April 2011 Coastal Scuttlebutt (continued)
A judge named Limbaugh (probably no relation to Rush) gives the Corps the legal authority to blow a hole in Mississippi river levee near Cape Girardeau, Missouri
HuffingtonPost reported yesterday from an AP story by Jim Salter that a federal judge named Stephen Limbaugh has given the Corps of Engineers permission to dynamite a mile wide hole in a segment of river levee to creating a floodway to lower historically high river stages. The levee breach will flood 130,000 acres of farmland in southeast Missouri, possibly saving the lives of 3,000 residents at risk in Cairo, Illinois, while temporarily displacing 200 Missouri farmers.
Here’s a local view of the dilemma facing the Corps by Tim O’Neill posted in stltoday.com, a St. Louis website. Note that none of the emotional discussion includes the positive effects of river flooding on the landscape.
As this crest heads south toward America’s Delta I can’t help but wonder whether dynamiting key levee sections south of New Orleans wouldn’t help rebuild parts of our sinking delta and helping to protect the Big Easy. I can envision a group of geologists and river experts hastily recruited to meet at Vicksburg or New Orleans next week to identify three or four levee sites optimal for created crevasses. Dynamite is cheap, the costs of short term local flooding can be dealt with after the fact in the courts…and the cost of eternal flooding is extraordinarily high.
What say you, (U.S. Army Corps Engineers Maj. Gen. Michael J.) Walsh?
Now, speaking of New Orleans I’m on my way to the Jazz Fest!
Who needs science in the most threatened coast in the country?
Zack Kopplin is a bright, earnest and dogged 17 year old senior from Baton Rouge Magnet High School. In other words, he’s exactly the kind of young person that Louisiana cannot afford to lose.
On a bright and beautiful Spring morning yesterday, I was fortunate enough to be present to hear Kopplin present an impassioned talk on the steps of the State Capitol, urging the repeal of the Louisiana Science Education Act. Kopplin urged the support of Senate Bill 70, introduced by Senator Karen Carter Peterson, that would trashcan the bogus 2008 state law that was promoted by and signed into law by Governor Jindal.
This state law, with its euphemistic and cynical name, jeopardizes prestige college enrollment for Louisiana students; it diminishes the potential for science employment in the state; and it has already resulted in the cancellation of large scientific conventions. Most serious, however, is that it makes a laughingstock of credible coastal science and embarrasses practicing researchers trying to save America’s Delta.
Jan Moller reported on the rally before the fact yesterday in The Times-Picayune.
Prior to the rally yesterday, Kopplin was interviewed by the host of The Jim Engster Show on WRKF-FM 89.3, along with retired judge Darrell White, a relentless opponent of evolution, who continues to demonstrate his absolute ignorance of science. Judge White is a long time spokesman for the Louisiana Family Forum, supporters of the introduction of Intelligent Design and Creationism into Louisiana science classrooms.
Here’s a quote on the rally by Tegan Wendland from AP on the WRKF website.
A Baton Rouge high school senior led a rally to push for repeal of the Louisiana Science Education Act, which critics say can be used to promote creationism in schools. On Thursday about three dozen people, organized by student Zack Kopplin, rallied on the Capitol steps.
The Louisiana Science Education Act of 2008 allows public school science teachers to use supplemental materials in their classrooms beyond state-approved textbooks. Supporters say the law was designed to promote critical thinking and strengthen education. Opponents call it a veiled attempt to sneak religion into science classes.
Democratic Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, of New Orleans, has filed legislation to do away with the law.
Kopplin gathered signatures from more than 40 Nobel Prize-winning scientists, urging repeal.
Rising river prompts declaration of temporary state emergency. What about the perpetual emergency, Governor?
In a feature story in today’s The Advocate, Amy Wold reported that Gov. Jindal declared a state of emergency yesterday in advance of the Mississippi River crest currently approaching Cairo, Illinois on May Day with an all-time record level of 60+ feet, 20 feet above flood stage.
I was kind of stunned that the ‘emergencies’ cited by Wold included: (1) river-borne sediments that are impeding navigation by causing shoaling in SW Pass; and (2) concerns that Baton Rouge casino access may be impaired.
Heaven help us if that’s the scale of problem that the Governor fears.
Flood the poor to save the farmers
And speaking of our upriver city Cairo (pronounced Kayro) an amazing comment by the speaker of the Illinois House yesterday tops even what’s being said at the Capitol in Baton Rouge these days. As shown in a video-clip in HuffingtonPost, Speaker Steve Talley said that the Corps of Engineers should breach the levees at Cairo, flooding poor folks, rather than letting the swollen Mississippi overflow into farmland, as suggested by the Corps of Engineers. This amazing quote (for which Talley later apologized) presages the kind of choices facing policy makers down here at the mouth of the river, where decisions about either sacrificing or protecting property are on the horizon.
One century weather events are becoming ho-hum
The older I get the more extremely rare weather events I’m seeing or reading about. Last winter the blizzards in the northeast dominated the news. Yesterday unprecedented fierce storms and tornadoes killed dozens and devastated parts of Birmingham and Tuscaloosa.
Meanwhile, Mississippi River flooding upstream and a predicted all time record stage of 60+ feet at Cairo, Illinois have persuaded General Michael Walsh, Commander of the Corps of Engineers Mississippi River Valley Division, to consider dynamiting levees.
As my 71st birthday approaches in June the New Orleans District of the Corps is rushing to meet a deadline to complete a system of levees, pumps and breakwaters to protect part of the region from a 100-year weather event. Keep in mind that Katrina was called a 400-year occurrence.
Weather records are breaking so fast that one century protection doesn’t sound too impressive anymore and I wouldn’t be surprised to live to see a 1,000 year drought, disastrous gulf storm surge or river deluge.
My friend John Atkeison sent me the link to this post in Climateprogress.org about the likelihood that the record floods and storms in the Midwest and southeast are merely unusual incidents unrelated to climate change. Right. Here’s a quote:
Craig Fugate, who heads the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, said in December, “The term ‘100-year event’ really lost its meaning this year”
How effective are coastal restoration projects?
In January 2009 I posted a pretty harsh critique of the coastal restoration program known as the Coastal Wetlands, Planning, Protection and Restoration Act or CWPPRA, in which I compared its significance to Titanic deck-chair rearranging.
Now a sharp-eyed colleague has alerted me to a paper recently published by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) that purports to objectively critique the process by which CWPPRA’s modest-scale federal/state coastal restoration projects are either selected for funding or dismissed.
Having been personally privy to the CWPPRA process between 1992 and 2003 as the state representative on the CWPPRA Task force, I remain staunchly underwhelmed with the overall program. I believe that the CWPPRA project selection process is highly bureaucratic, subjective, of questionable scientific merit and unduly influenced by local politics.
I note that the paper emphasizes cost/benefit as the critical variable but doesn’t address potential damage caused by project construction. I would cite as a specific example a class of CWPPRA project called ‘marsh creation,’ which sometimes involves dredging holes in local bays to obtain sediments to replace eroded marshes. This is robbing Peter to pay Paul and may do as much harm as good.
I strongly encourage a careful reading of this paper if you have the patience to wade through the statistics. Here’s the abstract:
Cost-Efficacy in Wetland Restoration Projects in Coastal Louisiana
Joy Merino & Christiane Aust & Rex Caffey
Abstract The Coastal Wetlands Planning Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA) provides one of the largest sources of U.S. funding for wetland restoration. A preliminary economic analysis of the CWPPRA program
questioned the program’s selection of cost efficient wetland restoration projects, specifically related to the funding of barrier island projects, and recommended a more rigorous statistical analysis of the data (Aust 2006). We conducted an analysis to determine what available variables, such as wetland loss, influence CWPPRA project selection for funding. We found that the program was selecting cost effective projects overall. Cost efficacy varied significantly by restoration project type, with barrier island restoration having the greatest cost/benefit. We present possible justifications for funding these projects despite the higher cost/benefit. This paper will help participants of this restoration program and others in evaluating how projects are developed, evaluated and selected for funding.
Baton Rouge NPR affiliate WRKF-FM 89.3 carried an announcement today that Plaquemines Parish President (and colorful coastal sand berm booster) Billy Nungesser is eyeing a campaign for Lieutenant Governor. Nungesser will presumably join a race against his fellow Republican and our current Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and Democrat Caroline Fayard, Dardenne’s recent rival for that position.
Clancy Dubos, political columnist for The Gambit was quoted in the radio spot, saying that Governor Jindal will easily be re-elected as governor on October 22 but that no one expects him to serve out the entire four-year term. Some political insiders believe that the current governor will run for US Senate against Mary Landrieu, assuming that he isn’t tapped for VP on a Republican presidential ticket in 2012. In other words, prepare for a wide-open race for Governor within a couple years, the coastal implications of which are huge and not terribly reassuring.
Today I’m extremely frustrated to see another year pass by with an exceptionally high Spring flood crest approaching America’s Delta, with virtually no mechanism in place to beneficially ‘harvest’ the sediments heading our way. This is a tragedy and a travesty. Check out a feature post on this subject here.
The REAL disaster in the Gulf of Mexico
Guess what’s really threatening America’s Delta. Hint: it isn’t the 4.9 million barrels of BP oil released from the Macondo well blowout last April!
I try my best to avoid hyperbole, words that end in est, but this paper in Yale Environment 360 by Carl Safina is the best technical summary I’ve seen so far of the overall and still unfolding environmental impacts of the Macondo well blowout that describes this incident in the context of the long term problems facing the gulf.
I thank Don Boesch for alerting me to this paper, which should be required reading for anyone with even a shred of influence over state coastal policy.
An Easter message of coastal hope…and dismay
Although my religious views are personal and somewhat unorthodox, I was raised in a traditional Christian family and dragged sleepily to Easter sunrise services at the old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore.
This Easter season coincides with and complements both Spring and Earth Day, all symbolizing hope for rebirth, renewal and restoration. For me such hope includes a fervent Easter wish that that we humans can somehow make a U-turn on our highway to the Hell-bent trashing of our little blue marble Heaven that we call Earth.
My specific hope is that we get serious about saving America’s Delta…a purely apolitical and non-partisan challenge. Thus I take no comfort in the fact that the man who will almost certainly determine Louisiana coastal policy beyond his reelection on October 22 seems to be driven more by politics than by conviction.
During this Easter season Governor Jindal came out of the closet and was reborn as a ‘Birther.’ Now why would someone named Piyush Amrit Jindal think that the name Barack Hussein Obama should not appear on the Louisiana ballot in 2012? Might he be influenced by the fact that 45 percent of Republicans believe the (unChristian) birther nonsense?
Because our governor himself comes from an ethnic minority and because he wears his religious views so prominently on his sleeve, I share the amazement and dismay of the critics of his recent conversion to Xenophobia, including the following three:
First is Donald Paxton’s excellent letter to the editor in The Times-Picayune.
Second is Jarvis DeBerry’s column, also in The Times-Pic.
Finally is an inspired April 19 post titled ‘Really, Bobby, Really?’ on an outrageously funny website from Texas.
Yippee; we’re number four!!! (Louisiana ranks fourth in ungreen-ness).
On another sad note, it was reported yesterday in HuffingtonPost that Louisiana ranks fourth from the top of the ten least green states in the US.
Rally for Sanity at the State Capitol on April 28
As of last week LaCoastPost has been serving as an electronic coastal forum for 30 months. During this time a recurrent observation and growing concern has been that official plans for saving America’s Delta have given very short shrift to science.
This attitude is best exemplified by the passage of the Louisiana Science Education Act, which passed with almost unanimous support by state senators, including those from coastal districts. Then this embarrassing piece of legislation, which forces science teachers to instill doubts about mainstream scientific knowledge on evolution and climate change, was proudly signed into law by Governor Bobby Jindal.
Two Louisianans who have called attention to this paean to ignorance have been Barbara Forrest, Professor of Philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University and Zack Kopplin, high school student at the Baton Rouge Magnet High School (Bobby Jindal’s alma mater). Zack has been busily organizing an effort to repeal this law and his heroic effort has now been endorsed by 41 Nobel Prize laureates around the country, as shown here:
Nobel Laureates Call for Repeal of Louisiana Science Education Act
BATON ROUGE, LA — (April 20, 2011) — Forty-One Nobel Laureates today sent a letter to Governor Jindal and members of the Louisiana Legislature urging the repeal of the misnamed and misguided Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA), Louisiana’s creationism law. “Biological evolution is foundational in many fields, including biomedical research and agriculture,” wrote the Nobel Laureates. “It aids us in understanding, for example, how to fight diseases like HIV and how to grow plants that will survive in different environments.” Senator Karen Carter Peterson has filed SB70 which would repeal the LSEA. This legislation will be considered in the upcoming regular session of the Louisiana Legislature which starts April 25th.
Here’s an email that Dr. Forrest sent me yesterday.
Friends, Please pass along this information about Zack Kopplin’s rally at the Capitol in support of SB 70 to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act. Zack needs people to show up at the Capitol in Baton Rouge at 11 am on Thursday, April 28.
Also, see this interview with Zack that was aired on WBRZ-TV.
The big coastal news at the beginning of the 2011 Easter weekend is the agreement from BP to write a check for $1 billion to begin the restoration of the gulf coast. The money will be distributed from Texas to Florida, with each state getting $100 million.
The trustees will use the money to pay for projects such as rebuilding coastal marshes, replenishing damaged beaches, conservation of sensitive areas for ocean habitat for injured wildlife, and restoring barrier islands and wetlands.
Some of the money may also go to projects that support recreational fishing, such as public boat launches or docks, or fish hatcheries (my emphasis).
Pardon my cynicism, but hold off on the celebration. Even were Louisiana to get the lion’s share of the final allocation, as much as $15 billion, consider these facts:
1) $15 billion would only amount to a down payment on the real cost of saving a significant portion of America’s Delta.
2) Finding a federal sugar daddy to fund the balance of the restoration tab is increasingly doubtful.
3) Although the BP money will be overseen by the feds, allocation of Louisiana’s share will be heavily influenced by the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA). This is a highly politicized body chaired by Bobby Jindal’s coastal servant, who’s no friend of science. Keep in mind that the state has already squandered at least $220 million of $360 million BP bucks for sand berms.
4) Fish hatcheries (and boat ramps) were listed among the kinds of projects to be funded. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries loves such coastal projects (as well as putting limestone on oyster grounds).
I remember that FEMA money given to the state in 1992 to compensate for Hurricane Andrew damage to bottomland forests in the Atchafalaya Basin was spent to build a Bass hatchery. Not a penny for reforestation of coastal forests.
Opaque transparency for state officials
Mark Ballard and Marsha Shuler reported today in The Advocate that our attorney General Buddy Caldwell, recently a recruit to the Republican Party, has ruled that emails sent from employees on taxpayer owned computers are private and immune from public scrutiny. So much for open and transparent government promised by our leaders.
A coastal colleague who lives in New Orleans sent me this link to a current article by Martin Fackler in The New York Times about post-tsunami Japan that is highly relevant to post-Katrina Louisiana. It seems that past generations of Japanese citizens erected historic flood markers known as ‘Tsunami Stones’ around the island nation, denoting areas unsafe for residential development.
In recent times these markers have been either forgotten or ignored because engineered surge barriers were designed and highly touted to provide ‘fail-safe’ flood protection. So much for engineering hubris!
This article reminded me that in 2008 I led what turned out to be an unsuccessful campaign to gain funding for the installation of Katrina flood markers around the city of New Orleans. The idea was to show young people, visitors…and those of us with short memories…just how high the water rose on August 29-30, 2005.
These markers would remind the many NOLA residents whose homes are below sea level of their ultimate dependence on levees and pumps and the need for diligence during the approach of future storms. They would also show visitors the breadth and depth of the tragic and historic flooding that lasted for weeks. Finally, they would honor the memory of those who lost their lives in what turned out to be a colossal engineering failure.
Those of us who developed this concept envisioned its later expansion to include St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes.
Our conceptual plan was to install linear series of water level markers along crisscrossing roadways that traverse the zones that flooded. I still believe in the merit of this design but so far no funding source has been identified.
An alternative concept that we never pursued would be to involve schools throughout the city. I envision geography teachers using the disastrous flood as a way to teach students about their proximity to and connection with the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.
Classes could be planned around researching exactly what happened in the area surrounding each campus during and after Katrina, including peak water levels. Individualized flood monuments could be designed for each school, perhaps in art classes, and erected in places with high visibility.
These markers could be a focal point for each school and pointed out each year to future classes to instill pride and connection with place.
What say you, teachers?
Len Bahr blames seven deadly sins for backing out of governor’s race against Bobby Jindal
Today I’m formally announcing against throwing my hat into the gubernatorial ring, i.e., I won’t be challenging Bobby Jindal for governor. My top ten reasons for bowing out are based on the seven deadly sins and three ‘subsins,’ from which I’m certainly not immune but with which I don’t share the same fervor of our ambitious young governor.
10. Lust (fantasizing about one’s desires): My desires are equally colorful but slightly less passionate than during my testosterone-bursting teen years.
9. Gluttony (over-indulgence): I still adore Baltimore crab cakes with fresh tomatoes and sweet corn but I usually stop at two Abita Turbo-dogs now. In other words I’m no longer subject to alcohol-induced fantasy.
8. Greed (craving money): Although I could stand to be a lot more comfortable money-wise, recent news about Bobby J’s national barnstorming fundraisers are orders of magnitude out of my league.
7. Sloth (laziness): OK, I do take occasional afternoon naps, and I hate long phone conversations…probably more than Bobby J. in both cases.
6. Acadia (apathy, being unconcerned with one’s position in the world): In this case I may just beat Bobby J.
5. Despair (hopeless sense of impending doom): Now we’re talking. I’d challenge Bobby J. anytime on our relative concerns about the future of America’s Delta and I’m certain to be more pessimistic than he is!
4. Wrath (seeking retaliation for having been wronged): OK, our governor did ‘persuade’ me to leave my position on his staff…but in hindsight he did me a big favor in terms of my self-respect.
3. Envy (resent for not having what someone else has): I swear that I prefer driving my antique roadster to being chauffeured; and very few would appreciate the governor’s mansion décor redone according to my taste (or lack of).
2. Pride (ego): My friends would howl if I denied having an ego, although perhaps mine’s not on the scale of Bobby J’s. I have occasionally been known to admit having been wrong.
1. Vainglory (vanity, boastfulness, narcissism): The 2011 Olympic gold medalist in the art of self-promotion is unquestionably Donald Trump, a possible rival for the White House and a recent convert to the Birther movement.
On that preposterous issue, yesterday, on the very day that arch-conservative Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed an Arizona Birther Bill, Governor Jindal inexplicably agreed to sign a Louisiana version of the same bill, aimed to keep Barack Obama off of the 2012 presidential ballot in the Bayou State. Thus I must conclude that Bobby J. is equally ignorant, if not quite as vain as The Donald and I certainly can’t compete on that scale.
Restoring America’s Delta
My hat’s off to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology that put together a six minute videoclip on Youtube that captures what restoring America’s Delta means and why it’s worth doing. I’m particularly proud to see that the phrase America’s Delta seems to be catching on as a meme, because I think I was the first person to use the term, e.g., here on November 11, 2009.
Point au Chene portrait
Campbell Robertson wrote a short but hopeful story in today’s The New York Times about Alton Verdin, a coastal victim of the Macondo well blowout who’s anxiously awaiting the opening of shrimp season next month after a whole year chafing at the bit.
Decision on Len Bahr’s run against Bobby Jindal
I had previously stated that I would make a decision by tax day about whether or not to announce a run against our sitting Governor Bobby Jindal, partly to challenge Jindal on his 3 year record of coastal policy. Ordinarily tax day would have been April 15 but it turned out that I had 3 extra days for cogitation.
Unexpected events have made my decision more complicated than I expected, so I decided to postpone my announcement until Wednesday, April 20, the first anniversary of the Macondo well blowout.
Speaking of this upcoming notorious anniversary…
LaCoastPost has frequently called attention to the vastly overblown and hyperbolic cries of disaster by Louisiana officials that accompanied the announcement in June 2010 of a six month moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Today The New York Times carries a 4+ minute videoclip that is as objective (and reassuring) an assessment of the actual overall effect of the moratorium as I have seen so far. Check it out.
List of ‘Oil things considered’ growing daily with approach of April 20
Bruce Alpert and Jonathan Tilove wrote in today’s The Times-Picayune that the legislation to dedicate 80% of the fines against the Macondo perps to restore the gulf coast may not pass without finding a way to reduce the federal budget by a corresponding amount.
An editorial in today’s The Times-Picayune discusses this funding shortfall, as well as the many other conundrums facing south Louisiana a year past Macondo. Here’s a quote from the editorial:
Under the bill, 35 percent of any money dedicated to our region would be equally divided among the five Gulf Coast states. Another 60 percent would be handled through a Gulf Coast Restoration Council, to be set by Congress. The remaining 5 percent would pay for coastal research and technology programs.
Even if all of the BP fines, estimated to range between $5 billion and $19 billion, were to be used for coastal restoration in Louisiana that would not be enough. Tens of billions of dollars will be needed to stop ongoing erosion and restore the coast for the future.
In this short video-clip, Coral Davenport in NationalJournal.com reports on the fundamental importance of deepwater oil and gas production in Louisiana to virtually everyone.
In a related AP story carried today in The Times-Picayune Adam Geller traveled from Bayou Lafourche eastward to Pensacola Beach, interviewing residents whose livelihoods depend on the gulf. He described profound concerns about the future and doubts that conditions will ever be the same as before April 20, 2010.
State environmental progress targeted by GOP
An article by Leslie Kaufman in The New York Times on April 15 describes a disturbing political strategy to reverse hard-won environmental protection at the state level.
In control of science
A colleague sent a link to this story run yesterday in The Guardian by Suzanne Goldenberg with disturbing evidence that BP has attempted to control the outcome of industry funded research on the impacts of the Macondo Deepwater Horizon well blowout. Here’s a link to meeting notes on which the story is based.
I can’t decide which is worse, controlling scientific outcomes with a thumb on the research scale, or dismissing coastal science altogether on the part of state officials.
Frackin’ for gas worse for the coast than freakin’ coal?
The economy of north Louisiana – and the entire state – has been given a major shot in the arm by an explosion of natural gas production from the Haynesville Shale, 10,000 feet below ground way up north near Shreveport. The production of this gas requires the use of hydraulic fracking, injecting huge volumes of chemically treated water under enormous pressure to release the methane.
Environmental concerns over water demand and pollution have generally been drowned out by huge profits and shale gas is widely touted to be a far greener source of energy than coal. Well, maybe not.
An article by Brendan DeMelle in HuffingtonPost describes a new groundbreaking report by a Cornell scientist named Robert Howarth, for whom I have great respect, which concludes that the power cycle based on the use of natural gas freed from shale by hydraulic fracking releases far more greenhouse gases than a comparable coal-based system. Here’s a quote:
“The greenhouse gas footprint for shale gas is greater than that for conventional gas or oil when viewed on any time horizon, but particularly so over 20 years. Compared to coal, the footprint of shale gas is at least 20% greater and perhaps more than twice as great on the 20-year horizon and is comparable when compared over 100 years… These methane emissions are at least 30% more than and perhaps more than twice as great as those from conventional gas. The higher emissions from shale gas occur at the time wells are hydraulically fractured — as methane escapes from flow-back return fluids — and during drill out following the fracturing.”
This story was picked up yesterday on NPR’s All Things Considered – so it has legs. The global implications of releasing more, not less greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to generate electricity are obvious, and I’m awaiting the outcry from Louisiana elected officials – who still deny the reality of anthropogenic climate change and its implications for the coast.