NEW ORLEANS — Weeks before Mardi Gras, hundreds two-stepped and wobbled to the beat of a full jazz ensemble through the city’s historic French Quarter. Mixed among them were signs reading “Resist The Fossil Fuel Death Cycle” and “No More Blood For Oil And Gas.”

Climate and environmental activists gathered to protest Louisiana’s newfound designation as the center of the world’s fossil fuel gas exports. They were mobilized to protest the Americas Energy Summit, where hundreds of companies, policymakers, and lobbyists met in New Orleans to strategize about North and South America’s energy future. Dozens of such protests have taken place across the country over the past year, with more planned for 2024.

“They’re building new ‘Cancer Alleys’ across Louisiana where we have nothing but liquefied natural gas plants,” said Breon Robinson, an activist from Lake Charles where the largest share of new export terminals are proposed, at the protest.

Just days later, the Biden administration announced it was pausing the permitting process for some new natural gas export projects, including a facility 50 miles from New Orleans.

The move has global ramifications for how wealthy nations adapt to climate change and wean off fossil fuels. Although the pause is narrow and vague, it will allow the Energy Department several months to examine permit applications with newer data to account for climate and environmental impacts and domestic energy needs.

It’s a move separating Biden from the Obama and Trump administrations, who saw natural gas production and exports skyrocket under their leadership. And it underscores the growing power of Black environmental activism, which under the Biden administration has been able to sway public perception and federal policies in an unprecedented fashion, from small community victories in California and Illinois to global ones such as this one.

Read More: Chemical Plants Destroyed These Black Towns. The EPA Hopes New Regulations Will Help.

The U.S. is already the globe’s largest exporter of natural gas, with Louisiana being among the world’s largest movers of the fossil fuel gas per capita, exposing the second-Blackest state to life-threatening pollution. The natural gas projects currently paused in the permitting process throughout the state would create the equivalent pollution of 675 coal-fired power plants.

If the permits are ultimately reinstated, the current trajectory of growth in gas exports would make it virtually impossible for the U.S. to achieve its goals related to slowing down rising temperatures and sea levels.

If approved, the facility outside of New Orleans would produce the same annual pollution as nearly 2 million gas-powered cars driving for one year and would be the second-largest gas export terminal in the United States.

Along a stretch from New Orleans to Baton Rouge known as Cancer Alley, people die from cancer at rates that are as much as 50 times the national average. Around Lake Charles, where Black people make up the largest share of residents, some neighborhoods have cancer risks from air pollution that are nine times higher than federal standards.

So, although they were in protest, the demonstrators were also there to celebrate and protect the dwindling life along the state’s Gulf Coast, where a large share of the country’s fossil fuel plants operate, including a dozen proposed natural gas export terminals. This is despite warnings from leading scientists across the globe about fossil fuels’ impact on climate change and the immediate health impacts of its production, import, and export.

“We’re here — I’m here — because I want to be able to have a Louisiana my kids can come back to, my grandkids, generations, can come back to and enjoy and find the solace and the peace and the beauty in living and growing up here,” Robinson said.

“Our work is far from over”

Much like oil, natural gas is found deep underground and extracted through measures like fracking. Since 2014, there have been more than 2,000 peer-reviewed research papers that have found that fracking in the U.S. is connected to higher rates of cancer, asthma, and low childhood birth weights.

Once extracted, it is moved through pipelines and terminals, most often found in Black neighborhoods, which are also most likely to experience the most gas leaks from such infrastructure.

As the country has become the world’s leading exporter, it has then been moved to ports across the country, where it is shipped in special tankers to terminals worldwide. The growth of natural gas has severe implications for the nation’s economy and the monthly expenses of Black Americans.

Black opponents of Biden’s move argue that the halting of permits may lead to an increase in energy prices for Black people, who are the most energy-burdened in America. They believe the best path forward is using a mix of natural gas and clean energy sources, like wind power and solar.

“Embracing the use of natural gas could make a sustainable, affordable energy future closer to becoming a reality,” said former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and former Florida U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek in a statement to Worldacad.

Nutter and Meek are members of the Natural Allies for a Clean Energy Future Leadership Council. The council has been described as a “front group” for gas company interests, including Duke Energy and Southern Co. A recent joint investigation by Worldacad and Floodlight News found that Duke Energy and Southern have spent millions of dollars to steer messaging in Black communities.

Read More: ‘What Corruption Gets You': How Utility Companies Bought Support in the Black South

However, a recent analysis by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis found that the country’s focus on natural gas production and experts cost U.S. consumers $14 billion in excess costs from September 2021 to December 2022. Because the industry focused on exporting gas to Europe and Asia for record profits, U.S. supplies declined, leading to price spikes for American households while the gas industry reported record profits.

Activists demonstrate in New Orleans' French Quarter in opposition to Americas Energy Summit.
Activists gathered in New Orleans to protest at the Americas Energy Summit were seeking to protect lives along the state’s Gulf Coast, where a large share of the country’s fossil fuel plants operate. (Adam Mahoney/Worldacad)

Black activists across the South hope the temporary pause leads to a permanent one that ultimately prioritizes energy sources that do not rely on destroying the natural environment and the contamination of many Black communities across the region.

The pause is “truly monumental for our communities” and “a clear acknowledgment of the urgent need to protect the well-being and rights of those of us who have been disproportionately affected,” said Roishetta Ozane, director of the Vessel Project of Louisiana, an environmental justice group in Lake Charles.

“But it is also a reminder that our work is far from over.”

Adam Mahoney is the climate and environment reporter at Worldacad. Twitter @AdamLMahoney