Likely vote over Louisiana project caught in abortion debate
BATON ROUGE — As the political tug-of-war over enforcing Louisiana’s near-total abortion ban continues between Republicans at the Capitol and Democratic leaders in the state’s most populous city, the state Bond Commission is likely to vote Thursday on whether or not to continue withholding financing approval for a vital New Orleans area power plant project.
For a commission generally known for its historically actuarial role, the abortion debate would typically be beyond its purview. Still, it has seeped into recent meetings — with Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry urging fellow members to “use the tools at our disposal to bring” leaders in New Orleans opposing enforcement of the abortion ban “to heel.” Caught in the crossfire is a $39 million future line of credit for a power plant, critical to power drainage pumps that remove rainwater in a city that faces chronic flood problems.
While some described the decision by the commission in July and August to withhold approval as overreach, Landry argued that a message needed to be sent to New Orleans officials he believes may be malfeasant in upholding the law.
The battle between Democratic city leaders and Republicans in reliably red states has been happening across the country since the U.S. Supreme Court decided to end constitutional protections for abortion in June. Dozens of prosecutors nationwide — including in Florida — have promised not to pursue charges against those seeking or providing abortions. In St. Louis, hours after the mayor signed a measure providing $1 million for travel to abortion clinics in other states the Missouri Attorney General sued to block it. City councils in places such as Austin, Texas, and Nashville have passed measures urging law enforcement not to prioritize abortion ban enforcement.
“This is about the fact that there are elected officials, not only in the state but around this country, that seem to thumb their nose at the laws that are coming — and think they can pick and choose which laws they want to follow and those that they don’t,” Landry said.
In Louisiana, legislation bans all abortions except if there is substantial risk of death or impairment to the patient if they continue with the pregnancy and in the case of “medically futile” pregnancies — when the fetus has a fatal abnormality. There are no exceptions for rape or incest.
Following the downfall of Roe v. Wade, the mayor, district attorney and sheriff in New Orleans vowed to oppose the strict ban. In addition, city council passed a resolution directing police and prosecutors not to use city funds to enforce the ban.
Landry, a Republican who is considered a likely 2023 Louisiana gubernatorial candidate, described city leaders’ opposition as a “dereliction of duty.” He turned to the Bond Commission, who voted to deny a preliminary authorization of the line of credit for a power plant project of the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board.
State Sen. Jimmy Harris, a Democrat who represents New Orleans, urged commission members to approve the future credit line — noting that the plant would help protect 384,000 people, allowing them clean water to drink and bathe in, instead of undergoing frequent water boil advisories. Currently the pumps are powered by outdated turbines, which also power the city’s water and sewage system.
“Find something nonessential to go after,” Paul Rainwater, a lobbyist for New Orleans, told the commission in August. “Not the Sewerage and Water Board, not the power station, not the pumps.
In a state that has been devastated by natural disasters, flooding is at the forefront of mind — especially as Louisiana is in the midst of hurricane season. Forecasters have predicted there will be 14 to 20 named storms this year, including six to 10 hurricanes.
While approval of a future line of credit would not immediately release project funds, the approval would send a “critical signal” to contractors that funds would be available to finish the project. The city and Entergy New Orleans are paying for the majority of the project’s cost, but Rainwater said state funding will be necessary to keep the project on track to be completed in 2024.
Whether or not the line of credit will be approved or withheld for a third consecutive month will be determined during the Bond Commission meeting Thursday, scheduled to begin at 10 a.m.