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February 2011 Coastal Scuttlebutt

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February 15

New Orleans: brain magnet?

My brainy daughter Emilie Bahr, busily working on a masters degree in urban planning at UNO, was excited to share this article by Joel Kotkin in newgeography.com that ranks New Orleans first in American cities, in terms of attracting smart and creative young residents on a per capita basis. This trend is apparently related to the devastation experienced during the passage of Hurricane Katrina.

Here’s a quote:

Rather than following a clear path to the world of the “hip and cool,” college graduates appear influenced by a more nuanced and complex series of factors in terms of their location. New Orleans’ No. 1 ranking, for example, is likely product of the continuing recovery of its shrunken population, where the central city appears to be somewhat more attractive to professionals than before Katrina while the suburban populations have recovered more quickly from the disaster.

Purely by coincidence, this afternoon Harry Shearer posted this comment in HuffingtonPost about the undiscussed human tragedy implied by the new census data for New Orleans. Of 118,000 mostly African American folks who were evacuated from Katrina flooding about 100,000 have never returned to the city they loved.

Speaking of the contrasts between urban vs. suburban living, Jon Stewart conducted a fascinating interview last night on The Daily Show with Harvard economist Edward Glaesner, who has written widely about the socioeconomic advantages of cities. His newest book is called Triumph of the City, which, as it turns out, was reviewed on Sunday February 13 in The New York Times.

The importance of cities and the distinctions between urban and suburban living suggest a story comparing coastal population centers in Louisiana, including Lake Charles, Houma, Lafayette, Baton Rouge, the North Shore and the Big Easy.

Where’s the devastation from the drilling moratorium, Gov’nor?

It pains me to say, “I told you so,” but…Michelle Millhollon reported in a feature article in today’s The Advocate that, despite months of dire warnings from Governor Jindal and oil industry execs like Don Briggs that the Louisiana sky was falling in around our ears, the state economy has not suffered from President Obama’s temporary moratorium on deepwater drilling.

February 14

Darwin Day and its coastal significance

Emily Hart Holden reported today in The Advocate on a gathering yesterday at the Unitarian Church in Baton Rouge of the Louisiana chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The group met to celebrate Darwin Day, held each year around February 12, the birthday of the father of modern evolutionary biology.

Among the celebrants was Baton Rouge Magnet High School Senior Zachary Kopplin. Zack has taken the lead in an effort to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act of 2008 (LSEA), a law that puts public science teachers in the untenable position of inciting doubt in their pupils’ minds about the validity of science, including both evolution and climate change.

Dr. Barbara Forrest, professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University, has become a hero to scientists and a nemesis and thorn in the side to the conservative lobbying group the Louisiana Family Forum, which lobbied successfully for the passage of the anti-science law. She co-founded a group called the Louisiana Coalition For Science (LCFS), which is assisting in the repeal effort. Here’s the link to a podcast of a radio interview on stateofbelief.com with Professor Forrest and student Kopplin that was broadcast yesterday.

The LSEA, which was supported and signed by Governor Bobby Jindal (ironically a biology major at Brown University) it not only calls science into question, it implies that the 20-year program to restore the Mississippi River delta is based on misinformation and therefore a meaningless exercise. The repeal of LSEA would be a legitimate agenda item for the meeting on February 16 of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA).

Dawin’s birth in England 201 years and two days ago coincided to the day with the birth in Kentucky of Abraham Lincoln. As far as I know, no monuments exist in Louisiana to either of these influential giants. Given current political attitudes in the Bayou State, were either man alive today and interested he could probably not unseat Bobby Jindal as governor, come primary election day on October 22.

February 13

Where’s our Valentine chocolate from oil and gas?

Chris Kahn reported in HuffingtonPost on Friday 2/11 that the price per barrel of oil went from $33 in early 2009 to $100 per barrel today. The price of gasoline at $3.17/gallon is currently 6% higher than in mid-February 2008…before it climbed to over $4/gallon.

Since moving to the gulf coast in 1973 I’ve seen the impact of cheap oil on the Bayou State. During the early eighties oil fell to $11/barrel; downtown Lafayette was a ghost town; and my research contract with LSU expired.

I was reminded of this excruciating career-ending memory when I read Jan Moller’s article in today’s The Times-Picayune about university professors leaving the state in the face of current budget cuts. What I don’t understand is the apparent disconnect between these two articles.

Economists say that 1 out of every 7 jobs in Louisiana is dependent on the oil and gas industry. Times are lean when oil is cheap…so why isn’t the converse true…why are we not flush when oil is dear? Given current oil prices why is the state budget picture so dire as to cause a brain drain from higher ed?

State officials treat the industry with kid gloves and rail against biting the hand that feeds. For example, our politicians vehemently oppose environmental regulations to protect us from future well disasters.

We know how to share the pain with oil and gas; why can’t we demand that the industry share the love, e.g., by helping pay the enormous environmental cost of their operation…or at the very least not fighting inexpensive safety regulations?

Where’s our Valentine chocolate?

MRGO graphic from the Times-Picayune

February 12

Public input solicited for MRGO repair plan

Mark Schleifstein reported in today’s The Times-Picayune that, in response to requests by St. Bernard Parish officials, the US Army Corps of Engineers has extended the time limit for public comments on the $2.9 billion ten year plan to repair widespread damage to the Pontchartrain Basin east of New Orleans caused by the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) now closed after fifty years of operation of this navigation debacle. Comments must be submitted by midnight March 5 to Tammy Gilmore, Environmental Manager, at tammy.H.Gilmore@usace.army.mil, 504.862.1002.

I posted a critical review of this plan on December 23, calling it necessary but insufficient. It primarily needs more than the sole and relatively puny river water diversion at Violet. A half century of isolation from river water nourishment and constantly increasing salt water coming in from the gulf calls for a multi-element combined capacity to convey on occasion about 50,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) of  river water to the east. An optimum site for additional river water would be adjacent to the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal Lock. See a post on that concept from March 2010 here.

Once more I would urge the corps to consider using available spent bauxite (red mud) stockpiled a few miles upstream as a free source of clay for ridge enhancement and marsh restoration in this plan.

See posts here, here and here. For reasons that remain mysterious, however, I expect this suggestion to fall on deaf ears at the District Office on Leake Avenue.

Financing this project at a 35-65% state federal cost share will be highly problematic under current state and federal budget constraints, but it comes in at less than 20% of the $15 billion post-Katrina levee upgrade to the NOLA region currently underway and scheduled to be completed this June.

In summary, I strongly support the approval and implementation of this plan, as far preferable to doing nothing.

Deepwater oil drilling safety regulatory system opposed by Louisiana pols!

Jonathan Tilove reported in today’s The Times-Picayune that elected officials from Louisiana are unalterably opposed to a new safety regulatory system endorsed by the Presidential Oil Spill Commission that would dramatically reduce the risk of a future Macondo type well blowout. It seems that the very modest cost of the system would decrease industry profits by the whopping sum of from seven to twelve cents per barrel, adding a devastating quarter of a cent to the cost of a gallon of gasoline! Am I missing something here?

February 11

Coastal congressional district…a good idea?

In light of the new census results that force Louisiana to lose one congressional seat, negotiations are underway to develop new congressional district boundaries. Freshman Congressman Jeff Landry (R-New Iberia) has proposed a new coastal district spanning south Louisiana from Mississippi to Texas.

The Mississippi and Texas sides of the Louisiana coast are functionally distinct, the former comprising the Deltaic Plain and the latter the Chenier Plain.

The concept of a coastal congressional district bears serious discussion, informed by detailed information on the historic, current and future states of the coast. I would suggest that this topic would make a good agenda item for the CPRA meeting on February 16.

Rep. Landry apparently feels that he’s the appropriate person to fill a new coast-wide district but his opposition to the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions by EPA indicates that he doesn’t understand (or care about) the accelerating increase in sea level rise happening as a result of human-caused global warming (and subsidence). This would indicate that he has much to learn about the real risks to our coast.

Oysters locally stressed…and globally endangered?

Today on Baton Rouge NPR affiliate station WRKF-FM 89.3, it was announced that Louisiana officials, including Senator Mary Landrieu, are pressuring BP to pay $18 million that was presumably promised to rejuvenate public oyster grounds that were impacted from April 20 to July 15 (and after) by the Macondo well blowout.

It was said by the announcer on WRKF that oyster production has fallen off significantly since the blowout That’s the first time I’ve heard about a significant decline in bivalve production but oysters make a perfect indicator of environmental stress and I’m curious whether this change is anecdotal or based on a quantitative assessment.

In a related story, oysters have been declared functionally extinct on a global level, according to an article in Bioscience reported on February 6 in HuffingtonPost.

February 10

A coastal planning document actually worth the paper it’s printed on?

I’ve spent two decades struggling to influence realistic planning for coastal restoration that incorporates credible science…while the Mississippi River delta continues shrinking and sinking. Thus I’m extremely cynical about new plans, which inevitably collect dust and generate little meaningful action. Given that disclaimer, I tentatively call your attention to what appears to be a different breed of recipe for restoring the gulf coast, which reflects very broad, post-Macondo thinking.

This document, published yesterday, is titled Beyond Recovery, Moving the Gulf Coast Toward a Sustainable Future by Kate Jordan, Jeffrey Buchanan, Phillip Singerman , Jorge Madrid and Sarah Busch and it’s a product of the Center for American Progress, based in DC.

The authors may be overly optimistic but they seem to be credentialed and politically sophisticated outsiders without preconceptions, provincial blinders or axes to grind…and folks who have not become co-opted by groupthink.

I have only read the executive summary but so far I’m impressed.

River dredging, money and global warming

Yesterday in The Advocate Amy Wold reported on a $20 million budget shortfall during the 2011 fiscal year for operating what is often called the world’s largest port system, based on cargo tonnage, which includes commercial facilities between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. The fund in arrears is used to maintain at 45 feet a navigable channel in the Mississippi River between the Gulf of Mexico and Baton Rouge. Maintaining the current channel will inexorably become more difficult and expensive each year.

Physical and numerical models show that the Bird’s Foot Delta is ‘drowning’ and Southwest Pass is becoming increasingly obsolete as a result of sea level rise caused by global warming. Scientists predict that shoaling in the lower river will continue to increase and move upstream, so maintaining the sole deepwater pathway to the ocean will become more and more problematic over time.

The obvious solution is to replace SW Pass with a slackwater navigation channel upstream from Head of Passes, which would reduce dredging costs and allow the millions of tons of sediments currently washing offshore each Spring to be put to good use sustaining at least some of the delta.

Unfortunately the navigation industry (as well as oyster growers in lower Plaquemines Parish) have long been opposed to this concept. In addition, virtually all elected officials in the state have closed their eyes and ears to the unmistakable evidence of global warming.

Peak oil almost here?

According to this post in yesterday’s TheDailyBeast, among the hundreds of thousands of confidential communications released in the Wikileaks data dump was a message from a Saudi Arabian official suggesting that the year 2012 will mark an ominous global milestone. Oil production from the world’s largest source may reach a maximum in 2011 and thereafter begin to decline.

Interestingly enough, in a recent interview on WRKF-FM 89.3 Congressman Bill Cassidy (R-Baton Rouge) pooh-poohed the entire concept of peak oil as just an environmental scare tactic.

Overlooked sand berm article

Somehow this December 16 post on Governor Bobby Jindal’s infamous $220 million sand berms slipped past my notice. It was written by Brett Michael Dykes and published in Yahoo! News The Lookout. Read and enjoy.

Violet Canal 5 days post Katrina (Times-Picayune photo archive)

February 9

Violet diversion project under fire by critics of MRGO repair plan

On December 23 I posted a critique of a draft plan created under the leadership of the Corps of Engineers to attempt to repair massive delta damage east of the lower Mississippi River, caused by dredging and operating for 50 years a straight artificial navigation channel from New Orleans to the Gulf. This disastrous project, known as the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO), was finally closed in 2009.

My principal criticism of the MRGO repair plan was that it lacked a fundamental feature, namely a system of diversion projects capable of periodically conveying large volumes of river water eastward into the dying delta. None of the modest measures proposed in the draft plan are sustainable, absent such a keystone feature.

In my opinion the demand for periodic pulses of river water amounts to perhaps 50,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), but the draft plan includes only a single small diversion project near Violet, at a scale of 1,000 to 7,000 cfs. This project is far too small but even more disheartening is that some vocal local residents oppose it.

In today’s The Times-Picayune Mark Schleifstein reported that the Violet diversion project and its specific location came under fire by some residents of St. Bernard Parish during a public meeting last evening in the Lower Ninth Ward.

This is a perfect example of the kind of local opposition to critical restoration projects that could ultimately scuttle the success of restoring even small parts of the delta, unless strong leadership from the governor’s office is brought to bear.

Bill (Daniel Boone) Cassidy shows his disdain for environmental protection

February 8

More on EPA  targeting…by a Louisiana congressman, Chamber of Congress lobbyists…and me!

Congressman Bill Cassidy

In the February 7 mini-post I reported that Louisiana 6th district congressman Bill Cassidy (R-Baton Rouge) was highly critical of the energy policy positions of President Obama and the plans by EPA to regulate industrial CO2 emissions (scroll down to Feb 7). His opinions were expressed during an interview by Saiward Pharr on WRKF-FM 89.3 (Baton Rouge NPR member station).

In my opinion Ms. Pharr treated the congressman with kid gloves. For example, she failed to ask Cassidy two critical coastal questions:

1)   Do you agree with the overwhelming number of climate scientists who now recognize that human-generated greenhouse gases are significantly altering global climate, resulting in accelerated sea level rise, ocean acidification and increased incidence of disastrous extreme weather events?

2)   Do you understand and acknowledge the fact that south Louisiana is the most vulnerable place in North America to sea level rise?

Business interests

Timothy Noah posted an insightful piece on February 7 in Slate.com on why businesses oppose most government regulations, rules that are intended to protect public health and welfare, including the dangers of climate change. EPA remains their favorite target. Two quotes:

…the federal agency most frequently criticized by the businesses surveyed is the Environmental Protection Agency, according to news reports. That’s mainly because the EPA typically produces more regulations than most other agencies; currently it has 32 actions pending, compared with 23 at Health and Human Services and 14 at the Agriculture department.)

The amount of money spent last year on lobbying—just on lobbying, not on campaign contributions—was $3.47 billion, which is more than double the $1.56 billion spent 10 years earlier. Some of that money was spent by labor unions and public-interest groups, but the overwhelming majority of it was spent by businesses.

Len Bahr (usually an EPA supporter)

Amy Wold reported on the front page of The Advocate on ongoing negotiations between EPA and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) over air pollution permitting standards for the new Nucor Corporation iron plant to be constructed along the river in Convent. Once more not a whisper about the idea of asking the company to provide a right of way for a conveyance channel across the plant property to flow river water to nourish the dying Maurepas Swamp. i would have thought that someone from EPA would be interested.

Whooping cranes coming back to Louisiana

On February 8 The Times Picayune carried an AP report that ten young whooping cranes will be shipped to Louisiana from The Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge in southern Maryland, near where I began my career as a coastal scientist. The ultra-rare birds were hatched and raised under conditions designed to prevent their familiarity with humans, to southwest Louisiana. This is an experimental attempt to develop a resident population of the magnificent endangered birs that disappeared from Louisiana six decades ago.

February 7

EPA in the news: under fire by Koch Brothers (and Louisiana congressman Bill Cassidy) and defended by The New York Times

It is true that elections have consequences. It is equally true that election outcomes can be purchased.

An article in latimes.com by Los Angeles Times reporters Tom Hamburger, Kathleen Hennessey and Neela Banerjee documents how opponents of government action on climate change and global warming effectively bought serious influence over US energy policy during the 2010 election.

The extremely wealthy and politically influential Koch Brothers are the titular leaders of the movement to discredit global warming and climate change. Congressman Fred Upton, new chairman of the house committee on energy and the environment, is a close friend of the Koch brothers and a beneficiary of their largesse. Upton is the avowed enemy of the EPA and an opponent of the intention by that agency to use the Clean Air Act to reduce industrial CO2 emissions.

His colleague in the Republican house caucus, Louisiana congressman Bill Cassidy, has signed onto this anti-EPA movement, as he (Cassidy) revealed during an interview today on Baton Rouge NPR affiliate WRKF-FM 89.3.  He strongly opposes EPA and supports the fight against regulating CO2 emissions. The coastal consequences of this political change are truly profound.

An editorial in yesterday’s New York Times describes the ridiculous but serious attack on EPA’s regulatory authority over greenhouse gases by both houses of congress.

Rich Campanella, master mapper

February 6

We need Campanella maps!

In today’s The Advocate Marsha Shuler and Gerard Shields reported on the political implications of the population shifts in Louisiana documented by the 2010 census. Their article describes the zero sum game dynamics and impending power struggles over new boundaries for state legislative districts and congressional districts. As previously discussed on February 4 (scroll down) these census data provide detailed evidence of coastal retreat during the decade. These population changes have fundamental implications with respect to the process of revising the state master plan for protecting and restoring the coast, due to be complete in 2012.

With that in mind I propose that, at its upcoming meeting on February 16, the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) discuss the concept of commissioning notable Tulane Geographer Rich Campanella to map the detailed relationships among population changes during the past decade against landscape changes during the same time, for example using data from the USGS. Such maps should be explicitly used to evaluate proposed protection measures to be included in the revised master plan.

I have not spoken to Rich about this concept but I hereby invite him to write a guest post with a proposal for such a project.

Landrieu running for fourth term

Bruce Alpert and Jonathan Tilove reported in today’s The Times-Picayune that Senator Mary Landrieu will seek reelection for a fourth term as the sole remaining Democrat in a statewide post. Mary, who inherited the mantle of coastal advocacy from retired Senator John Breaux, has overseen the reweaving and enlargement of that garment.

February 5

Louisiana officials beg the energy industry not to leave the state.

Louisiana still playing Uncle Tom to ‘Massa’ Energy

Pardon my paranoia but I see virtually everything that happens in the world through a Louisiana coastal prism. Yesterday’s mini-post speculated on the complex implications in south Louisiana of the current spike in energy cost as a result of the unrest in Egypt.

Higher energy prices cost all American consumers but benefit energy producers in Louisiana. This should, in theory, provide a potential windfall to the state treasury, relieving the impending $1.6 billion budget shortfall; however, to my knowledge no such fairness discussion is under consideration.

The obsequious and servile attitude of the state toward big energy, reflected in the loss of untold billions in tax breaks and subsidies over the years, eliminates the concept of sharing profits when times are particularly good for the industry and bad for the state. The projected cost of attempting to repair some of the massive coastal damage unquestionably caused directly and indirectly by almost a century of oil and gas operations in south Louisiana is huge, far beyond the state budget and out of the question from a penurious Congress.

This situation would offer the most obvious argument for the state’s back being scratched for a change…by the industry that is both responsible and that would benefit from successful restoration. Don’t count on it, however.

On a related note from the ‘Yankee’ part of the state, in today’s The Advocate Ted Griggs reported on the state losing severance tax money during boom times for natural gas production.

Gas producers drilling into the Haynesville Shale have been avoiding paying a fair share of severance taxes because of an obsolete subsidy created in 1974 to induce more gas drilling before horizontal drilling had advanced to its present state.

Greg Albrecht, an apparently courageous economist from the state legislative fiscal office, is quoted estimating that plugging this loophole could add significant revenue to state coffers (that could, for example, help fund the state share of the coastal program) but politics have intervened. Here’s a quote:

Severance taxes are based on natural gas prices, Albrecht said. The current tax rates are about half what they were the last fiscal year, 16 cents per thousand cubic feet versus 33 cents, when natural gas prices were higher.

Even so, at the current gas production levels, the state will forgo more than $100 million in taxes in fiscal 2011, he said. Louisiana finds itself in the unusual position of lowering mineral revenue projections when oil prices are high and natural gas production is at the highest level since the early 1980s.

Governor Jindal’s intransigent and obsessive prohibition on raising taxes precludes a fair approach to balancing the state budget by encouraging the fair sharing of tax burdens. This particularly impacts coastal residents, more than their high and dry Yankee counterparts.

February 4

Population changes in southeast Louisiana

In today’s The Advocate Greg Garland reported on the population changes in south Louisiana during the ‘zeros’ decade, especially in the southeastern part of the state. These shifts have important implications in terms of the upcoming struggle to re-jigger congressional district boundaries, absorbing one lost district.

Aside from the political implications of the new census results, Hurricane Katrina clearly convinced many residents of Plaquemines, St. Bernard, Orleans and Jefferson Parishes to retreat from the coast and relocate to higher ground.

I’m intrigued by the fact that from an interstate perspective, the Louisiana population overall remained flat compared with its gulf coast neighbors, despite the fact that Louisiana is relatively prosperous in terms of employment and income metrics. These trends suggest that it’s time to seriously discuss what could arguably be the most sustainable and cost-effective measure to protect and restore coastal Louisiana…to buy out the owners of the riskiest real estate before folks become complacent and begin moving back to flood prone zones. This rarely discussed issue (buyouts rather than levees) would be a great topic for the February meeting of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA).

Coastal implications of Egyptian crisis

William Alden posted an article yesterday in HuffingtonPost on what he sees as catastrophic impacts on global economic recovery of the uncertainty swirling around the ongoing struggle to oust Hosni Mubarek. The rising price of oil is what concerns Alden, which he says could totally stall the economic recovery at national and global levels.

Here’s a quote:

A higher cost of oil impacts Americans in myriad ways. It boosts gas prices at the pump, it raises heating costs and it deprives consumers of the money they would otherwise spend on other things. As transportation in general becomes more expensive, the cost of airplane tickets rises, and it becomes more costly to ship goods, which, again, hits consumers’ wallets.

I agree with these conclusions on the painful short-term impacts. On the other hand, Alden doesn’t mention the fact that increasing oil costs would result in reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and expanding conservation measures.

I’m very curious about the local (coastal) implications of potential $5/gallon gasoline in Louisiana. How do our officials at the State Capitol, who face a $1.6 billion revenue shortfall, really feel about rising oil prices? They’re obviously conflicted.

For example, David Hammer reported in today’s The Times-Picayune that there are more drilling rigs in the gulf today than before the Macondo blowout. Thus the energy industry appears upbeat about expanding drilling in the gulf, despite endless grousing about the temporary moratorium on deepwater drillling. Here’s a quote:

In fact, while Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and others have focused on the five semi-submersible drilling rigs and two drillships that left the Gulf after the moratorium was imposed, few have noted that 19 rigs have come into the region during that same time period. Some just passed through and left again, like one that stopped in a shipyard on its way to Brazil. But there’s still a net gain to the Gulf, according to the ODS-Petrodata figures.

If and when oil reaches $200/barrel, state revenues and energy-related jobs would expand in the near term. Doubtless our drill-baby-drill politicos would secretly celebrate these effects at private gatherings, for example at the Petroleum Club in Lafayette. In public I expect to hear nothing but straight-faced commiseration with SUV-driving commuters and other voters…and more blame for the pain on the White House!

Is EPA being caught with its collective pants down re the BP blowout?

February 3

Is EPA being snookered by BP?

Robert L. Cavnar posted an article yesterday in HuffingtonPost suggesting that the EPA may be caving to BP pressure and considering dramatically reducing the official estimate of the volume of oil released from the Macondo well blowout. So far I’ve seen nothing in other media outlets about what appears to be an extremely important issue.

It’s my understanding that fines levied against BP are directly proportional to how much oil escaped, which has generally been estimated at 4.9 million barrels, of which 0.8 was presumably recovered at the wellhead, leaving 4.1 million barrels on which the fine would be determined. Here’s a quote from Cavnar’s article:

If BP gets away with reducing the flow estimate to half of the current estimate, it will be a masterful manipulation of government regulators and inexperienced administration officials.    It appears that with the media now completely ignoring this tragedy, BP will successfully lowball the flow to minimize its liability.

I’m somewhat perplexed by and dubious that an issue of such importance would be unilaterally determined by EPA, without input from the White House, FEMA, NOAA, the Coast Guard, etc. I would also have expected that if a dramatic change in the volume of oil released were under serious consideration it would have been discussed in the final report of the Presidential Oil Spill Commission.

The BP fine has been widely estimated at about $20 billion, of which it is hoped that Congress will agree to dedicate 80%…up to $16 billion…to gulf coast restoration. If Cavnar is correct, this number could be cut in half, to about $8 billion

Unfortunately for future generations, Louisiana elected officials have happily joined a national Republican campaign to prevent the EPA from using the Clean Air Act to reduce industrial CO2 emissions. This campaign, which denies the accelerating rise in sea level caused by global warming, has huge negative implications for efforts to save the Mississippi River delta.

A decision by the EPA to reduce the estimate of oil released would play into the hands of and provide political ammunition to the foes of the very agency that has been a staunch ally and supporter of coastal restoration in Louisiana.

I hope that Cavnar is wrong. Otherwise EPA will be bending over with a huge Kick Me sign on its butt.

February 2

More on the rush to ban earmarks; Louisiana pols struggle to have it both ways

Bruce Alpert wrote an article for today’s The Times-Picayune that followed up on the theme of tightening federal budget strings that was discussed in this column yesterday (scroll down to February 1). Both Louisiana senators are tying themselves in knots trying to have it both ways…to sound like budget hawks while demanding more ‘legitimate’ spending in Louisiana, especially for coastal projects.

In a piece carried in today’s The Times-Picayune, AP reporter David Espo described that EPA is under very serious attack in both the House and Senate over the issue of administrative reductions of green house gas emissions – especially CO2. Republicans in both houses are busily drafting bills that would prevent the EPA from its commitment to limit industrial CO2 emissions under the authority of the Clean Air Act. These conservatives have specifically railed against the cap-and-trade concept, which has been characterized as an onerous liberal idea.

During a keynote address at a major delta conference in New Orleans on November 20, 2010, Entergy CEO J. Wayne Leonard, hardly a flaming liberal, pointed out that cap-and-trade was a highly successful conservative Republican ‘invention’ that dramatically reduced acid rain during the 90s without costing jobs.

That lesson has been totally forgotten by the new generation of Republicans, who intransigently deny the overwhelming evidence for anthropogenic climate change and reflexively oppose any form of government regulation, no matter its implications for long-term human welfare.

A credible study commissioned by Entergy, under the direction of Mr. Leonard, projects more than $350 billion in cumulative damage by 2030 among 77 counties/parishes along the gulf coast, as a result of hurricanes, subsidence and sea level rise.

Van Heerden loses suit against LSU

NPR Baton Rouge member station WRKF-FM 89.3 reported this morning that US District judge James Brady yesterday ruled against well-known coastal geologist Ivor van Heerden in his lawsuit against LSU for not being granted tenure, allegedly for political reasons. Dr. van Heerden had charged that his contract with LSU was not renewed because he blew the whistle on the US Army Corps of Engineers for shoddy levee construction that led to fatal Katrina flooding. He charged that criticizing the corps angered LSU officials, who thought it might jeopardize future research funding from that agency.

February 1

Coastal implications of a five year domestic spending freeze

On January 30, Gerard Shields reported in The Advocate on the hypocrisy of Louisiana pols railing against earmarks while requesting same for Louisiana.

During his State of the Union address to the 112th Congress on Tuesday, President Obama said that he wanted to eliminate earmarks and freeze domestic spending for the next five years.

This would seem to put the kibosh on state expectations re federal funding for Louisiana’s massive levee projects, especially its centerpiece, the hugely expensive and highly controversial Morganza to the Gulf (MTTG) project.

Funding the locally popular MTTG project is far beyond state means, which has long provoked serious cognitive dissonance. In January, 2009, after Katrina-Rita in 2005 but before the Macondo well blowout in 2010, Governor Jindal gambled on funding construction of ‘phase one’ of this incredibly costly and potentially wetland-damaging barrier to be built across the seaward border of Terrebonne Parish…some of it already in open waters of the gulf!

It was presumably believed that using limited state funds to start the project would build sufficient political pressure to oblige the feds to send in the Corps of Engineers ‘cavalry’ to complete the job.

Now the federal financial picture has changed in the post earmark era. Abandoning MTTG would have dramatic implications for the newest version of coastal Master Plan that is currently being updated for release in 2012.

As long as MTTG is on the books, discussing practical alternatives is considered to be a defeatist position. Now what? Stay tuned.

High school science teachers fear evolution

A new study by researchers at Penn State University shows that public school science teachers are afraid or unprepared to teach evolution in science classes. This study was described yesterday in a report in HuffingtonPost .

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  1. Normally I don’t learn article on blogs, however I would like to say that this write-up very compelled me to check out and do it! Your writing style has been surprised me. Thank you, quite nice post.

  2. I saw a few other similar articles although yours has been the best so far.

  3. Rep. Cassidy’s comments are not surprising – he’s done little except repeat the party line since he was elected in 2008. La’s political leadership is rapidly declining in its quality and effectiveness.

  4. Kelly Haggar says:

    The NPR story did not get the Ivor van Heerden suit story correct. He only lost on his claim of tenure. The retaliation claim is still proceeding to trial.

    As to tenure, no facts were disputed and the case law is clearly in favor of LSU, so the granting of summary judgment on that narrow question was indeed proper.

    • If Ivor’s lawsuit claimed retaliation from LSU was carried out in the form of denial of tenure and Ivor lost on his claim of tenure, what’s left?

      So you say the retaliation claim is still proceeding to trial, but without the claim of denial of tenure. That sounds a bit like a Catch-22.

      • Kelly Haggar says:

        Prof Ivor raised two different claims; (1) that “he was entitled to de facto tenure and that [LSU and some other professors] deprived him of due process by deciding not to renew his contract without first providing him with a hearing” and (2) that he was “harassed and retaliated against for the exercise of his First Amendment rights.”

        Last week the judge only ruled on the first claim. Actually, this was the second time Prof Ivor has lost on a point related to Claim #1. Last year he was denied injunctive relief that the university must hire him back – they need not.

        So, knowing the answer to Claim #1 does not give the answer to Claim #2. If it had, the entire case would have been dismissed and there would be nothing further to litigate. Thus, his claim of harrassment and retaliation is still in play. I haven’t studied anything on the merits and won’t begin to offer an opinion as his chances of winning Claim #2. However, as to Claim #1, the judge’s ruling is straight up, plain vanilla, Black Letter law.

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