Send that arrogant p—- to Angola for a few decades.”

Higgins, of Louisiana’s 3rd District, represents parts of 10 parishes and over 6,000 square miles in Southwest Louisiana, the heart of “Cajun Country.”

At a glance, we share more similarities with Congressman Higgins than what sets us apart, including special family recipes, the value of hard work, care for the coast and our natural resources, stewards of the land and agriculture appreciation, the desire for safe communities, enduring family values, and above all these things strong faith.

All these beloved parts of our lives face an existential threat due to the continuous degradation of our environment caused by industrial pollution and escalating carbon emissions in Louisiana. These factors contribute to many extreme changes, encompassing not only larger, faster, and more frequent hurricanes but also the emergence of heat deserts and other significant phenomena.

According to Higgins’ congressional website, he has dedicated his life to uniformed public service and is an Army veteran. He also identifies as a Christian.

Have we overlooked a critical aspect here? What could be the root cause of this intense hostility toward Regan? Why does there appear to be a glaring lack of respect for both the office and the individuals serving in our government?

Furthermore, why does Congressman Higgins suggest sending him to Angola prison upon his arrival in Louisiana? How does the historical context of mass incarceration, particularly its disproportionate impact on marginalized communities, factor into this proposal?

What traits does Congressman Higgins attribute to Regan that lead him to perceive him as an arrogant individual? Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan, left, embraces Robert Taylor, head of Concerned Citizens of St. John the Baptist Parish. Regan was in LaPlace on April 6, 2023, to announce proposed regulations for chemical plants. (Greg LaRose/Louisiana Illuminator)

Ever since Regan came to meet the members of RISE St. James Louisiana, Concerned Citizens of St. John and other community leaders during his 2021 Journey to Justice tour, he has worked hard to keep his promises to make life better for fence line communities, especially thosethat continue to experience environmental racism.

The Hazardous Organic NESHAP (HON) rule, which was announced last month, uses the best science to set safe levels of chemical emissions from industrial sources, and requires producers to fix leaks and other fugitive emissions in a timely manner. Since the HON rule was last updated in 2006, new research has shown that the covered chemicals are far more dangerous than was previously known. The six included chemicals are all well-linked to severe human health effects, including cancers of the lungs, liver, breast and brain as well as reproductive harm and cardiovascular disorders.

Rather than cause the loss of jobs or industry, the HON rule will dramatically improve the quality of life for fence line communities, including residents in Rep. Higgins’ district, by reducing the air toxics risk by up to 96% and emissions by 6,200 tons. The estimated cost of annual compliance with the HON rule is only $750,000 per facility — pennies for the nine multibillion-dollar facilities within Rep. Higgins’ district that will be affected by this rule.

According to EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory data for 2022, which contains emissions data self-reported by the industry, there were significant emissions of all six of the HON rule chemicals throughout Calcasieu Parish. The latest data shows that emissions from Calcasieu Parish included:

57 tons of benzene: A worker exposed at 10 ppm of benzene for 40 years — which is normal exposure for a plant worker — is 155 times more likely to die from leukemia than an unexposed worker.52 tons of ethylene dichloride (1,2 dichloroethane): long term exposure can cause stomach, breast, and liver cancer. More than 85% of ethylene dichloride emissions in Calcasieu Parish are from fugitive emissions.14 tons of 1,3 butadiene: Long term 1,3 butadiene exposure can cause leukemia, blood disorders and cardiovascular disease, as well as reproductive problems and birth defects.13 tons of vinyl chloride: Vinyl chloride exposure can cause a rare form of liver cancer as well as cancer of the brain and lungs. Westlake Chemical is the third largest emitter of vinyl chloride nationwide, and 98% of Westlake’s vinyl chloride emissions were fugitive emissions from leaks, evaporation, and ventilation – exactly what the HON rule addresses.2.75 tons of ethylene oxide: Ethylene oxide is highly carcinogenic, with fence line communities experiencing cancer risks 24 times higher than the surrounding areas. In fact, 12% of the cancer risk from toxic air throughout Rep. Higgins’ district is caused just by ethylene oxide emissions.144 pounds of chloroprene: Chloroprene exposure is particularly harmful to children, with early exposure linked to a variety of cancers in later life including breast cancer, liver cancer and lung cancer. Fugitive emissions accounted for 71% of the chloroprene emitted in Calcasieu Parish.

The graph below, with emissions in pounds, shows that plants in Calcasieu Parish alone release nearly half of Louisiana’s industrial ethylene dichloride emissions, and contribute about 25% of total industrial benzene emissions. Calcasieu Parish is by far the largest source of industrial emissions throughout Rep. Higgins’ district.

Instead of blaming the EPA for “threatening” Louisiana’s oil, gas and petrochemical workers, Rep. Higgins could turn his attention to the threats posed by unsafe working environments at plants throughout the state. Over just the past two years, OSHA has issued citations of serious violations to Westlake Chemical, Louisiana Pigment Co. and Turner Industries Group.

Dangerous practices at petrochemical facilities throughout Rep. Higgins’ district have injured, maimed and killed employees. In September 2021, six Westlake workers were hurt in a fire, including one who suffered severe burns over 50% of his body. Just four months later, an explosion in January 2022 caused the hospitalization of six more Westlake workers.

However, as Rep. Higgins has accepted at least $180,000 in campaign donations from the oil and gas industry, he seems unlikely to criticize these plants too strongly. In a 2018 speech to the American Petroleum Institute, Rep. Higgins claimed that oil and gas would “turn our country back onto the path of righteousness.”

Since we’ve shown the HON rule would result in dramatic improvements to human health at a minimal cost to industry, and that the petrochemical industry already threatens the health and safety of its workers, what else could fuel Rep. Higgins’ animosity towards Administration Regan? Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan announces new proposed rules to cut emissions of carcinogenic chemicals, such as chloroprene and ethylene oxide, at a news conference in St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana on April 6, 2023. The Denka Performance Elastomer plant is in the background behind Regan. (Halle Parker/WWNO)

Sadly, it appears this is just another instance of the racism that Rep. Higgins’ has displayed time and time again throughout his law enforcement and legislative career. This includes beating a handcuffed Black bystander while working as an officer of the Opelousas Police Department, making threats to shoot armed Black Lives Matter protesters but staying silent on armed defenders of Confederate monuments, and calling a nearly 50-year-old Black environmental attorney “young lady” and “boo” during a formal Congressional hearing.

While he calls for a decades-long incarceration of a Black government official for exercising his duties, Rep. Higgins begged a court to exercise leniency towards a white Jan. 6 rioter who attacked police with pepper spray and incited violence among other protesters. Rep. Higgins wrote that the rioter’s two-year pre-trial confinement was “a tremendous price in time and treasure.”

The nearly 200,000 Black citizens of Louisiana’s District 3 deserve better.

Additionally, Rep. Higgins may want to revisit the definition of extortion, Louisiana Revised Statute 16:66: “Extortion is the communication of threats to another with the intention thereby to obtain anything of value or any acquittance, advantage, or immunity of any description,” including “a threat to cause harm as retribution for participation in any legislative hearing or proceeding, administrative proceeding, or in any other legal action.”

Rep. Higgins’ threatened to “send that arrogant p—- to Angola for a few decades” for the EPA’s administrator’s actions to reduce air pollution and disease in Louisiana’s fence line communities.

Who’s doing the extortion here?

When we have disagreements with our elected officials, we take real action, not just tweet about it. We are working for a post-petrochemical future for Louisiana, Rep. Higgins, and your comments won’t slow us down.

Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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