Raya Salter, who heads the Energy Justice Law & Policy Center, told Representative Clay Higgins that “the fossil fuel industry that owns your state is destroying the Earth and the natural world.”
Rep Higgins, a Republican who represents the southeast corner of Louisiana, had asked her if she cared about the planet after a heated exchange on the petrochemical industry. The congressman also referred to Ms Salter as “boo” and “young lady”.
The House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing had convened experts to talk about the oil industry and the climate crisis.
Congressman Higgins began his time by asking Ms Salter what she would do with petrochemicals products if she had control of the world.
“What would you do with petrochemical products?” he asked. “Everything you have, your clothes, your glasses, the car you got here on, your phone, the table you’re sitting at, the chair, the carpet under your feet — everything you’ve got is petrochemical products.
“What would you do with that? Tell the world,” the congressman said.
“If I had that power in the world — actually I don’t need that power,” Ms Salter said in response.
“Because what I would do is ask you sir, from Louisiana, to search, to search," she continued, as Mr Higgins interrupted her.
“You sir, from Louisiana, to search your heart and understand why the EPA knows that toxic petrochemical facilities are some of the most toxic, polluting facilities in the world and are killing Black people throughout Louisiana,” Ms Salter said.
She added that she would ask the congressman to “search your heart and ask your God what you are doing to the Black and poor people in Louisiana.”
Louisiana is a major centre for the American petrochemical industry, especially along the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge — a region colloquially known as “Cancer Alley” for its high rates of cancer.
Congressman Higgins continued to ask Ms Salter what she would do about things like the maritime industry, much of which currently relies on fossil fuels.
“You have no answers for this stuff,” he said.
“Of course we do, we need to move away from petrochemicals. We need to shut down the petrochemical facilities in your state,” Ms Salter responded.
Eventually, Mr Higgins asked Ms Salter if she cared about the planet, citing the Bible.
“From a biblical perspective, we were given — the Lord gave us dominion over the planet and the creatures thereof,” he said.
“Now, the original translation of ‘dominion’ means to care for and nurture. So, from a biblical perspective, I am an environmentalist. I love my planet and the people and the creatures thereof. Do you?”
“If we’re going to talk about the Lord, I ask that you search your heart again and think about repenting,” Ms Salter said.
“The fossil fuel industry that owns your state is destroying the Earth and the natural world,” she added.
Representative Higgins tweeted a video of the exchange, saying: “This is what Democrats support – total and immediate elimination of American oil and gas production.”
Mr Higgins was later chastised by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York.
“For the gentleman of Louisiana, and the comfort that he felt in yelling at you like that — there’s more than one way to get a point across,” she said.