April Coastal Scuttlebutt – daily miniposts
Today’s The Advocate carries an AP Story by Cain Burdeau, also published in The Times-Picayune, on only the latest potentially-serious insult to Louisiana coastal marshes. About 1,000 barrels per day of crude oil is leaking from wells drilled from a massive BP-leased oil platform 40 miles southeast of Venice that was destroyed last week in an explosion, along with the lives of eleven workers. The great depth of the well, almost a mile beneath the ocean surface, promises to make sealing it off very difficult.
So far I hear a deafening silence from the Jindal administration and Louisiana’s oil and gas power brokers who vigorously oppose any new federal energy regulations that were supposed to begin congressional debate on the Hill tomorrow. What an irony, coming on the heels of President Obama’s recent concession to Republican calls to expand offshore oil exploration and production. Drill, Baby, Drill!
Today’s The Times-Picayune carries an editorial criticizing Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) for his misguided and ill-informed support for the Corps of Engineers. As noted by Gerard Shields in The Advocate and Steve Sabludowsky in BayouBuzz.com Dorgan has been engaged in a verbal fight with Louisiana Senator David Vitter, who is attempting to change the corps’ post-Katrina policy by putting a hold on the promotion of Corps Brigadier General Michael Walsh to Major General. I agree with the substance of the editorial, but believe it would have been more effective if the North Dakota Senator’s first name had been spelled correctly!
Jonathan Tilove reported today in The Times-Picayune that Louisiana’s junior Senator David Vitter is burnishing his reputation as a renegade in the Senate by putting a hold on the promotion of Michael Walsh, commander of the Mississippi River Valley Division of the US Army Corps of Engineers. Vitter got into a heated exchange with Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) over the incident. According to Tilove, Dorgan, who chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development told Vitter that he is jeopardizing further funding for the rebuilding of post-Katrina New Orleans. Brigadier General Walsh is scheduled to receive an additional star promoting him to Major General, which will not change his post in Vicksburg. Vitter is demanding policy changes on the part of the corps in exchange for lifting the hold.
Happy Earth Day!! In the increasingly likely case that you were born after April 22, 1970 you may not realize that today is the 40th Earth Day (created by the late great US Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin). Here’s an article in Slate Magazine on what you can do.
Speaking of tone deafness re Earth Day in south Louisiana, Naomi King wrote an article published yesterday in The Houma Courier on a study by conservative economists* on supposed disastrous effects of CO2 Cap-and-Trade legislation on Louisiana jobs. Note to elected officials and other state deniers of climate change: Louisiana should look into becoming the national center for the manufacture of water wings.
While writing her article Ms. King called me to get a countering opinion and I shared with her a new animated graphic that I had just discovered on the web site of NPR (that well known radical leftist organization) about coastal areas in particular trouble during the 21st century and beyond. Check it out here. Louisiana animated graphic on 18 ft sea level rise from 2010 to AD 3000.
*Those who see economics as independent of nature.
Kevin McGill wrote a post for today’s Huffpost about an explosion and fire on an oil rig 52 miles southeast of Venice. The US Coast Guard has reported that from 11-15 workers are missing. We often forget the fact that many thousands of Louisianans and other gulf coast residents spend most of their lives doing hard and risky work perched on platforms above deep water out of sight of land. Everyone who drives a car should be thinking about the families of the missing workers. Hopefully they’ll be found alive in lifeboats.
An editorial in today’s The Times-Picayune rails on the Corps of Engineers for failing to deliver on what began in 2007 as a Category 5 hurricane protection study for south Louisiana. The editorial cites the highly critical peer review of the study by Robert Dalrymple with the National Research Council (NRC) at a Tulane engineering conference last Friday. I had already noted on April 17 that, while Dr. Dalrymple was speaking in New Orleans, General Michael Walsh and Col. Alvin Lee were in Baton Rouge with the Mississippi River Commission.
Check out this essay by Clive Thompson published yesterday in Slate Magazine describing the fact that, while conservative politicians and media outlets deny the credibility of anthropogenic climate change (ACC), the free market is ahead of the game. Many industries have been acknowledging the consequences of ACC and gearing up to either profit from or offset “climate exposure” and financial disasters resulting from it.
Forgive me to note that on this day 27 years ago in 1983 I ran the Boston Marathon in 2:54 and change, the absolute high point of my running career. I was in much better shape and south Louisiana was about 675 square miles larger then. The good ol’ days.
In an op/ed published today in The Times-Picayune, Sara Pagones says that she holds no nostalgia for the imminent closure and removal of the old I-10 twin span bridge from Slidell to New Orleans. She’s happy that the concrete could become fish reefs at the bottom of the lake. By sheer coincidence, noted Tulane geographer and NOLA expert Rich Campanella has proposed what would obviously be a higher and I think better use for the old west-bound bridge, also published today in LaCoastPost. Check it out after around 8:00 AM CDT.
On 4/16 The Times-Picayune announced back-to-back meetings in Elmwood on 4/19 and 4/20 of the 11-member science panel reviewing the Donaldsonville to the Gulf levee project that could dramatically affect the entire Barataria Basin. According to the article the meetings are open to the public and will be held Monday from 2 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. and Tuesday from 8:45 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Joseph S. Yenni Building, 1221 Elmwood Park Blvd., Elmwood. Public comment periods will be held Monday at 5 p.m. and Tuesday at 2:45 p.m.
In today’s The Times-Picayune Ramon Antonio Vargas describes a talk in New Orleans by iconic Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, who helped bring down the Nixon administration, during which the veteran newsman described government secrecy as one of the top political problems in the country.
Woodward was describing the federal government primarily but a growing number of insiders with long experience in Louisiana state government have been characterizing the Jindal administration as the most secretive, loyalty-driven and dictatorial they’ve ever seen. This conforms with my nine months’ experience with the current administration, during which it became increasingly obvious that alternative and sometimes politically unpopular views on coastal policy were strongly discouraged. My experience goes back to Buddy Roemer so I’m not just whistling Dixie.
A governor surrounded by a team of loyal lackeys is unlikely to get the honest and objective information necessary to save the coast.
Mark Schleifstein reports in today’s The Times-Picayune on a critical meeting of a team of expert scientists and engineers from the National Research Council (NRC) in New Orleans yesterday. The NRC peer review group, headed by Robert Dalrymple from Johns Hopkins University, described fundamental problems with the Corps of Engineers’ 8,000 page hurricane protection plan for south Louisiana. This is the notorious plan that has been under preparation since 2006 and which (still) totally misses the forest for the trees.
I hate to say I told you so, but the two main NRC criticisms paraphrase exactly what I (and other critics) have been saying for years: (1) the corps report does not include a map projecting how the Louisiana coast could or should look at the end of the century; and (2) it substitutes a wish list or grab bag of project ideas, while making no specific recommendations.
Speaking of tone deafness, while this critical meeting described by Schleifstein was taking place in New Orleans, the Corps commanders of the Mississippi Valley Division and the New Orleans District, respectively, were in Baton Rouge. As reported by Amy Wold in today’s The Advocate, Brigadier General Michael Walsh, Colonel Alvin Lee and members of the Mississippi River Commission were hosting a public meeting describing the management of the Mississippi River system. I was in attendance at that meeting, blissfully unaware (apparently like Walsh and Lee) of what was happening in New Orleans.
In today’s The Times-Picayune Jonathan Tilove describes the congressional debate accompanying passage yesterday of legislation to temporarily extend the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which had ended on March 28, through May. Louisiana’s delegation was split on the issue, with supporters including Sen. Mary Landrieu and Reps. Charlie Melancon, D-Napoleonville; Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge; and Anh “Joseph” Cao, R-New Orleans. Opposing the extension were Sen. David Vitter; and Reps. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson; John Fleming, R-Minden; Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette; and Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman.
Two riverfront industrial plants under consideration in south Louisiana each represent potential coastal impacts.
Amy Wold reported in today’s The Advocate on a public meeting yesterday in Convent to discuss air pollution that would emanate from the proposed Nucor Steel Louisiana pig iron plant in St. James Parish. The meeting was hosted by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ), the agency responsible for granting an air quality permit for the plant.
Massive amounts of coal will be consumed to produce more than 6 million metric tons of iron per year. This will significantly add to the huge carbon footprint of Louisiana, already the highest in the US, but currently LDEQ is not required to consider CO2 as an air pollutant.
Wold’s article includes the following quotes:
The $2.1 billion plant is expected to employ up to 500 workers, at an average annual salary of $75,000, The Associated Press has reported.
Nucor already spent $50.3 million to purchase the 4,000-acre site on the parish’s east bank.
The Jindal administration has proposed $65 million in the next state construction budget in incentives for the company to locate in Louisiana.
Ted Griggs reported in today’s The Advocate on the construction of a plant promoted by the Port of Baton Rouge that would grind trees into sawdust to be compressed into pellets to be shipped overseas to burn in power plants. Trees within a 150 mile radius of Baton Rouge would be targeted. That radius extends to the Gulf of Mexico. Given the recent experience of operations grinding bald-cypress trees from coastal forests into yard mulch, this operation raises concerns.
I had pretty much lost all hope in the mainstream southern media (MSSM) to deal honestly with climate change and ocean warming. That was before I was alerted to a strong and unambiguous statement in support of climate change science, not in a tree-hugger pub but in a distinguished gulf coast newspaper in the very heart of the oil patch. Read this editorial from – OMG – yesterday’s Houston Chronicle!
While a graduate student at the University of Georgia I participated in an oceanographic research cruise in the Atlantic Ocean, in 1970, year of the first Earth Day. We embarked from Jamaica and spent several days in the Sargasso Sea, a huge eddy adjacent to the Gulf Stream, where the ocean was calm, crystal clear and as pristine as can be imagined. Water sampling devices lowered overboard on cables could be seen for perhaps 100 meters below the surface.
Thus it was sobering to read this article in today’s Huffpost that those same waters off the SE American coast have during the last 40 years been converted by unnecessary packaging and a throwaway culture into a plastic trash dump. Now that’s progress for you. I wonder how much plastic is currently floating around the Gulf of Mexico.
Jordan Blum reported in today’s The Advocate that Federal District Judge James J. Brady in Baton Rouge denied the request by Dr. Ivor van Heerden to have his employment at LSU reinstated when his contract with the university ends on May 21. On the other hand the judge agreed to a preliminary injunction hearing with attorneys for van Heerden and LSU on May 19, so the issue remains unsettled.
Saiward Pharr, Morning Edition Host on WRKF-FM in Baton Rouge reported today that the concept of installing turbines in the lower Mississippi River to generate electricity is moving forward. A $3 million federal stimulus grant has been approved for the Tulane University River Sphere Project, which will occupy a 22,000 square foot space at the Port of New Orleans.
On April Fool’s Day I posted my top ten list of influential climate change deniers – just before the coal mine disaster in West Virginia. The disaster has aimed a media and government regulatory spotlight on a dirty industry with some notably black-hearted spokesmen and it seems that I may have missed a fitting character for my list. His name is Don Blankenship and he’s really a piece of work. Read this on line article to see what I mean.
Mark Schleifstein reported in today’s The Times-Picayune on the lawsuit for unlawful termination against LSU brought in February by well-known coastal scientist Ivor van Heerden. The article describes specific responses from university officials, who were previously unwilling to discuss the termination. This lawsuit and the ensuing arguments on both sides may reveal interesting details on why Louisiana’s flagship university has turned its back on outspoken key coastal experts in addition to Dr. van Heerden and passed up the golden opportunity to become known as the delta school of the world.
Yesterday was quite an experience for me. It was marked in the AM by a truly exciting 90-minute presentation at the Riverside Hilton of the “Dutch Dialogues III,” a bi-country brainstorming planning initiative focused on the historic core of New Orleans bounded by Lake Pontchartrain, the western side of the Orleans canal, the eastern side of the London Canal and the Lafitte Corridor to the French Quarter. This includes City Park, a jewel of the city.
NOLA architect David Waggoner and an impressive array of American and Dutch planners and engineers presented innovative and technically feasible proposals on how to bring water back into the city that has traditionally pretended that it was in Arkansas. The proposals were limited to the area described but they could easily be expanded.
I was particularly impressed that Shaun Donovan, Secretary of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Dutch Ambassador Renee Jones-Bos and Senator Mary Landrieu heard the entire presentation. Donovan later committed to following through with federal post-Katrina promises to restore New Orleans.
Katie Urbaszewski wrote an article in today’s The Times-Picayune about the opening of the American Planners Association (APA) meeting that included the Dutch Dialogues.
Second, I had the great honor to watch the first historic episode of Treme on HBO with my daughter Emilie and some of her friends in the Bywater. As noted yesterday, if this show continues beyond the first season, it will show the nation why NOLA is worth saving.
Many readers of LaCoastPost have powerful personal memories of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the storm on August 29, 2005 that created a PreK/PostK coastal turning point. Katrina transformed a somewhat moribund and limited program to restore south Louisiana into a considerably broadened program to protect and restore the Mississippi River delta. It also turned a national spotlight onto New Orleans, warts and all.
Recent events have increased the wattage of the PostK NOLA spotlight. These events began with a new Federal Administration untainted by the PreK FEMA, Corps waffling, Danziger Bridge episodes. They’ve been followed by the amazing Who Dat Nation win in Miami and the end of the Nagin regime – and an unprecedented excitement in the Big Easy.
Two more events in this sequence happen today. First there will be a presentation this morning at the Riverside Hilton of the “Dutch Dialogues,” a collaborative brainstorming effort by about 60 brainy planners from Holland and the US (led by David Waggoner) to show how NOLA could and should become sustainably connected physically and philosophically to its coastal setting.
Second, tonight the highly anticipated airing of the first episode of Treme will be shown on HBO all over the country, as described by Jarvis DeBerry today in The Times-Picayune. The show, if it continues beyond the first season, will show the nation why NOLA is worth saving.
It’s not clear who’s paying the entire light bill for the NOLA spotlight but the feds are paying much of it and before they pull the plug in five years or so something serious needs to happen – like taking seriously the recommendations from the Dutch Dialogues.
The Associated Press has a story in The Times-Picayune today about a small protest at the Republican Party convention in New Orleans last night at which Govs. Bobby Jindal and Rick Perry competed to see which man has the purest conservative credentials. I watched both speeches on CSPAN – not being interested in paying $10,000 for a meal and a photograph with my former boss.
Frankly I was sickened to hear Bobby tell the audience that as long as he is governor of the Bayou State he will never sign any kind of tax increase. He bragged about killing the Stelly Bill that would have helped to plug the huge and growing state budget and set us on a healthy fiscal course. He said that his solution is simply for Louisiana citizens to keep tightening our belts just like (he said) Ronald Reagan would have done in his place. I’m a little older than Bobby and I remember Ronald Reagan, who, if he were alive and governor of Louisiana, would not have made such a pledge on the backs of higher ed and healthcare.
I was also amused to hear Rick Perry describe Bobby Jindal as the first Republican governor of Louisiana. So much for the late Dave Treen and my former bosses Buddy Roemer and Mike Foster! In short, I heard nothing that made me feel good about our governor’s vision for the rest of the decade as the coast shrinks.
In contrast, I met New Orleans native and Tulane alumnus Lisa Jackson, President Obama’s very smart EPA Administrator after she gave an inspired speech on water issues at the Tulane Environmental Law Summit. I told Ms. Jackson that despite what she may have heard,there are smart folks in Louisiana who are concerned about sea level rise and unchecked CO2 emissions. I also spoke to Sen. Mary Landrieu at another important planning session for New Orleans known as the Dutch Dialogues, also at Tulane. Some folks are paying attention to our coastal plight.
I regret having missed the 20th anniversary of the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA) that was celebrated yesterday at Woodland Plantation in Plaquemines Parish and described by Mark Schleifstein in today’s The Times-Picayune. Amy Wold also covered the event for The Advocate. Having been the state’s representative on the CWPPRA Task Force from 1991 until 2006 I should have made a point to be there. Former Senator John Breaux, who created CWPPRA, also known as the Breaux Act, was also a no show. Would have been fun to talk to him about the good ol’ pre-Katrina days when more folks were optimistic about the challenge of restoring coastal Louisiana.
Jordan Blum wrote an article published today in The Advocate describing an investigation by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) into the termination by LSU of coastal geologist Ivor van Heerden. The termination takes effect in May and Dr. van Heerden is suing the university for wrongful termination.
A two-part guest post by LSU coastal ecologist Andy Nyman is under preparation that describes in detail the dynamic ecosystem known as the Bird’s foot delta at the mouth of the Mississippi River 100 mile south of New Orleans. Dr. Nyman’s post will be seen as the work of someone who knows the area like the back of his hand and who fully appreciates its ecological value.
Now, four days before its scheduled publication, the Associated Press reports that a crude oil spill by Exxon-Mobil operations has fouled parts of the Delta National Wildlife Refuge that occupies much of the area. How ironic.
In today’s The Times-Picayune Mark Schleifstein describes a proposal to redevelop parts of New Orleans in a sustainable fashion by reversing three centuries of fighting nature and reconnecting the city to water and wetlands. This plan is the culmination of a collaborative effort by local and Dutch planners, including visionary New Orleans planner and architect David Waggoner. The plan will be presented this weekend at a planning conference and based on the elements mentioned in the article I’m anxious to check it out. The timing seems perfect from a political standpoint in that Hizzoner Mitch Landrieu’s Senator sister Mary has raved about the Dutch approach to urban planning.
Robert R. Jones III wrote an article published in today’s The Advocate describing a recent vote among Vermilion Parish officials that left me scratching my head. The story involves the ongoing struggle between advocates of ‘natural’ vs ‘artificial’ coastal protection.
The specific issue is a disagreement over the beneficial use of sediment dredged from deepening the Port of Iberia navigation channel in Freshwater Bayou from 12 to 16 feet. This will damage the coast by bringing more salt water into low salinity marshes. The choice is whether to use the dredged spoil to enhance marshes or to elevate hurricane levees.
Senators Landrieu and Vitter have been asked to intercede to change the authorized federal/state plan on use of the sediment. I think that the unanimous vote (predictably) supported higher levees rather than marsh enhancement but that isn’t clear from the article.
Yesterday on her NPR show Fresh Air Terry Gross interviewed David Simon and New Orleans resident Eric Overmyer, creators of the new HBO drama Treme, all filmed in New Orleans. I recently watched Simon’s five-season HBO series The Wire, all filmed in Simon’s (and my) hometown of Baltimore. So far at least The Wire is the best television drama I’ve ever seen.
I’m very anxious to see Treme, which begins on April 11th and which features New Orleans native Wendell Pierce (a star of The Wire) as a trombone player. Treme is about regular people coping with the aftermath of Katrina and music plays a big part of the show, with Dr. John and Kermit Ruffins playing themselves.
In this podcast of the 36 minute interview you’ll hear John Goodman, who plays a college English professor in the series, explaining that Katrina flooding in Mississippi was a natural phenomenon but that the flooding and misery in New Orleans was an engineering failure.
Talk about effects of river diversions! For LaCoastPost readers who still assert that human beings don’t have the power to affect the biosphere (you know who you are) read this amazing story from Huffpost on the virtual elimination of what was once the fourth largest lake on Earth – the Aral Sea in eastern Europe. This ecological disaster was accomplished by the engineering feat of diverting river water that once fed the lake to irrigate cotton farms.
When you finish reading about this example of engineering prowess read this account, also from Huffpost, on the Chinese coal ship that is destroying a large portion of the Great Barrier Reef.
Chris Kirkham reports in today’s The Times-Picayune on the closure to oyster harvesting of an unusually large portion of SE Louisiana waters by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH). The closure has been prompted by the outbreak of a non-fatal but nasty gastro-intestinal sickness among raw oyster consumers that has been blamed on a highly communicable virus called Norovirus. Kirkham points out that the source is very difficult to track but the unusually wet end of winter causing more runoff could be the source. The closure area sets a ten year record.
Amy Wold has a story in today’s The Advocate about the ill-fated West Bay river water diversion project in lower Plaquemines Parish that is slated to be closed down by the Corps of Engineers because it has been blamed for causing shoaling in an anchorage area of the river. Parish President Billy Nungesser and Parish official P.J. Hahn have objected, saying that the project could be retrofitted to build land. In my opinion, the project was ill-conceived in the first place, being too far downstream to make a significant difference re land loss. Since it was approved in 1991 and constructed many years later it was a perfect example of ‘trial-and-error’ engineering that ignored river science.
Bob Marshall’s Outdoors Column in today’s The Times-Picayune calls attention to an important service provided on the Louisiana Wildlife Federation Web site that allows coastal advocates of various stripes to track about 700 bills introduced during the ongoing regular session of the state legislature that pertain to wetland habitat, fish and wildlife and related issues.
Marshall also reminds readers of the 15th annual Tulane Environmental Law Summit to be held next Friday and Saturday (April 9-10) at the Law School, which features experts speaking on critical coastal issues.
Jan Moller wrote an article for The Times-Picayune on the results of a new poll showing growing public discontent with state government. The poll results don’t have any specific coastal relevance but the large commitment of dollars to the state cost share of the total coastal protection and restoration package must look like a target to legislators desperately trying to balance a budget billions out of whack. Approval of the fiscal year 2011 annual coastal plan comes up for approval during the current session.
LaCoastPost published a detailed critique of this plan on February 7 and on March 16 three national conservation groups recommended specific modifications to the plan. Maybe I missed hearing about it but so far I’ve heard no mention from the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities about changes to this plan as a result of public comments.
The big coastal news on April Fool’s Day was clearly the reaction in the ‘Oil Patch’ in south Louisiana to President Obama’s announcement to open new areas of the Eastern Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas exploration and drilling.
Mark Schleifstein reported in The Times-Picayune that Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar visited the New Orleans area to discuss the economic benefits of the Obama decision to expand offshore oil and gas leasing.
John Kelly included the media reaction to the president’s announcement and Salazar’s visit as the top story in Louisiana Roundup in The Times-Picayune. Jeff Moore reports in The Advertiser on the generally positive reaction to Obama’s announcement. Kathrine Schmidt wrote a story in The Houma Courier with generally the same tone. An Opelousas Daily World staff report also reflected excitement over economic prospects for south Louisiana.
The sole negative voice was Don Briggs, president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association who Jeff Moore quoted:
“The president will need some key votes on climate change,” Briggs said. “I question whether this is not a carrot for those votes.”
Isn’t this biting the hand that feeds?
A confidential source informs me that a memorandum on Governor Jindal’s letterhead stationery and bearing his initials is headed to the White House today with the following message:
Dear President Obama:
Whereas: the State of Louisiana and its energy-related interests stand to realize significant benefits from your very welcome decision to allow expanded offshore oil and gas exploration and drilling in the Gulf of Mexico; and
Whereas: sea level rise and the concomitant risk of catastrophic flooding from tropical storms and hurricanes is steadily increasing as the world oceans undergo thermal expansion from heat being trapped by anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions; and
Whereas: protecting and restoring the coast of Louisiana will cost untold billions of dollars, 65% from federal sources, to match the state’s 35% cost share;* and
Whereas: restored coastal wetlands in Louisiana could theoretically act as a carbon sink that would help reduce Louisiana’s carbon footprint and generate revenue under an emerging carbon market that could help offset the cost to the state;
Therefore: I hereby invite appropriate members of your staff to engage in an ongoing conversation with Garret Graves, my executive assistant in the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities, about the development of reasonable national standards (caps) on the emission of industrial CO2 that would not negatively impact jobs in our state.
I look forward to your response,
Bobby Jindal, Governor
*We maintain that the lion’s share of the protection/restoration cost should be a federal responsibility, in that federal decisions for the most part created the conditions under which south Louisiana has lost 2,000+ square miles of coastal landscape during the past sixty years.