On December 1, the New Orleans City Council voted 5-1 to give Shell (formerly Royal Dutch Shell) a 15-year tax break valued at $21.6 million to build their new regional headquarters in the Riverside Development District, a suite of projects going up at the riverfront near the Convention Center (District E Councilmember Oliver Thomas was the sole “no” vote). The plan would give Shell a tax break on a 142,000-square-foot office building, and would make the headquarters an “anchor tenant” for the project, which includes apartments and commercial development. The area abuts the Crescent City Connection overpass, where City workers recently removed an encampment of unhoused people. After the vote, the Orleans Parish School Board wrote a letter to the Council asking them to reconsider the tax break so they would not lose potential funding from the project’s property taxes. Shell is a Fortune Global 500 company, ranking ninth in 2022. According to Fortune, “Europe’s largest energy company climbed three ranks after it reported a 41% increase in revenue in 2022 and more than doubled its profit amid high oil and gas prices caused, in part, by the war in Ukraine.” While war profiteering may seem low to some, it could be no lower than knowingly paving the road to climate-crisis hell—which Shell began in the early ‘80s when it began modeling anthropogenic climate change, then funding mass-media climate change denialism. City Council attorney Adam Swensek says that the City Council acted in haste when they approved the tax break, giving the Council only four days to review it, rather than the requisite 15. Councilmember Lesli Harris, who represents the project’s district (B), says that the Council followed the law in approving the tax break. The following is a selection of in-person and online comments submitted before the Council.
I am a resident of New Orleans and a taxpayer. I am here in regards to the 15-year tax break for Shell Corporation, which contributes little to the city of New Orleans except it continues an influx of carcinogens that affects our population daily. At a time where the City seems lacking in funds to pay for the basic necessities that we’re constantly being told that we can’t afford, I fail to understand why a corporation is being given a 15-year tax break that comes to millions of dollars that the city could use, while they’re sickening our population. Thank you.1Lawrence C. (in-person)
I am here today in opposition to the City’s proposed property tax exemption for multinational fossil fuel behemoth Shell oil. The proposed exemption would amount to $1.44 million per year, nothing at all to a corporation that reaped nearly $40 billion last year, but significant to a city plagued by crumbling infrastructure, substandard schools, and an ongoing crisis of affordable housing. Yoking our city’s future to fossil fuels is literally going to sink us beneath the waves. Mayor Cantrell has traveled the world—I think she’s in Dubai this week—touting our city’s leadership on climate change mitigation and adaptation. Yet just this year the City purchased gas-guzzling vehicles for the city fleet in contravention of the law, and proposes a handout of millions to an oil company already raking in billions in profit. Our climate-ravaged city cannot afford such giveaways, and I urge you to reject this proposal.2Jesse G., Alliance for Affordable Energy (in-person)
It’s insulting to the people in New Orleans, the entire Gulf South, and the Global South at large that our city would welcome Shell Oil building a skyscraper in our city. Climate change is an existential threat to humanity. This is one of the world’s most vile, extractive polluters. We have so many problems we need to address in the city that should take precedence over building a temple of our own demise. We need to have a completely oppositional stance to companies hell-bent on heating our world to unlivable conditions. For the love of God think of the damn children.3Benjamin H. (online)
My generation will remember how the leadership of New Orleans has failed to protect our future by bending to Shell’s every whim. Stop allowing these polluters to have any say in our city. Think of us, think of our children.4Raven D. (online)
No tax break to Shell. The oil and gas industry has cost Louisiana billions of dollars in damage to our wetlands, contributing to coastal erosion and poisoning our waters. Oil needs to pay their taxes at the bare minimum.5Christina L. (online)
Do not approve yet another corporate tax break while it becomes more expensive to own and maintain a home safely in the city. Shell can afford to pay property taxes—it’s the least they can do if they’re going to operate here. I contribute to the economy, I work and buy groceries and gas here, and I pay my property taxes, even though it feels like it skyrocketed this year. Please consider your constituents before giving a tax break to a huge corporation. If they can’t afford to pay taxes, then they need to work on their business model.6Rebecca W. (online)
To follow up on this issue, you can email your City councilmembers. To submit a public comment, follow instructions at council.nola.gov. Interested in reading all comments after a meeting? You can email your councilmember or file a public records request.
illustration by Sadie Wiese