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October 2011 Coastal Scuttlebutt (continued)

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Note: this post is typically updated daily by noon CDT

OCTOBER THIRTY-FIRST

SEVEN BILLION AND COUNTING

October 31, 2011 is not only Halloween in the US, it’s Seven Billion Day around the globe, only 200 thousand years since the day when Mitochondrial Eve, the genetic mamma of us all, first gave birth somewhere in Africa, probably in a coastal estuarine setting not unlike south Louisiana.

The symbolic seven billionth human heart beating today is inside a baby girl born this morning in northern India. As we speak, 3,060 Indian babies are delivered each and every hour. Among the multitudes of young women in India who became pregnant in late 1970, one delivered a baby boy in Baton Rouge on June 10, 1971, when world population had surpassed 5.5 billion. That former baby is now 40 year old Piyush “Bobby” Jindal, current governor of Louisiana.

It’s ironic that south Louisiana is one of the rare coastal regions around the world and specifically around the northern gulf coast NOT suffering from a population boom. That’s exemplified by our imminent loss of a congressional seat in the post-Katrina era. Nevertheless over half of the 4.6 million Louisianians are particularly vulnerable to the carbon footprints of 7 billion energy-hungry souls on our crowded globe.

Among the many media accounts of the seven billion humans breathing today I highly recommend the NPR’s coverage on today’s Morning Edition, which includes this link to an animated graphic. On October 23rd The New York Times published an essay by Joel Cohen, a mathematical biologist at the Rockefeller Center with some counterintuitive demographic observations on the seven billion milestone. Joel Achenbach wrote a story about the 7 billion for the Washington Post yesterday about the age problem of the world.

Today also happens to be the date when a physicist and former climate skeptic named Richard Muller formally presents the results of his just completed study, partially funded by the Koch Brothers, that would supposedly debunk the impact of seven billion humans on global warming. After completing the study he now agrees that we’re seriously heating things up. Here’s an AP report on the study by Seth Borenstein carried in today’s The Times-Picayune, that should be read by Governor Jindal and his friends who apparently aren’t concerned about sea level risen and future Katrina’s.

OCTOBER THIRTIETH

RANKING THE COASTAL STEWARDSHIP OF RECENT GOVERNORS

OK, the election is over and there are plenty of technical coastal issues to discuss but…

The Advocate published an article by senior editor Carl Redman today that puts to rest the maddening mandate meme and landslide hyperbole that one of his paper’s reporters Michelle Millhollon and others have used so glibly since October 22nd.

The re-election of a man who, in the opinion of coastal experts, has not been a friend of the coast was at least partly offset in my judgment by the re-election of Louisiana’s Lieutenant “Jay” G, Jay Dardenne. If, as many predict, Jindal looks beyond Baton Rouge for the next rung of his career ladder before 2015 I’m reasonably confident that Dardenne would be open to advice from scientists in general and coastal scientists in particular.

My opinion was bolstered yesterday when Guille Novelo and I attended the Louisiana Book Festival on a gorgeous day at the State Capitol. After a one-year hiatus, this wonderful celebration of books by Louisiana’s prolific writers, was restored by Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne. By the way, we didn’t see Bobby, Supriya and their kids out there. I suppose that the trip over from the Governor’s mansion to celebrate Louisiana literature in one of the most illiterate states was too arduous.

The above bar chart* depicts my personal ranking of the past five governors of Louisiana on their understanding of and support for coastal issues. This graph is crude and extremely subjective but it’s based on personal experience over the last 21 years, 18 of which included employment in the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities.

During these 21 years the coastal crises have steadily worsened and each succeeding governor has had the advantage of better information. For example, the global state of knowledge and predictive modeling capability in the disciplines of climatology, oceanography, geophysics and coastal ecology has dramatically improved since Buddy Roemer was governor but Governor Jindal blatantly rejects the new state of knowledge, which portends a bleak future for America’s Delta.

*Of the past five Louisiana governors only Bobby Jindal has an academic science background (although apparently it didn’t sink in, based on his denial of evolution and climate change). Anyhow I ranked coastal backgrounds on the basis of hometown proximity to the coast. Mike Foster had a huge advantage in this category and Buddy Roemer a disadvantage. I ranked their coastal ‘savvyness’ on spending a lot of time listening to each of my former bosses and talking with my fellow staffers in each administration. I based each governor’s coastal support on my sense of the relative importance about coastal issues reflected by each while in office. This metric was based on many things, including staff appointments. The most important metric is coastal performance, which is not shown but will be added in the future.

OCTOBER TWENTY-NINTH

River surgeon at work saving the delta.

THE LOUISIANA COAST NEEDS BYPASS SURGERY

The only measure that could possibly save south Louisiana from its continuous descent into open water is to reroute the lower river so as to capture and retain river sediment within the delta, while allowing navigation to continue. Unfortunately, however, provincial politics of Plaquemines Parish has pressured state and federal officials to substitute a daily dose of baby aspirin…in the form of channel dredging…for the requisite life-saving bypass operation.

Today’s The Times-Picayune carries a letter to the editor by Ken Ragas that perfectly captures this Not-In-My-Backyard (NIMBY) dilemma.

Our newly re-elected governor is the sole soul with sufficient stroke to oversee emergency surgery by a team of ‘river cardiologists’ that would stop the wetland bleeding and garner the governor a permanent coastal legacy. Time is not his friend, however.

My buddy Rodney and me, getting no respect.

OCTOBER TWENTY-EIGHTH

WHAT WE HAVE HERE IS A FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE!

I feel like a a coastal rant.

Believe it or not, LaCoastPost is a serious enterprise, not a vanity blog. For three years I’ve been struggling to expand the influence of what I envision as a vital, objective, informative and absolutely unique organ for coastal communication.

A primary mission of this blog is to call attention to the fundamental need for state-of-the-art independent coastal science in the effort to restore America’s Delta. Without science, success is highly unlikely for even two more decades, let alone the rest of the century.

Given my modest means and limited time, success in this mission requires broad support from the technical community. I need all the help I can get from my supposed colleagues, with respect to notices of significant coastal happenings.

I wrote this sitting in my den in Baton Rouge, while an important three-day coastal meeting was underway 43 miles away in Hammond. This meeting deals with the Lake Pontchartrain Basin, the vast and highly variable landscape and waterscape between the Mississippi and Pearl Rivers.

The Basics of the Basin conference is a pretty big deal that I consistently attended before founding LaCoastPost. I had a government job in those days and I got official notices. This year the conference seems to be taking place in something of a communication vacuum, as indicated by the fact that I wasn’t invited. I must say I felt a little like Rodney Dangerfield.

I learned about the conference by accident two days ago when a friend, Ed Bodker, invited me to hear a presentation that he was giving yesterday. My schedule was full but and I managed to make a frustratingly brief appearance.

I’m used to being ignored and rebuffed by most federal and state agencies but my frustration now extends to the major environmental groups, including The Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation LPBF. I hate to be paranoid but now that I’m unemployed it’s very difficult to learn about what’s going on. I can just imagine how difficult it must be for a typical member of the coastal public. What in Hell does it take to get recognition?

Come on, folks, LaCoastPost can only be as effective as the support it gets from the coastal community.

OCTOBER TWENTY-SEVENTH

Science demonstrates adaptive management

JUNKYARD SCIENCE

Editor’s note: The daughter of my sweetie was rear-ended at a traffic light by a careless pickup truck driver yesterday, seriously damaging her already tired Camry, This put me in a junkyard frame of mind.

Junk science is a pejorative term with political overtones, often used by folks with an agenda and by non-scientists who claim to support ‘sound science,’ which presumably includes ‘intelligent design.’ Because of its baggage and ambiguity I propose using the term junkyard science to describe the promotion of ignorance, outmoded thinking or purposeful and fraudulent disinformation.

The broad subject of coloring, censoring, dismissing or ignoring science is a hot topic these days and this issue seems to be particularly an American…and a Louisiana phenomenon. I can’t imagine a place in North America where understanding and acknowledging the implications of junkyard science and distinguishing it from the real thing is more critical than in coastal Louisiana.

Unfortunately we’re surrounded by those who either can’t or won’t distinguish junkyard science from current peer-reviewed objective understanding of how the world works. We’re obviously not alone, however.

On October 14 I posted a feature article on the blatant censorship of climate science by Rick Perry’s Texas Commission of Environmental Quality (TCEQ), with respect to current knowledge about sea level rise in Galveston Bay. One of my favorite NPR reporters is John Burnett, who updated this story in today’s Morning Edition.

Another variety of junkyard science is a little more subtle. A used car salesman, selling products perhaps soon destined for the junkyard, often manipulates the emotions of naive customers, without resorting to outright lies.

A case in point is Frank Luntz, Ph.D., a political consultant and PR wizard. Luntz has carved out a lucrative niche on The Hill as a wordsmith and spin doctor. He’s particularly known for creating euphemisms to help political candidates rationalize bad behavior.

Frank Luntz sans polyester, shades and stogey

Whenever I see Luntz, on Fox News, for example, I picture him in plaid pants, a white belt, mirrored shades and a fat stogey. He has been particularly successful in instilling and encouraging public doubt about science in general and climate science in particular. He was the brains behind the successful crusade to substitute ‘climate change’ for the far scarier phrase ‘global warming.’

Al Gore posted a note yesterday in HuffingtonPost on the results of a study just completed by Berkeley physics professor Richard Muller one of the very few existing climate change skeptics with science credentials.

This $150,000 study, funded by the billionaire anti-climate change Koch Brothers to test the validity of anthropogenic climate change. Dr. Muller’s conclusion is that global warming is real and that humans are largely responsible.

As an appropriate wrap-up of this post I was happy to note that, whereas the main stream media is either afraid to deal with climate change or treats it as a non-issue, last night The Daily Show with Jon Stewart was totally devoted to the American dismissal of science. Watch the entre episode here.

OCTOBER TWENTY-SIXTH

Ivor aweigh!

Coastal hero getting his day in court

As noted here in January 2010, Ivor van Heerden, has been a coastal colleague of mine for many years and he was one of the acknowledged heroes of Hurricane Katrina. He was subsequently…and curiously…dismissed in 2009 from his position as associate research professor at LSU.

In 2010 he filed a civil lawsuit against LSU and four officials for wrongful dismissal and other grievances. The university later acknowledged that the action was based on Professor van Heerden’s vocal criticism of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the failure of corps-constructed levees during the passage of Hurricane Katrina.

Bob Anderson reported on the current state of this lawsuit yesterday in The Advocate. Ivor sent me the legal decision from October 20, which he says will give him his day in court to make his case. I’m not a lawyer and have extreme difficulty reading legalese.

With that disclaimer, as I understand the decision, three of the LSU defendants, including another coastal colleague Robert Twilley, were absolved of legal blame for Ivor’s charges. The fourth, however, David Constant, former interim dean of the college of engineering, will have to answer Dr. van Heerden’s lawsuit in court.

Congratulations, Ivor.

The following quotes are from the introduction and conclusion of Judge Brady’s ruling.

IVOR VAN HEERDEN CIVIL ACTION

VERSUS

NO. 3:10-CV-155-JJB-CN

BOARD OF SUPERVISORS OF LOUISIANA STATE UNIVERSITY AND AGRICULTURAL AND MECHANICAL COLLEGE, ET AL.

RULING ON MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

This matter is before the Court on motions for summary judgment filed against the plaintiff, Ivor van Heerden (“van Heerden”), by defendants: the Board of Supervisors of Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College (“LSU”); Brooks Keel (“Keel”), a former vice chancellor for research and economic development at LSU; Robert Twilley (“Twilley”), a former associate vice chancellor for research and economic development at LSU; David Constant (“Constant”), the former interim dean of the College of Engineering at LSU; and George Voyiadjis (“Voyiadjis”), the chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at LSU (collectively, “defendants”).

The matter is submitted, and there is no need for oral argument. Jurisdiction over the federal law claims exists under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and the Court has supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

V. CONCLUSION; ORDER

For the foregoing reasons, the Court GRANTS the motions for summary judgment by defendants Keel, Twilley and Voyiadjis on van Heerden’s claims for First Amendment retaliation under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, conspiracy under 42 U.S.C. § 1985, and intentional infliction of emotional distress under state law.

The Court GRANTS defendant Constant’s motion for summary judgment on van Heerden’s claims for conspiracy under 42 U.S.C. § 1985 and intentional infliction of emotional distress under state law. The Court DENIES Constant’s motion for summary judgment for First Amendment retaliation under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

The Court GRANTS defendant LSU’s motion for summary judgment on van Heerden’s claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress and breach of contract under state law.

Signed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on October 20, 2011.

OCTOBER TWENTY-FIFTH 

WATER AND OIL

Texas climate and Rick Perry's influence moving into Louisiana?

How dry I am

My backyard micro-swamp needs refilling again…a procedure that is becoming more and more frequent during the unrelenting drought that we’re experiencing. I created my little ecosystem with the naïve assumption that it would sustain itself with rainfall, including runoff from a large part of my roof. That used to be the case most of the time…before Louisiana began to come under the climatological and political influence of the Lone Star State.

Amy Wold reported in The Advocate that the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) which is one of the agencies that Michelle Bachman wants to eliminate, predicts an unusually dry and warm winter for all of Louisiana, including the delta plain. Remember the brown marsh episode in 2000? I wonder about a return next summer.

BP bounces back from pollution scandal

Jeremy Hobson and Stephen Beard reported this morning on NPR’s Marketplace that, wonder of wonders, BP netted an astounding $4.9 billion during the past three months…after dumping 4.9 million barrels of oil on Louisiana’s front porch, like a Halloween prank gone terribly wrong. Speaking of spilling oil on water…

Revolutionary oil skimming device invented

A newly invented device that uses spinning plastic discs to skim oil floating on water won a million dollar prize for quadrupling the rate at which this process has been carried out using standard technology. This invention was described by Jacob McClelland on the October 19th NPR’s Morning Edition. Unfortunately, this device, which operates on the basis of the natural affinity between oil and plastic (made from oil) wouldn’t have helped last year. Here’s a quote:

The skimmer wouldn’t help much on a massive spill like the one last year in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s suited to rapidly remove oil during an event like a tanker spill. And it could greatly limit the damage to fragile ecosystems.

Carmi, Ill., feels like it’s a million miles away from the Gulf, but inland spills are what put Elastec’s million-dollar idea into motion.

OCTOBER TWENTY-FOURTH

More on the ‘Jindalslide’ and the gov’s ‘popularity’

I used to know most of the serious distance runners in Louisiana, back in the day when I was competitive in my age class. I learned that innate talent was far less important than a considerable investment in miles on the road prior to the big event.

Bobby Jindal invested 18 months and a king’s ransom to travel the state in taxpayer-funded helicopter and chauffeur-driven miles and lobbyist-funded trips across the nation. Thus, his going away victory in the governor’s race was less surprising than the fact that the reporters who described the race seemed more breathless at the finish line than he was.

What’s the big deal? During the run-up to the race Jim Engster interviewed the usual political pros, including Bernie Pinsonat, John Maginnis, Gus Weill, Roy Fletcher, Ray Strother and C.B. Forgottston. None of these ‘poli-weathermen’ predicted anything but a runaway election.

Today on Engster’s show on WRKF-FM, LSU journalism professor Bob Mann questioned the suggestion that the election signaled a mandate for Jindal but he agreed with the political reporters, such as Michelle Millhollon, who refer to the election outcome as a Jindal ‘landslide.’ In The Advocate today Millhollon again used this hyperbolic term.

As a coastal…not a political scientist, I challenge the use of the term ‘landslide,’ which is defined by a sudden very dramatic change in topography. In Louisiana the only landslides are occasional mud slumps that take place in deep water offshore at the continental shelf break. It seems to me that a political landslide should likewise describe a sudden massive change in the political landscape. The gradual reddening of Louisiana’s political scene and Jindal’s re-election hardly reflects that kind of event.

Imagine that Bobby Jindal had been running for senior class president of Baton Rouge High, having funded a lavish junior prom and promising a blow-out senior bash, would his win be a measure of true ‘popularity’ or something quite different?

OCTOBER TWENTY-THIRD


Jindal buys a ‘landslide’ and the coast loses

I’m pissed at the media coverage of the election yesterday, on which the coast of Louisiana is arguably hanging in the balance. Michelle Millhollon missed the big story in reporting Bobby Jindal’s reelection in today’s The Advocate and Ed Anderson and Bill Barrow did the same in covering the election for The Times-Picayune.

It was a perfect day, both for voting and football…but the latter was vastly more popular. Check it out.

Football

During the balmy afternoon, Death Valley was crammed with 93,098 screaming football fans, of which I would guess perhaps 90% or 84,000 were homies, ecstatic to see the LSU tigers trounce the Auburn tigers.

Voting

I would also assume that most of the LSU fans were old enough to vote but I wonder what proportion of this crowd even bothered to show up at the polls before game time at 2:30. I specifically wonder whether 36.5% of the LSU fans cared enough about the race for governor and lieutenant governor to spend two minutes voting before three and a half hours cheering.

Only 1.02 million voters, 36.5% of the 2.8 million Louisiana electorate, entered a voting booth to decide who should call game plays for the state during the next four years. Of these loyal small ‘d’ democrats, only 672,950 or 24% of all registered voters in the Bayou State, cared enough about Bobby Jindal’s job performance to pull his lever.

Birth of a political star?

For the media to declare the governor’s race a landslide, with Jindal gaining the support of fewer than one in four voters, is grossly misleading. Even worse was dismissing as a defeat the valiant effort of Tara Hollis, a novice candidate with virtually no financial backing or experience, who nevertheless garnered what I would call a landslide in reverse.

My special other, Guille Novelo, and I watched the election returns last evening in the company of Ms. Hollis and retiring State Senator Butch Gautreaux (D-Morgan City), a very smart public servant. Tara told her Baton Rouge fans who came to the gathering that she and her husband Glen had spent a total of $42,000 to persuade 182,755 voters that she could do a better job for all of us, not just the fat cats.

The Hollis campaign ‘machine’ spent less than $0.23 per vote. Compare that to Bobby Jindal’s $6 million investment to garner 672,950 votes…an amazing $8.91 per vote! The four bright spots of the evening for both me and Guille were:

1) sensing that we were present at the dawn of a bright new political star in Louisiana in the form of Tara Hollis;

2) realizing that Bobby and Supriya are highly unlikely to spend four more years in the Governor’s mansion ignoring Louisiana’s coastal scientists;

3) contemplating the fact that, if 1 is true, the state’s next quarterback will be Jay Dardenne, who is not so arrogant or ignorant as to squander $240 million on temporary sand berms; and

4) knowing that Billy Nungesser spent over a million bucks on a campaign based on a celebration of coastal ignorance.

OCTOBER TWENTY-SECOND

Birthers claim that Bobby Jindal isn’t American enough to be VP! 

Both Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a virtual shoe-in for reelection today, and Florida’s Junior Senator Marco Rubio, are frequently suggested as ideal running mates for whomever gets tapped as the Republican presidential nominee. But hold on…

Dana Milbank reported in yesterday’s Washington Post that some key leaders of the birther movement, including the crazy lawyer and doctor Orly Taitz, now say that neither Jindal nor Rubio is truly American, because on the day that each man was born their parents were not citizens. Therefore, using the twisted logic of the birthers, neither man is constitutionally qualified to serve as either Prez or Vice Prez.

The irony is that Bobby Jindal has supported legislation requiring more scrutiny of the American roots of our presidents. What’s good for the Barack is good for the Piyush?

A conservative conservationist: oxymoron?

Tom Zeller Jr. wrote an article for the October 20 HuffingtonPost about a GOP rebel named Rob Sisson, who wants conservatives to return to their conservation roots. He’s a lonely guy. Would that Louisiana’s Republican party would sign onto this movement. That will happen as soon as sea level begins to drop.

OCTOBER TWENTY-FIRST

Potential state 'quarterback' candidate Jay Dardenne is running against Billy Nungesse, who appears more suited for lineman.


On election/Auburn game day tomorrow it’s quarterback Jay vs lineman Billy 

Don’t forget to vote tomorrow! In my opinion the appropriate votes for coastal advocates are Tara Hollis for Governor and Jay Dardenne for Lt. Governor. Whoever wins the latter race will be either a heartbeat…or a federal GOP appointment…away from the Governor’s Mansion.

Stephanie Grace, political columnist with The Times-Picayune, did a great job in capturing the essence of the struggle between polished lawyer, articulate speaker and seasoned legislator Jay Dardenne, with Plaquemines Parish President, inheritor of a political name and the proudly uneducated Billy Nungesser. Here’s the column I’m thinking of.

New Commerce Secretary confirmed by Senate…great for the coast!

Eight NOAA functions...all critical to coastal Louisiana

Alan Fram reported in HuffingtonPost that John Bryson was confirmed by the U.S. Senate to head the Commerce Department…despite his distinguished environmental record and his advocacy of cap and trade legislation to limit greenhouse gas emissions! Bryson, 68, is a true believer in anthropogenic climate change and he founded the Natural Resources Defense Counsel (NRDC).

Among the twelve agencies that fall under Bryson’s oversight is the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on which coastal residents in Louisiana depend in a variety of ways. The eight legs of the NOAA ‘spider’ are illustrated in the accompanying graphic.

Mary Landrieu voted to confirm, as expected. It’s not surprising that global warming denier Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) bitterly opposed Bryson’e confirmation. Given the staunchly anti-environmental record oDavid Vitter, our junior senator presumably voted nay with his ‘fellow traveler’ Inhofe.

OCTOBER TWENTIETH


 

 

In 2006, a three year study was proposed to redo lower Mississippi River plumbing. Well?

Cornelia Dean is a senior science reporter for The New York Times who has written important articles about coastal Louisiana. Here’s the link to some of her archived stories.

I just stumbled over a Dean article that ran in September 2006 about reconfiguring the lower Mississippi River, which virtually every expert agrees is the only realistic means to save at least some of America’s Delta. This article described a New Orleans meeting of delta experts from around the world that had been organized by UNO professor Denise Reed.

Reading Dean’s article shows that, in terms of action on altering lower river hydrology, time has stood still since 2006. For example, here’s a quote from James “Randy” Hanchey, a formerly influential coastal player, now retired from gulf issues to the golf course:

…it is hard to say how soon water might begin to flow from the river into the marshes. If there is a decision to go ahead, designing the project might take three or four years, Mr. Hanchey said. “And then of course to build something like this — depending on what this thing ended up looking like, it would take another 5 to 10 years,” he said.

Time passes and officials change but Ol’ Man River continues carrying its suspended sediment off the continental shelf, taking with it any hope for the future.

OCTOBER NINETEENTH

This should be free?

THOUGHTS ON PUBLIC MEDIA PLEDGE DRIVES, JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES AND THE COST OF MILK

Baton Rouge’s NPR affiliate station WRKF-FM 89.3 just concluded its Fall membership drive, which is analogous to swallowing a dose of bitter but life-prolonging medicine. First a plug and then two basic questions about human nature.

IMHO the public broadcasting media system is one of the most democratic, egalitarian and vital of American institutions. I probably get one third of my information (coastal and non-coastal) from public media sources, either NPR, PBS or their various offshoots.

I’m amazed to meet folks these days who still don’t take advantage of what I would call EBS…Everybody’s Broadcasting System and I definitely listen more closely to the opinions of addicts of the system than to those of The Great Unhearing. I also recognize, ruefully, that nine tenths of NPR addicts are freeloaders who don’t pay dues.

Listeners are definitely not dummies and no one who appreciates the value of a service that disburses objective information on politics, science, history, current events and the arts believes that this information grows on trees. The two Jehovah’s Witnesses who knocked at my door yesterday are not NPR listeners and they shouldn’t pay a penny. I’m far less tolerant of the fact that, although they depend on taxpayer services, they proudly told me that they won’t be voting for Tara Hollis for Governor or Jay Dardenne for Lt. Governor…or for anyone or anything else on October 22!

Anyhow, the following two pet peeves drive me crazy each time pledge drive season rolls around:

1) Fund raising writers commonly use the terms: ‘benefactors,’ ‘donors’ and ‘givers’ when referring those who use the service and recognize their obligation to contribute something. This is analogous to paying a utility bill but on a progressive scale, based on what you can afford, rather than your KWH usage.

Why should NPR members be cajoled into thinking that they’re philanthropists? That’s like me thinking that I’m doing Albertsons or Kleinpeter’s a favor when I pay six bucks or more for a gallon of skim milk.

2) Each and every NPR addict is familiar with the semi-annual membership pledge* drives. At varying intervals during these events, station volunteers are virtually guaranteed to announce that the pledged amount of anyone calling in during the next hour or so will be matched (doubled) by an anonymous benefactor…someone with far deeper pockets than I have. Thus I’ll pose my second pledge drive peeve as a question: Why do otherwise rational members not resolve to pledge only during one of these windows of opportunity? Am I missing something here?

The pump that led to the Katrina disaster? (Photo from The Times-Picayune)

October 18

The pump that drowned New Orleans?

The Times-Picayune has been publishing a fascinating series of historical vignettes that describe the development of one of the truly unique coastal port cities of the world. Today the series spotlights the enormous impact of a New Orleans engineer in 1913.

Pre-industrial residents of Venice, Amsterdam and New Orleans each coped with flooding in sea level deltaic settings in different ways before the Industrial Revolution.

Medieval City planners in Venice opted to live with nature by elevating buildings and public spaces and creating a network of canals for transportation. Early Dutch engineers created Amsterdam in the twelfth century, with a dam on the Amstel River, canals and wind-powered pumps.

New Orleans residents, businesses and the port were crowded together, all precariously perched on natural levees and distributary ridges, using inefficient pumps and drainage canals to evacuate five feet of rainwater a year. This evacuation was highly marginal and undependable, until Albert Baldwin Wood, the second of two engineers* who radically changed New Orleans, came along.

In 1913 the system was radically improved with the invention of the Wood pump. Here’s the key quote:

Albert Baldwin Wood was a young engineer who was working on the drainage plan when in 1913 he devised a screw pump that would vastly increase capacity. It was retro-fitted into the pump stations already built. Wood sold the pump around the world and ran the Sewerage & Water Board for decades.

Future vignettes in this series will hopefully describe how the rising American hubris about controlling nature with unlimited cheap energy fueled the destruction of what had been New Orleans’ natural protective coastal shield of swampforests. It seems to me that some of the principal drivers of the expansion of New Orleans included:

1) A widespread ignorance of the flood protection value of wetlands;

2) an abrupt divorce by a fickle public from the efficient but matronly street car to marry the grossly inefficient but seductive young automobile; and

3) the construction of the Eisenhower interstate system over Claiborne Avenue, driving a stake though the heart of New Orleans.

I hope that the T-P series also touches on how federal intervention on civil rights promulgated white flight from the highly diverse and densely populated NOLA into brand new lilywhite suburbs of Kenner and eastern New Orleans.

Federal policy enacted during the Nixon administration in the early 70s included the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Clean Water Act (CWA) and formation of the EPA. This weak but critical system to regulate dumping dredged sediments into waters of the US…including wetlands…was unfortunately a decade too late to block the construction of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO)…Katrina’s hurricane highway.

Even more ironic is the fact that federal environmental regulations passed during a Republican administration, including protection for coastal wetlands, have been consistently opposed by Senator David Vitter and the major GOP candidates for president.

*The first was James Buchanan Eads, who showed how to maintain an 18 foot channel between the Gulf of Mexico and the Port of New Orleans in 1876.

Master Chef Bobby Jindal and Sous Chef Garret Graves mix it up in the OCPR kitchen.

October 17

What’s on the OCPR menu…and what will it cost?

Over the weekend a well-known senior coastal scientist in Louisiana asked me whether I knew the current official bottom line cost estimate to restore the coast. I should be able to describe my inquisitive colleague as an ‘influential coastal scientist,’ but such a description would be an oxymoron, in that coastal policy in the Bayou State is rarely influenced by science.

Be that as it may I responded that the sole coastal ‘restaurant’ in town…the Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration (OCPR)…doesn’t post a current menu for a full course restoration dinner. Neither does the OCPR eatery provide its hungry coastal patrons with the itemized cost of a la carte drinks, appetizer, salad, main course or dessert.

A detailed breakdown of the specific primary measures and their costs being considered to protect and restore the coast is obviously of paramount importance…however one defines the terms ‘restore’ and ‘the coast.’ The only cost I ever hear from the OCPR restaurant manager is the amazingly round number of $100 billion, a number in which I have absolutely no faith. Here’s why.

Under the direction of Top Chef Bobby Jindal and Sous Chef Garret Graves the OCPR ‘kitchen’ charged BP $240 million to build 10 miles of six foot high temporary emergency sand berms. That’s an outrageous $24 million/mile. I don’t know what the I-12 bridge expansion over the Amite River in Livingston Parish will cost when it’s complete but it’s probably a lot less on a per mile basis.

Now, with help from a visiting team of chefs from the Corps of Engineers, this busy kitchen claims to be preparing a coastal feast for Terrebonne Parish, known as the Morganza to the Gulf project (MTTG). This amazing repast will, if it’s ever cooked, consist of 72 miles of thirty foot permanent levees and 12 operating gates, including a massive hydraulic control structure to block hurricane surges from entering the Houma Navigation Canal. MTTG could require two decades in the oven, but will, so it’s claimed, only cost only $1 billion, or $1.4 million/mile.*

I think they’re eating magic mushrooms in the OCPR kitchen.

*Correction: a faithful math checker just informed me that $1 E09 divided by 72 is not $1.4 E06 but $1.4 E07, or $14 million per mile. The correction doesn’t alter my conviction that the $1 billion dollar cost of MTTG is seriously lowballed to justify its construction. For example, I’ve seen previous estimates of from $800 million to $11 billion.

October 16

Chris Kirkham and his boss

Former New Orleans environmental reporter wins praise from the monarch of the blogging ‘Queendom.’

Exactly three years and one day ago, on October 15, 2008, I hung out my ‘blogger’s shingle’ and LaCoastPost flickered onto the internet. This decision had been inspired by personal circumstances, including the loss of my official voice in coastal policy and the desire to make a difference.

I was also appalled by the political disregard for coastal science in Louisiana, especially in dealing with the ever-worsening state of America’s Delta. Other inspirations included my daughter Emilie who was then a well established reporter for New Orleans CityBusiness, the evolving revolution in digital communication, the 2008 presidential campaign that demonstrated the power of the internet,…and a strong interest in writing.

Finally, I was inspired by the rise of the communication phenom Arianna Huffington, who had become the monarch of a global blogging queendom known as HuffingtonPost, which is still expanding. While employed in the governor’s office I knew a number of reporters but since becoming an amateur journalist I’ve gotten to know even more professionals in that embattled field. These include Chris Kirkham, formerly an environmental and politics reporter with The Times-Picayune.

Chris has moved to New York and writing mostly on business issues for HuffingtonPost for about a year now, I believe, globally expanding his territory from Southeast Louisiana. The broad topics that he has been writing about in his new job include the coastal crises along the gulf coast, his old stomping ground.

Given the large number of professionals on the HuffPost payroll it was good to see Chris singled out for praise by Ms. Huffington herself. Here’s a quote from her Sunday Roundup column:

…The other story that captivated readers is Chris Kirkham’s investigation into how Goldman Sachs, just as the subprime mortgage boom was going bust, bought into another predatory play: for-profit colleges. Chris’ relentless digging — and resulting reporting — connects all the dots and lays out a compelling and damning narrative.

Congratulations, Chris and don’t forget the wealth of important stories from the gulf coast that need global exposure in HuffingtonPost!

Thanks, Corps of Engineers!

October 15

Supreme Court will hear Missouri River dam case relevant to coastal Louisiana

At least half of the suspended sediments in the lower Mississippi River, on which restoring America’s Delta depends, are being trapped behind a series of dams on the Missouri River. Advocates of a new management paradigm for the entire Mississippi River system see these dams as a key impediment to coastal restoration.

A sharp-eyed reader of LaCoastPost passed on this link to a post by Seattle attorney Steven G. Jones for Martenlaw.org, an environmental legal website that is relevant to the dams. The post describes a Montana case pending before the current session of the Supreme Court of the U.S. (SCOTUS), which deals with disputes over ownership claims and jurisdiction over the riverbed beneath these dams and navigability of the river. This case may have interesting repercussions for MS River management if Federal acts preempt State claims.

The article is pretty esoteric and laced with legal jargon, so I’d welcome feedback from attorneys with water-related experience.

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  15. M D Floyd says:

    The main problem that I have with the abandonment of the lower bird’s-foot delta it that the 48,000 acres of the Delta NWR and the 115,000 acres of Pass-a-Loutre WMA are both quite important areas that with appropriate crevasses can be salvaged. The building of just those 163,000 acres would take such a long time in comparison to saving them. Plus the issues of land ownership battles that would be involved.

  16. Kelly Haggar says:

    1. Check out upper basin unhappy with middle basin:

    http://bismarcktribune.com/news/opinion/mailbag/missouri-river-flood-what-went-wrong/article_919768f2-0052-11e1-bfe0-001cc4c03286.html

    2. As to the Anthropocene in action, the actual WSJ Op-Ed posted by Muller ends thusly:

    Global warming is real. Perhaps our results will help cool this portion of the climate debate. How much of the warming is due to humans and what will be the likely effects? We made no independent assessment of that.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204422404576594872796327348.html

    Is it me, or is there a disconnect between Len’s description of the Muller article and the Muller article? Or perhaps the BEST study draws different conclusions than his Op-Ed? If the latter, then there’s still a significant (meaning “important” not “distinguishable from zero”) discrepancy about.

    • Don Boesch says:

      Kelly, you are right, Richard Muller and his team concluded only that global warming is real and not that humans are largely responsible. Len must have been carried away. This group of skeptical physicists set out after the so-called Climategate email kerfuffle to independently check whether the 20th century warming trends reported by the UK Climate Research Group (from which the emails were hacked), NOAA and NASA are legitimate. They had support from climate change denialists such as the Koch brothers, but nonetheless concluded that the global warming trend was real and, in fact, slightly greater than the Climate Research Group had reported. Predictably, these findings are already being attacked by died-in-the-wool skeptics who point to the fairly level global temperatures between 2001 and 2009, disregarding that the multidecadal trend during the 20th century is saw-toothed, with ups and downs over several years and the inconvenient truth that 2010 (not covered in the Muller study) was the warmest year on record.

      Muller et al. just looked at temperature trends so could not attribute this to the increase in greenhouse concentrations that has resulted from human activities. For that we have to turn to the voluminous literature produced by the real experts on the subject as summarized by the National Academy of Sciences: “Most of the warming over the last several decades can be attributed to human activities that release carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The burning of fossil fuels–coal, oil and natural gas–for energy is the single largest human driver of climate change, but agriculture, forest clearing, and certain industrial activities also make significant contributions.” http://americasclimatechoices.org/panelscience.shtml

    • Don Boesch says:

      There is an interesting Times-Picayune article on the Muller study. http://www.nola.com/environment/index.ssf/2011/10/skeptic_finds_he_now_agrees_gl.html The anti-science ranters are out in full force in the Comments.

      • Kelly Haggar says:

        Len readily admits he doesn’t understand legalese; hardly surprising since he’s not a lawyer and apparently the good folks of Tulane’s Env Law Clinic haven’t given him many steers.

        However, I am an attorney and I understand at least some of the legalese I read. The parts of the “Climategate email kerfuffle” which interest me are spoilation of evidence, injury to public records, and false official statements. The Virginia AG’s investigation and the state-level FOIA suits will play out as they will. Stay tuned.

        BTW, the “denier” language is interesting in and of itself, ignoring the issue of whether or not Muller ever was one. Cardinal Pell from Down Under had some interesting things to say along these lines in London last week:

        http://www.thegwpf.org/opinion-pros-a-cons/4210-cardinal-pell-be-prudent-with-climate-claims.html

  17. Kelly Haggar says:

    And some people think “rising ocean” is a tough problem. Little do they know . . . pay particular attention to comments.

    kmh

    Army Corps reduces power on Asian carp barrier
    Published: Thursday, October 20, 2011, 12:16 AM
    Updated: Thursday, October 20, 2011, 7:34 AM
    by The Associated Press
    http://www.mlive.com/news/index.ssf/2011/10/army_corps_reduces_power_on_as.html#incart_mce

  18. William Nuttle says:

    RE: redo plumbing of the river in the Birdfoot Delta
    The Corps is quietly replumbing the Atchafalaya. Here is a report that the Corps is preparing to “re-align the federally-authorized navigation channel in the Lower Atchafalaya River to Crewboat Cut instead of the Horseshoe Bend reach. Crewboat Cut is already the preferred navigation route for local navigation. An analysis of the new channel shows that cost savings can be achieved since the Crewboat Cut channel would require less dredging.”

    “Once the federal navigation channel has been re-aligned, the Corps anticipates that the Horseshoe Bend reach will naturally shoal over time.”

    Could this be a test run in anticipation of the larger job of realigning navigation on the Lower Mississippi River, as suggested in the New York Times article?

    http://www.katc.com/news/re-alignment-of-lower-atchafalaya-river-federal-navigation-channel-approved/

  19. Bring back the larger font.

  20. Kelly Haggar says:

    No matter who wins or loses the PPL case, or why, it will have ZERO effect on coastal restoration in La.

    If you want to follow a more interesting but still mostly irrelevant law, watch how R.S. 49:3.1, §1. Gulfward boundary, just passed in 2011 plays out:

    B. The coastline of Louisiana shall be the line of ordinary low water along that portion of the coast which is in direct contact with the open sea and the line marking the seaward limit of inland waters, and shall be not less than the baseline defined by the coordinates set forth in U.S. v. La, 422 U.S. 13 (1975), Exhibit “A”. Under no circumstances shall the coast-line of Louisiana be nearer inland than the baseline established by such coordinates.

    Compare that new text with R.S. 41 §1702, from 1978, Reclamation of lands lost through erosion, compaction, subsidence, and sea level rise . . . .

    D.(2)(e) However, no land which lies below the elevation of ordinary low water shall be considered emergent land.

    La is asking the Feds for better treatment or sunk (former) land than it affords its own residents. I predict this effort by La will fail, but you might want to follow it anyway.

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