Gov.-elect Jeff Landry has tapped a climate-change skeptic with a background in agribusiness to serve as his administration’s top environmental steward, sparking concerns that the incoming administration will back away from the state’s current goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Aurelia Skipwith Giacometto will become the first Black woman to head the state Department of Environmental Quality. She comes to the Pelican State after heading up the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the Trump administration and working for agrichemical giant Monsanto Corp. The Times Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s James Finn reports

After naming a former federal wildlife official with an agrochemical industry background as Louisiana’s top environmental watchdog, (Landry) decried the state’s current carbon-reducing goals and promised to breathe new life into the oil and gas industry. … Landry, the current state attorney general, called climate change a “hoax” in 2018 and doubled down on that assertion in an August interview

Gov. John Bel Edwards’ landmark Climate Action Plan was done via executive order, which means Landry can reverse it with the stroke of a pen. But the incoming governor hinted that he won’t completely abandon all of the policies.  

As Landry and Giacometto weigh how to craft environmental policy they’ll get advice from construction executives, lawyers for petrochemical companies and local officials on Landry’s transition team. Those picks and Landry’s choice to helm DEQ drew criticism from environmentalists. Anne Rolfes, whose group the Louisiana Bucket Brigade advocates for people impacted by the petrochemical industry, said the appointment signaled that Landry seems more interested in catering to industry than standing up for residents.

Senate protects student loan relief 
The U.S. Senate rejected an attempt by Sen. Bill Cassidy on Wednesday to block more than 20 million people from lowering their monthly student loan payments. Cassidy and other congressional Republicans were targeting the new Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) plan, the latest move by President Joe Biden’s administration to offer relief to student-loan borrowers as monthly payments resumed last month. States Newsroom’s Ariana Figueroa reports

The Department of Education unveiled the Saving on a Valuable Education, or SAVE, plan hours after the Supreme Court in June struck down the Biden administration’s one-time student debt cancellation that would have forgiven up to $10,000 in federal student loan debt for single adults making under $125,000 a year, or under $250,000 for married couples. … The new income-driven repayment plan calculates payments based on a borrower’s income and family size and forgives balances after a set number of years. More than 5.5 million student loan borrowers have already enrolled in the SAVE plan, according to data released by the Department of Education.

Approximately 82,300 Louisianans have already enrolled in the SAVE plan. 

Landry noncommittal on paid parental leave 
A new state Civil Service rule and an executive order by Gov. John Bel Edwards will provide six weeks of paid parental leave for approximately 70,000 state employees. But Gov.-elect Jeff Landry indicated Wednesday that he would like more budget information before his administration commits to maintaining the benefits. The Louisiana Illuminator’s Julie O’Donoghue reports

Landry could easily undo one portion of the new leave rule if he wanted. Edwards put the leave policy in place for unclassified state workers, typically those who hold appointed positions, through a gubernatorial executive order. Landry can repeal it once he takes office. It would be harder for Landry to pull the paid leave from the other states employees who will receive it — classified workers. The state Civil Service Commission would have to vote to repeal the benefit they just approved in September.

Medicaid enrollment and spending growth 
In the early weeks of the Covid-19 pandemic, Congress offered states a deal too good to pass up: The federal government would pick up a larger share of Medicaid expenses, but in return for the extra money states would have to promise to not kick anyone off the program during the official public health emergency. But those protections have ended and states are in the process of redetermining eligibility for millions of residents. KFF’s annual survey of state Medicaid directors show that states are now expecting a decline in enrollment and an increase in spending. 

Although estimates are uncertain, Medicaid officials projected enrollment would decline by 8.6% in FY 2024. After reaching record high enrollment, these estimates reflect a dramatic year-over-year decline in program enrollment from that high. Enrollment change estimates for FY 2024 reflect new enrollments as well as coverage losses due to unwinding, but they also assume some “churn” – that is, that some individuals losing coverage will re-enroll within the year. … States reported that the phase out and eventual end of the enhanced FMAP will shift the state and federal spending shares for Medicaid as state spending grows faster to make up for the declining federal share.

Number of the Day
35 – Number of Louisiana parishes that saw a drop in per-capita personal income in 2022. Overall personal income dropped by 0.1% in Louisiana last year, compared to a 1.6% increase for the nation. Income grew fastest in Sabine Parish (4.1%) and plunged the farthest in Tensas Parish (-8.2%). (Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis)