Newcomer wins seat on Louisiana Public Service Commission

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana.

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Newcomer Davante Lewis, a Democrat backed by an environmental political action committee, easily won Saturday’s runoff for a seat on the Louisiana Public Utilities Commission, a obscure regulatory body that has received national attention from the media, celebrities, climate change activists, and major utility companies.

The 30-year-old progressive political advocate received 59% of the vote to defeat incumbent Lambert Boissiere III, who received 41% with all participating precincts reporting.

Boissiere served for nearly 18 years on the five-member commission, which regulates utilities and the state’s energy sector and sets electricity rates, among other oversight powers.

“Tonight, we have started a new chapter for Louisiana,” Lewis said in a statement. “Tonight, the people of Louisiana will begin to take back our power. Tonight, Louisiana has a Utilities Commissioner who is not afraid to hold Entergy accountable, because I owe this victory to the people of Louisiana and their commitment to a brighter, cleaner, 100% renewable future.”

The Associated Press could not immediately reach Boissiere or a campaign representative for comment.

The multiparochial election, which covered an area stretching from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, saw hundreds of thousands of dollars poured into the race by major utilities and outside political action committees.

Environmentalists have increasingly focused on the commission in a state with a front-row seat to the effects of climate change and where tens of thousands of jobs are tied to the oil and gas industry. Even Hollywood paid attention to the runoff between the two Democrats, with “Avengers” star Mark Ruffalo weighing in on social media endorsing him for Lewis.

Lewis pointed to multiple priorities, including expanding renewable energy, strengthening Louisiana’s vulnerable power grid, and addressing the state’s soaring electric bills that are largely the result of high prices for natural gas, a fuel key to public services in Louisiana.

“We stood up and said that Louisiana is ready for a new energy future. One where every Louisianan can count on clean air and water, a warm house in the winter, a cool horse in the summer, and utility bills that won’t break the bank,” Lewis said.

Although Lewis and Boissiere are members of the same political party, money was poured into the race and certain taxpayers became major points of contention.

Keep the Lights On, an affiliate of the Environmental Defense Fund, launched ads attacking Boissiere for accepting campaign contributions from commission-regulated utilities, including Entergy, Louisiana’s largest energy company. While these types of contributions are legal in Louisiana, they have been scrutinized over the years.

“The monopoly utility companies, the oil, gas and petrochemical industries and the political establishment that tried to sink our movement will not go away because of this election,” Lewis said after the election. “We must continue to root out corruption and dismantle the system, to hold myself and my fellow commissioners accountable, and advocate for bold new solutions.”

The commission has for years resisted calls to force power companies to source a certain share of their power from renewables, but campaigners are hoping their stance will change, The Advocate reported.

The commission consists of three Republicans and two Democrats, including Lewis, in a reliably red state.

Louisiana has been ravaged by destructive hurricanes making landfall more frequently, while coastal areas have been eaten up by erosion, subsidence and rising sea levels. The Mississippi River recently reached record low water levels.

The state also borders the Gulf of Mexico and has tens of thousands of jobs linked to the oil and gas industry. In 2021, Louisiana ranked third among the top natural gas producing states, accounting for nearly 10% of US natural gas production that year, trailing only Texas and Pennsylvania.

Voters also approved all three constitutional amendments on the ballot Saturday, barring non-US citizens from registering to vote or casting ballots in Louisiana, closing a potential loophole, and giving the state Senate a chance to weigh in on the governor’s appointments. to two surveillance panels.

Sara Cline, The Associated Press