Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:
The Advocate on new investments in the petrochemical industry:
With the nation — and the world — seriously hurt economically during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s good news that Louisiana continues to be an attractive place for investments in the petrochemical industry.
We welcome the announcements that two global companies with existing and successful investments in Louisiana wish to expand the plants and the jobs and community benefits that they produce.
In Ascension Parish, Mitsubishi Chemical Corp., a subsidiary of Japanese automaker Mitsubishi Motors, is considering the economic feasibility of a $1 billion chemical plant.
If approved, it would be one of the few major petrochemical projects in the pipeline during the economic recession spurred by the coronavirus pandemic, which has paused plans for several other companies.
And in Baton Rouge, with a close relationship with refining and petrochemical manufacturing dating back to Standard Oil in the earliest years of the 20th century, ExxonMobil is poised to make a decision on an expansion at their facilities.
The latter would be an investment in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
In both cases, the community and tax bases of the region would be enhanced. Mitsubishi anticipates hiring 125 workers with an average annual salary of $100,000, plus benefits. In ExxonMobil’s case, new permanent jobs would not be added, but the long-term viability of the complex would be greatly enhanced, and hundreds of industrial construction jobs — more high-wage employment — would be created in north Baton Rouge.
What’s not to like? In an era in which any association with fossil fuels is viewed with skepticism bordering on paranoia, a small number of activists blasted the plants.
“We don’t want to be the epicenter of the world’s biggest chemical plants,” said Anne Rolfes of New Orleans, with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “With the opportunity cost of these chemical plants, the health cost, Louisiana ought to be pivoting to something different.”
We agree with Rolfes that there is more to economic development than petrochemical manufacturing, but the glib notion of “pivoting to something different” is easier said than done. We want Louisiana to diversify its economy, but that doesn’t mean turning against industrial facilities that represent high-wage jobs — and as all know in this region, over the long term, decades of maintenance and industrial construction employment.
Gov. John Bel Edwards said that he hopes to attract Mitsubishi to the state, and he is not alone. Rolfes bemoaned that “even our parish presidents all over our state roll out the red carpet for these monstrosities, and yet what they’re not thinking about are these communities.”
Officials can be swayed by companies but elected officeholders are ultimately accountable to voters, and we believe the broad support of these projects may suggest which of the two sides in the debate is out of touch with the communities in question.
The Houma Courier and The Daily Comet on postponing Mardi Gras parades:
Terrebonne officials did the right thing last week in postponing the parish’s Mardi Gras parades, a decision that will save lives and prevent people from becoming infected with the novel coronavirus.
No one can guarantee the parades will roll at all next year, but the decision to postpone rather than cancel at least keeps the possibility afloat. Parish President Gordy Dove said he and Sheriff Tim Soignet plan to meet Jan. 11 with representatives of Terrebonne’s roughly one dozen Carnival clubs to explore options. An ordinance requires Carnival parades to roll just before and up to Mardi Gras, so it will take Parish Council approval to set a new date.
During discussion last week, one councilman noted that Jefferson Parish is considering a proposal to roll Carnival parades over the Memorial Day weekend. That’s one option for Terrebonne. Maybe some or all of Terrebonne’s parades could become part of the 2021 Rougarou Festival in Houma, held around Halloween each year. Parish officials and krewe leaders have plenty of other possibilities to consider.
Dove, Soignet and others involved deserve credit for listening to health officials’ warnings that large crowds like the ones that flock to Mardi Gras parades are dangerous, increasing the chance of spreading the deadly airborne virus in great numbers. They put solid science and expert health advice over politics and money, as Mardi Gras generates millions of dollars a year for local businesses.
Mayor Tommy Eschete did the same thing just over a week ago when he canceled Thibodaux’s five Carnival parades for 2021. And we’re confident Lafourche Parish President Archie Chaisson, Lockport Mayor Ed Reinhardt and Golden Meadow Mayor Joey Bouziga will do the same when they make final decisions on parades in their communities.
Since the pandemic began, Terrebonne and Lafourche officials have heeded the guidelines issued by Gov. John Bel Edwards, the White House Coronavirus Task Force and the federal Centers for Disease Control. That has helped the state and community reduce some of the nation’s worst COVID-19 caseloads to a level that no longer threatens to overwhelm hospitals.
Nonetheless, cases and deaths continue to mount, and infection rates are on the rise. As of Friday, the virus had infected nearly 5,300 residents in Terrebonne and 5,600 in Lafourche and killed 301 people across both parishes, state records show. The percentage of COVID-19 tests that come back positive has been rising, hitting 7.9% in Terrebonne and 10% in Lafourche for the week ending Dec. 9, the latest on record.
Both parishes marked a major milestone last week as local hospitals administered their first batches of COVID-19 vaccine to their doctors, nurses and other health care workers. It will take months to deliver the vaccine to enough residents to develop the herd immunity it will take to get back to some semblance of normalcy.
Those who want to increase the chance that Mardi Gras parades will roll later next year can get the shots as soon as they become available. In the meantime, canceling or postponing ensures that parades won’t delay the return to normalcy, or close to it, that everyone hopes will come sooner rather than later.
The Advocate on schooling during the pandemic and education workers as essential workers:
The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted every corner of American life, but schools, and the adults and children who populate them, have faced challenges that are both unique and serious.
School leaders, teachers, support staffers, parents and students have all made monumental efforts to find stability since life as we knew it ended in March, even as they navigate rules and accommodations that were necessarily hatched on the fly. From virtual learning to half-and-half arrangements to in-school instruction under new, social distancing protocols, the one thing that’s been sorely missing is normalcy.
Returning to business as usual is urgent for all of us, but especially for our children. That’s why Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley has asked the state to prioritize teachers and other school workers as it devises a plan for how to distribute the COVID-19 vaccines that are just coming online. And it’s why we think doing so is the right move.
Louisiana teachers deserve priority for coronavirus vaccine, state education chief says
Health care workers and residents of nursing homes are first in line, as they should be. Beyond that, it’s not exactly clear how different groups will be ranked. Next up, the Centers for Disease Control has suggested, should be essential workers, people with underlying medical conditions and those 65 and older. In his letter to state Health Secretary Courtney Phillips, Brumley argued that roughly 166,000 employees at Louisiana’s day care centers, pre-K programs and K-12 schools fit the definition of essential front-line workers.
Protecting their safety so that normal schedules can resume would have far-reaching benefits. It would alleviate the burden on parents struggling to supervise their children’s school day from home, sometimes to the detriment of their own jobs. It would address some of the disparities that have been exacerbated by makeshift arrangements, which have caused particular hardship for students without reliable internet access or quiet spaces for online learning, those with difficult home situations or who rely on schools for food and social services, and those whose special needs make distance education difficult.
There are advantages to getting everyone back into their regular routines even for students who are doing relatively well under current restrictions. We don’t yet know the full, long-term impact that this strange period will have on children — that will likely be studied for years to come — but surely there are enough educational, social and mental health concerns at play to make returning to normal a front-burner priority.
As Brumley put it in his letter, “although schools have made noble accommodations in terms of providing virtual instruction, there simply is no replacement for in-person instruction…It is in the best interest of the physical, emotional and mental well-being of most students to engage and interact with their peers in person.”
We agree, and think that’s a good enough reason for the state to grant the request.