Oil and gas companies in Louisiana wasted more than $82 million worth of gas in 2019 – enough to meet more than two-thirds of residential natural gas demand in the state for a year, according to a new analysis commissioned by the Environmental Defense Fund and Taxpayers for Common Sense. The waste occurs when gas is either flared, vented or leaked from oil and gas infrastructure and translated into nearly $2.5 million in lost tax and royalty revenue. Nola.com’s Tristan Baurick reports on how fixing the problem would reduce pollution and increase state revenue and possibly create jobs in the process. 

“Methane flaring and venting is bad for the environment, the state economy and state budget,” said Ned Randolph, a consultant with the Louisiana Budget Project. “It robs all of us of important revenue which needs to be made up by other taxes.” … “We know low-producing wells make up just 6% of production, but half of all well-site emissions come from these smaller producers,” [Elizabeth Lieberknecht of the EDF] said. Tougher regulations like the ones proposed by DNR could force the smaller and mid-size producers to clean up their act, she said. The regulations could also spur the growth of jobs focused on capping or improving wells, Randolph said.

“Boogeyman” bank wins big state deal
Over the past four years, the state Bond Commission has pulled investments and rejected financing deals from banks that have policies on fossil fuels and guns that run afoul of conservative dogma. The commission even fired the state’s financial adviser after he was critical of the moves. But on Thursday the efforts to inject right-wing politics into the state’s finances finally proved too costly, as the commission approved a deal with JP Morgan Chase to underwrite $251 million in bonds. In 2021, the commission blocked the banking giant from participating in a state refinancing deal, even though it offered Louisiana the best terms among the bidders. But as The Advocate’s Sam Karlin reports, the lowest bid from JP Morgan was enough for commissioners to get on board this time around. 

[Treasurer John] Schroder and [Attorney General Jeff] Landry have long criticized banks with so-called environmental, social and governance policies. And the two have jockeyed with each other for years to posture themselves as the most conservative on that issue, voting to restrict certain large banks from doing business with the Bond Commission. It’s a “threading the needle situation,” Schroder said in an interview, because the big banks he’s hesitant to do business with are among the only ones able to give the state a good deal. He said he’d “prefer not to” hire Chase for the deal. “I wish I could pick exactly who I wanted,” he said. “But I can’t force a square peg into a round hole. It’s a work in progress.”

A decline in TOPS participation 
A decline in the number of high school graduates in Louisian has coincided with a decline in the number of eligible TOPS recipients and acceptance rate for the popular scholarships, Louisiana commissioner of higher education Kim Hunter Reed told lawmakers on Thursday. Reed, speaking to members of the House Committee on Appropriations about the declining participation numbers, said that 12.9% of last year’s eligible students missed their one-year application window and 56.8% were enrolled at a school part time, which TOPS does not cover. But she also emphasized the concerning number of eligible students who chose not to use the scholarship program. LSU Manship News Service’s Gabby Jimenez reports: 

Fourteen percent of the eligible students enrolled at a school out of state, [Louisiana’s commissioner on higher education Kim Hunter] Reed said. But 15% of students, or 8,000 TOPS eligible students, did not go anywhere. They’re not in the national database,” Reed said. “They’re not in our state’s database. And so we have to continue to ask the question: What is happening in terms of talent development? And how do we reach these students?” Reed said the declining participation is particularly concerning due to the large number of students who are eligible for the scholarships but still choose to not use it.

States warned about facial recognition
The U.S. Labor Department Office of Inspector General is urging states to use “extreme caution” when using facial recognition software for identity verification. While many states, including Louisiana, are using this type of software, an alert memorandum warned about racial bias in facial-recognition algorithms that state unemployment programs have used. StateScoop’s Benjamin Freed reports: 

The OIG memo states that its concerns about facial recognition build off a 2019 report from the National Institute of Standards and Technology finding that such systems have higher error rates when analyzing women or racial minorities, including Black, Native American, Asian-American and Pacific Islander faces. The memo also noted a separate audit, published last June by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, showing that in two states, Black applicants for pandemic-era unemployment benefits were approved half as often as white applicants.

Number of the Day
8,000 – Number of Louisiana high school students that were eligible for TOPS in 2022, but did not use the scholarship program. (Source: Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance via LSU Manship News Service)