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Environment stakes high in race for Louisiana utility seat

1 month 2 weeks 3 days ago Saturday, December 10 2022 Dec 10, 2022 December 10, 2022 11:04 AM December 10, 2022 in News
Source: Associated Press
Commissioner Lambert C. Boissiere III, is running for Louisiana Public Service Commissioner, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022 in Baton Rouge, La. In the Deep South, a typically lackluster multi-parish race for a seat on an obscure Louisiana regulatory body has gained national attention this election season. (Photo: Travis Spradling/The Advocate via AP)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The election for Louisiana’s obscure regulatory body typically receives little attention locally, but this year has caught the eye of national media outlets, celebrities, political action committees and public utility companies.

Lambert Boissiere III, who has comfortably held a seat on Louisiana’s Public Service Commission for 18 years, faces his toughest reelection Saturday in a runoff against newcomer Davante Lewis.

Environmentalists have increasingly focused on the commission, which regulates power companies and sets electric rates, in a state that has a front row seat to the effects of climate change. Louisiana has been riddled by destructive hurricanes making landfall more frequently, coastal areas have been eaten away by erosion, subsidence and rising sea levels and, most recently, the Mississippi River reaching record low water levels.

Additionally, Louisiana shares its southern border with the Gulf of Mexico and has tens of thousands of jobs tied to the oil and gas industry. In 2021, Louisiana ranked third among the top natural gas-producing states — accounting for nearly 10% of the United States’ natural gas production that year, behind only Texas and Pennsylvania.

For years, the commission has resisted calls to mandate that power companies get a certain share of their power from renewables, The Advocate reported. But activists are hopeful their stance will change.

The winner of the election will serve a six-year term representing a district that stretches from Baton Rouge to New Orleans on the five-member commission, which has regulatory jurisdiction over public utilities providing electric, water, wastewater, natural gas and certain telecommunications services in Louisiana.

Boissiere, 57, was first elected in 2005 and hopes to secure a fourth term. Lewis, a 30-year-old progressive policy advocate, says it is time for a “new generation of leaders.”

Both candidates are Democrats with corresponding priorities — including expanding Louisiana’s renewable energy. However, no matter the outcome of the runoff, Republicans will still represent a majority on the commission, 3-2.

Despite Lewis and Boissiere having similar views, major utility companies and outside political action committees have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race.

Keep the Lights On, an affiliate of the Environmental Defense Fund, has spent money in the hopes of unseating Boissiere. In addition, the incumbent received campaign contributions from utility companies that the commission regulates, including Entergy, Louisiana’s largest power company. While these types of contributions are legal in Louisiana, it has been heavily scrutinized.

In November’s primary, when there were five candidates, Boissiere received 43% of the vote — falling short of topping the 50% threshold needed to win outright. Lewis received 18%.

Louisiana’s election polls are open Saturday from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m.

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