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December 2011 Coastal Scuttlebutt

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Note: this post is typically updated daily by noon CST.

DECEMBER FOURTEENTH

Map of China with its coastal Capital Baijing (population 19 million) pasted on a photo taken from a window at the airport (look hard for two planes in the takeoff queue).

The Louisiana DEQ gets an F from EPA (but things could be worse)

A chilling report by Rob Schmitz on NPR’s Marketplace yesterday described Beijing China, the coastal capital of China, as one of the most polluted places in the world with respect to air quality. One of the primary considerations among the well to do in choosing a place to live in Beijing is the smell…and visibility…of the air. We should be grateful here for the 1970s when Richard Nixon signed environmental protection laws that could NEVER get to the President’s desk today.

The southern third of Louisiana is simultaneously blessed and bedeviled by the integration of physical, chemical, ecological, cultural, fiscal and political ingredients that comprise the uniquely spicy, sweet and slightly toxic gumbo that almost 3 million delta residents eat, drink, breathe…and more and more often wade in. The political ingredient includes all forms of government on which we depend to maintain public order, respond to emergencies, educate our kids, oversee medical standards, maintain a means for transportation and commerce, punish lawbreakers, conserve fish and wildlife resources and try to keep the toxins in the gumbo at tolerable levels.

For the past 20 years Louisiana state government has also been engaged in trying to hold back the sea. The writers of state laws have seen fit to subdivide environmental protection and coastal restoration among various agencies with overlapping and often conflicting functions. From the standpoint of the disappearing coast this subdivision is highly debatable.

On the one hand the fact that water quality and coastal health are inseparable and the goal for reducing bureaucracy and improving efficiency argues for combining all environmental quality and coastal health issues into a single agency. On the other hand, the fact that the appointment of agency heads is clearly influenced by money and politics …and an appalling level of public ignorance about environmental health…argues for keeping authority for coastal policy separate so as to reduce the chance of particularly bad decisions.

Having spent 18 years in the governor’s office I witnessed an abject failure to properly integrate coastal policy among the Louisiana Departments of Natural Resources (DNR), Transportation (DOTD), Economic Development (DED), Health and Hospitals (DHH), Wildlife and Fisheries (WL&F), Agriculture and Forestry (Ag & F)…and Environmental Quality (DEQ). That argues for more coastal consolidation. The recent creation of the Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration (OCPR)* was presumably rationalized on that basis.

During the same time I learned that state regulatory policy over the oil and gas and chemical industry, which has a huge coastal footprint, has essentially been written by industry lobbyists. That experience argues for separate authority, even if it means overlap and redundancy. It’s very comforting to know that federal agencies can sometimes override bad environmental and coastal policy by the state.

On terms of federal oversight, Mark Schleifstein’s reported yesterday in The Times-Picayune that the EPA just issued a report highly critical of DEQ. Here’s a telling quote with a phrase that I highlighted:

“State, EPA regional, and external interview responses attributed Louisiana’s poor performance to several factors, including a lack of resources, natural disasters, and a culture in which the state agency is expected to protect industry,” said the report, signed by EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins.

Having been an employee at the DEQ for two years before joining the staff at the governor’s office I was interested to read about the defense of that agency by my former colleague Chris Piehler, in this article in today’s The Advocate by Amy Wold.

Read both articles and make your own judgment.

*Which curiously excludes the Office of Coastal Management.

DECEMBER THIRTEENTH

David Vitter and Hale Boggs offer coastal opinions.

Lesson from the past

Senator David Vitter has made it his hobby to beat up on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He’s in a pretty influential position to do that, as the leading Republican on the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure, which has jurisdiction over the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), the lifeblood legislation of the corps, which has authorized most of the larger coastal projects in Louisiana.

Anyhow, The Times-Picayune published a guest post by Sen. Vitter on December 11 railing about the corps, as usual, this time for bureaucracy, cost over runs and shoddy work. One quote particularly caught my eye:

Since 1992, Congress has authorized, reauthorized and provided initial funding for the vital Morganza to the Gulf (MTTG) project to provide badly needed protection for Lafourche and Terrebonne Parishes. And the corps has just as frequently missed deadlines and dramatically increased cost estimates in a way that has blocked all major progress on the project.

Vitter’s rant about corps intransigence and his assertion that the MTTG project is vital to Louisiana reminded me of our history of huge coastal mistakes.

I know full well how politically popular the MTTG project is in south Louisiana, especially in Houma. Nevertheless, from a long range perspective this project, which has been festering since 1992, deserves the distinction of being the most expensive coastal mistake that the state is hell bent to make since the late fifties. That’s when two nationally powerful Bayou State politicians, Senator Allen J. Ellender from Houma and Congressman Hale Boggs from New Orleans (both of whom died in office in 1972) apparently fought to have what turned out to be the disastrous Mississippi River Gulf Outlet MRGO dredged either west or east of the Mississippi River (Boggs won this tragic struggle).

Senator Vitter, do you want to be remembered for a coastal disaster on a par with the MR GO?

DECEMBER TWELFTH

Sand berms again

Bobby Jindsl dreams of a coastal sandbox.

Yesterday’s Sunday Advocate featured a front page, above the fold story by Amy Wold, who reviewed Governor Jindal’s coastal pride and joy, his pet project to construct emergency sand berms proposed to intercept oil from the Macondo well blowout. She gave what I would call an above average grade to a project as contentious, expensive and poorly justified as any action undertaken in the 20 year history of coastal restoration in Louisiana.*

Ms. Wold cited comments exclusively from either avid or tacit supporters of a project that was clearly designed on the fly. None of the many experts who continue to challenge the project on technical grounds was quoted.

As noted here and in numerous other posts, the sand berm concept was masterminded by Governor Bobby Jindal and Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, with strong support from the dredging industry. Sand berm boosters were contemptuous of project critics and dismissive of those who suggested less heroic but more practical responses to the threat of marsh oiling.

The scientific and environmental communities would have happily locked arms with the governor to persuade BP to commit their $360 million stipend for legitimate shovel-ready barrier shoreline projects, not to trap oil but to extend the lifespan of the first line of defense against future storms. Instead, ten weeks after the well had finally been capped the plug was finally pulled on the sand berm fiasco.

By that time $260 million had been squandered to dredge and transport 20 million cubic yards of sand (four Superdome Equivalents) into four berm segments totaling less than 12 miles.

One final note: Wold’s article didn’t even mention a quantitative sand berm evalustion study that is underway by Dr. Asbury Sallenger with the USGS.

*Another strong competitor for the most controversial, costly and ecologically destructive coastal project is the Morganza-to-the-Gulf (MTTG) hurricane levee system under preliminary stages of construction…using state and local funds rather than BP bucks.

DECEMBER ELEVENTH

Coincidence or climate change?

American public finally waking up to climate change?

Results of a Yale University study released on December 7 indicates a significant increase in public understanding of and concern about anthropogenic climate change, which is relevant to the 2012 presidential election cycle, given the insistence by most GOP candidates that global warming is a myth. Here’s a quote about the survey by Tom Zeller Jr. in his article in HuffingtonPost on December 8:

The survey found that 67 percent of respondents thought global warming made the summer’s high temperatures worse, for example. Sixty-five percent believed the phenomenon was exacerbating droughts in Texas and Oklahoma, while 60 percent connected global warming to both the Mississippi River floods and the record snowfalls in 2010 and 2011.

“However,” the Yale researchers noted, “46 percent of Americans also said that global warming made the summer East Coast earthquake worse, indicating a flawed understanding of climate change.”

About half of respondents believed human beings were contributing to global warming — up 3 points from the last survey in May.

Some of this change in attitude may have been influenced by the dramatic rise in natural disasters* in the U.S. between 1980 and the fist six months of 2011 shown in the above graph from the national re-insurance industry. The graph was posted by Barry Ritholtz in his blog.

*The catastrophic damage in New Orleans during the passage of Hurricane Katrina has been called anything but natural.

DECEMBER TENTH 

Baby steps on the coast.

Coastal projects worth constructing but…

Mark Schleifstein wrote a feature article for today’s The Times-Picayune under the banner: Coastal Restoration Projects Move Forward* that illustrates the striking contrast between the monumental scale of our coastal problems and the minute scale and snail’s pace of a ‘solution.’

An agreement was reportedly signed yesterday between state and federal officials to take what Schleifstein diplomatically calls a small step toward eventually constructing six of fifteen projects that have been vetted for years under the Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) Ecosystem Restoration Program. These projects were officially authorized under the hopelessly arcane and bureaucratic Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) whose purse strings are controlled by Congress.

The telling line in the article is that the officials agreed not to construct the projects but rather to decide how to design them!

Colonel Ed Fleming, New Orleans District Commander of the Corps of Engineers is quoted saying:

“The LCA 6 projects utilize the three important coastal restoration methods: barrier island restoration, river diversions, and marsh creation and nourishment,” Fleming said.

I agree with the colonel’s assessment that building these projects would be a good thing but they were all conceived long before the Colonel came to New Orleans and it’s highly unlikely that any of them will be completed before he leaves for his next post. Meanwhile the gulf keeps rising.

*Reporters even as respected as Schleifstein don’t write their own headlines.

DECEMBER NINTH

The oil and gas footprint on the coast is undeniable and ignoring it is bad policy.

Huge oil and gas industry footprint in coastal Louisiana

If you have a few minutes to kill, listen to this December 8 podcast of the Jim Engster Show on Baton Rouge’s NPR affiliate station WRKF-FM 89.3. Jim interviewed John Hill, seasoned Louisiana reporter, who now works for The America’s Wetland Foundation.

Mr. Hill said that the vast coastal damage and loss of wetlands since 1930 was primarily the result of federal decisions, especially cutting the Mississippi River off from its delta. I called in to challenge that statement, pointing out that the scientific community has documented the fact that the oil and gas industry has directly and indirectly caused roughly 50% of the damage to Louisiana’s coast. This subject will be touched on again in a feature post, now under preparation, on the odds of sustaining south Louisiana through this century.

‘Marsh’ fire misnomer

Here we go again with the zombie fires in eastern New Orleans. A Times-Picayune staff report posted this morning on nola.com bears the following unintentionally humorous headline: Fog, smoke expected to create traffic hazards in marshes east of New Orleans.

There are clearly two problems with this title: (A) marshes no longer exist where the sporadic burning in the sub sea level scrub-shrub habitat has been occurring since September ; and (B) if there were marshes there I doubt that many commuters would drive to work through them given the absence of highways.

I’m not just being picky here; words are important…especially when they involve landscape features in America’s Delta. I’d like to see a team of wetland delineation experts from the regulatory division of the New Orleans District of the Corps of Engineers and Region 6 of EPA survey the undeveloped land in eastern New Orleans.

It would be nice to officially establish whether any of the area meets the three criteria for regulated wetlands under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act: (1) wetland-adapted plants; (2) hydric (anaerobic) soils; and (3) hydrologic indicators (signs of periodic flooding). I can’t imagine a development permit being denied in the area on the basis of wetland damage.

State law already excludes the area from its Coastal Management Program and coastal use permit (CUP) system, because it lies outside of the official coastal zone, being impounded within levees and artificially maintained as ‘fast land’ by pumping.

DECEMBER EIGHTH

Dubai sand islands crumbling, just like Louisiana sand berms

The Governor of Louisiana picks the brain of the Emir of Dubai re sand berm construction..

A combination of oil money and testosterone obviously inspired Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Emir of Dubai, to erect the world’s tallest phallic symbol, the Burjkhalifa building. 

From the upper floors the Sheikh can survey another monument to his hubris, a humongous offshore construction project to build three separate coastal island complexes, Palm IslandsThe World and The Universe (never built). These lavish and tacky development projects probably made Donald Trump’s golden face turn green with envy.

in 2008 the economy of Dubai collapsed and the plug was pulled on the Sheikh’s fancy sand berms. By that time he had mined about 1.45 billion cubic yards of sand and rock from the deserts of Dubai (290 Superdome Equivalents or SDEs) to create a total of about 85.7 square miles of luxurious coastal landscape, at a cost of about $58 billion ($4/cu yard).

As shown in this post from November 8, that compares with almost 20 million cubic yards of sand (4 SDEs) mined and transported in Louisiana to build the far from luxurious BP sand berms, the coastal centerpiece project of Bobby Jindal and Billy Nungesser. Based on the reported $251 million spent on the Louisiana project, that works out to roughly $13/cu yard.

At any rate, as reported in this article, it seems that the Sheikh’s monument is not all that permanent. The Emir’s islands are crumbling, sinking and eroding…just like our ridiculously pricey Louisiana berms. Both projects are slowly being reclaimed ignominiously by the sea.

It’s interesting to note that the Dubai sand islands, like the infamous Jindal sand berms, were designed and promoted by Dutch dredging interests.

DECEMBER SEVENTH (70 years post Pearl Harbor)

From green to red...to blue?

Turning the coast from red to blue 

I used to be a portrait artist and I’ve always been fascinated with the emotional power of color. Consider the following curious coastal color conundrums:

1)   When the Spaniards first arrived here, what is now coastal Louisiana was among the greenest places on Earth.

2)   Based on the universal color symbols for danger, during the 20th century the region was inadvertently converted from green to orange to red…eventually to brownish blue wherever the ocean encroached.

3)   From a political standpoint, during the past 20 years the region has become increasingly red…which also characterizes its fiscal condition.

4)   This is ironic, in that the red party is now dominated by deniers of global warming, a major cause of factoid 2!

5)   The dollar cost of reducing flood hazard risk from red to orange is often said to be in the 12-digit range…far beyond the combination of BP fines, offshore oil and gas revenues, CWPPRA dollars and state and local funding.

6)   There’s a growing interest in the ecological and economic potential to turn some of south Louisiana blue, not from gulf water but from carbon sucked out of the atmosphere and stored beneath restored coastal wetlands.

7)  The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is now promoting a Coastal Blue Carbon concept, using coastal wetlands as a huge potential carbon sink.

8)   Finally, Louisiana officials have suggested, without a trace of irony, that when a cap-and-trade carbon market emerges* the state could sell carbon credits to help offset the cost of coastal restoration.

For several weeks I’ve been planning to write a feature on the Coastal Blue Carbon concept.** One element of the MRGO damage restoration feasibility plan for the Pontchartrain Basin is the concept of restoring the ecological function of the dysfunctional Central Wetlands as a tertiary treatment system for sewage waste…and a carbon sink with a valuable credit potential.

Christopher Joyce has been reporting an NPR series on an aggressive program in California (where they believe in global warming) to reduce the state’s carbon footprint and budget shortfalls. Today’s episode on Morning Edition describes a serious plan to flood farmland in the San Joaquin Valley…as a prime way to sell carbon sequestration credits. The piece mentions that California rice farmers are showing interest. What about Louisiana’s rice bowl, AG & Forestry Secretary Mike Strain?

Upon hearing Joyce’s piece I was struck by what must be a huge potential to re-flood former wetlands in still undeveloped areas of Eastern New Orleans…such as the site of the zombie fire this fall.

*A GOP concept that is now anathema to all of Obama’s rivals for POTUS!

**This mini-post is just a teaser.

DECEMBER SIXTH

Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida Christmas stockings.

BP Claus comes early to the gulf coast

Christmas stockings for the five gulf coast states are filling up fast, with the one marked Louisiana bulging at the seams.

First there’s a bank account for $1 billion divvied up among the states, with Louisiana’s piece representing perhaps $500 million. This is a down payment from BP Claus for a still undetermined final bill still being totaled up by the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) process.

Second is a copy of the newly completed document produced by the President’s Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force that was signed, sealed and delivered to President Obama a few days ago. Yesterday EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson released the final version of this plan.

The third package includes draft copies of twin house and senate bills that would dedicate 80% of the total fine against BP under the Clean Water Act (estimated at from $5-20 billion) to implement the plan. These bills are gaining steam and seem destined for reconciliation, passage and delivery to the President for his signature, either before or after Christmas. A key hearing of the house version is scheduled tomorrow with a meeting of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Finally there is a copy of a new economic study carried out by faculty of Duke University that was described by Bruce Alpert in today’s The Times-Picayune. The study indicates that spending BP fine money for gulf coast restoration would be a big job generator for Louisiana and the other gulf coast states.

I don’t know how much money this study cost but I could have provided the same conclusion free of charge!

DECEMBER FIFTH

BP oil impacts on people and fish

'The Big Fix' photo from the New York Times

On December 1st The New York Times published a review by Stephen Holden of a documentary film called “The Big Fix,” about the Deepwater Horizon well blowout in April 2010. The film, by husband and wife team Josh Bickle and Rebecca Harrell Bickell, is described as an expose’ of big oil in general and BP in particular.

The review describes the film as highly emotional and somewhat depressing. I envision 90 minutes of film by Michael Moore if he were high on Red Bull…but bereft of black humor about black gold.

Not having seen The Big Fix, I’m obviously not in a position to remark on its credibility. Holden’s review notes that the filmmakers emphasize BP’s use of the chemical dispersant Corexit as a major source of controversy, at least among the public. I have more of a problem with the phrase ‘incalculable coastal damage,’ which seems way over the top, in that most scientific assessments so far describe less long-term impact than expected.

Speaking of science, I wonder how many experts the Bickells interviewed. I also wonder if they took advantage of state subsidies to film-makers in Louisiana. I also wonder whether The Big Fix will be shown in Louisiana venues, which would seem to be the prime market. Maybe LPB could pick it up.

Finally, according to Holden, the film is highly critical of the State of Louisiana for having prostituted itself to Big Oil, so to speak, a corrupted ‘oil colony.’ It would be truly ironic (and poetic justice, in my book) for these two film critics of state policy to have been supported by state tax subsidies to assist the movie industry in Louisiana.

Public discussion tonight in Biloxi

Karen Nelson reported today in sunherald.com that the potential long-term impacts of the escape of 4.9 million barrels of oil into the northern gulf coast will be discussed this evening in Biloxi, Mississippi. Where: Biloxi Civic Center, 580 Howard Avenue. When: 7-9 p.m. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Presenters will include Drs. Scott Milroy, biological oceanographer, chemist Wilma Subra and oyster biologist Ed Cake.

Bluefin Tuna

USA Today published a story about a new report by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that reduces widespread concern among fishery scientists that the population of Bluefin tuna, a keystone species in the gulf, may have been seriously impaired by oil released during 2010.

Gulf Killifish

In September, the National Academy of Sciences published a study by a team of scientists on genomic and physiological changes detected in Gulf killifish from Louisiana coastal marshes contaminated with oil residues from the Deepwater Horizon blowout.

DECEMBER FOURTH

Nutria Rodeo in Golden Meadow

 Nikki Buskey reported in today’s The Daily Comet and Kari Dequine reported in The Times-Picayune that a coastal event called a nutria rodeo was held in Golden Meadow yesterday to call attention to three invasive species that damage the coastal ecosystem: the nutria (Myocastor coypus), the Eurasian wild pig (Sus scrofa) and the Asian silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix); and a native species considered a pest by some (but not me): the common coyote (Canis latrans).

Two points stood out for me in these articles. First I was impressed about the fact that a 17 year-old high school senior (Aaron Guidry) could demonstrate the passion to successfully produce an enviro-political event at an age when hormones rule the thinking of most kids. My age is expressed by the alternative way of combining 1 and 7 but I still remember what dominated my thinking…both awake and asleep at 17.

Second, I’ve seen amazing change since arriving in south Louisiana in 1973, but that’s over 38 years. For this kid to be passionate about change that he remembers over the ten years since he reportedly killed his first nutria shows that the rate of change is accelerating.

I salute this enterprising young man, wish him the best in his academic career and hope that he remains in his native state.

Alex Trebek at the Who Dat Dome

DECEMBER THIRD

Question: Name the nexus among the Superdome, Jeopardy! and LaCoastPost.

Until yesterday, the only two things that Alex Trebek and I had in common were gender and age (he’s 35 days my junior). Now there’s a third connection. An old friend called to report that, because he reads LaCoastPost on a regular basis, he knew the answer to a question that stumped the contestants on yesterday’s Jeopardy quiz show, broadcast in Baton Rouge on WBRZ-TV.

The question involved the name of a well-known sports arena whose interior space is used as a local measure of volume. The answer was, “What is the New Orleans Superdome?”

On August 23, 2009 I proposed a way to envision the gigantic volume of the sediment deficit that faces America’s Delta. Here’s a quote from the post:

Sheila Grissett wrote an eye-opening story for the August 1 The Times-Picayune on the gigantic volume of clay and concrete ingredients for levee bolstering that will be moved into NOLA during the next several years and the impact on highway congestion, air quality, etc.

Grissett reported that 30 million cubic yards of sediments of various types will be required to upgrade the NOLA levee system to the 1% flood risk level by the target date of June 1, 2011. She compared 30 million cubic yards as equivalent to six times the volume of the New Orleans Superdome. A cubic yard of sediment is roughly equivalent to a ton.

In other words, late Louisiana Governor John McKeithen’s iconic legacy structure would theoretically hold five million tons of sand, silt or clay. I propose that future discussions of coastal sediment needs adopt the easy-to-remember 5 million ton Superdome equivalent (SDE) as an official volume unit, which is far more evocative and memorable than a plain number.

A Google search for a link to the specific episode of Jeopardy and/or the questions asked was unsuccessful this morning but a search for Superdome statistics provided the following table, which describes the interior volume of the dome as 125 million cubic feet. That number converts to 4.63 million cubic yards…close enough to 5 million for government work.

Superdome Statistics
Total Land Area: (building, garages, and grounds) 52 acres
Height: 273 feet (82.3 meters)
Diameter of Dome: 680 feet (210 meters)
Area of Roof: 9.7 acres
Interior Space: 125,000,000 cubic feet
Total square footage: 269,000 sq. ft. (82,342 sq. meters)
Main Arena: 166,180 sq. ft. (50,685 sq. meters)
Convention Concourse: 76,711 sq. ft. (8,261 sq. meters)
Concrete: 169,000 cubic yards (131,820 cubic meters)
Structural Steel: 20,000 tons (18,200 metric tons)
Air Conditioning: 9,000 tons (8,190 metric tons)
Meeting Rooms (200 Loge Level): Four 19,000 square foot quadrant rooms (each divisible into 6 individual rooms, 28 smaller reception rooms)
Rest rooms: 102 (51 women’s & 51 men’s)
Private Box Suites: 137
Parking Capacity: 5,000 cars & 250 buses

Therefore, the 5 million cubic yard SDE metric stands and remains my recommendation for use whenever large volumes of water, rogue oil, or delta dirt are being discussed in south Louisiana. As an example, the normal spring flood volume of the lower Mississippi River is roughly 1,000,000 cubic feet/second, which converts to 27 SDEs/hour!*

The iconic title of the quiz show is ironically tied to the Superdome another way, of course, because that’s where many Hurricane Katrina victims were forced to hang out in considerable jeopardy for days.

*Please check my arithmetic, Harley Winer!

DECEMBER SECOND

Coastal implications of a Gingrich administration

Now that Bachmann, Perry and Cain have pretty much flamed out, Newt Gingrich is showing considerable chutzpah* about becoming the GOP nominee for POTUS, as reported in today’s HuffingtonPost. In 1994, the former Speaker of the House authored his infamous Contract with America, which I parodied back in the day with my Contract for Coastal Louisiana** during a talk at a high level coastal conference in New Orleans.

The fact that Newt could actually be elected Prez should generate considerable interest in his environmental record among coastal advocates in Louisiana and elsewhere. For a clue to his current philosophy, here’s Newt’s six-point AmericanEnergy Plan, which has clear implications for Louisiana and other coastal states:

1) Remove bureaucratic and legal obstacles to responsible oil and natural gas development*** in the United States, offshore and on land. 

2) End the ban on oil shale development in the American West, where we have three times the amount of oil as Saudi Arabia.

3) Give coastal states federal royalty revenue sharing to give them an incentive to allow offshore development.

4) Reduce frivolous lawsuits that hold up energy production by enacting loser pays laws to force the losers in an environmental lawsuit to pay all legal costs for the other side.

5) Finance cleaner energy research and projects with new oil and gas royalties.

6) Replace the Environmental Protection Agency, which has become a job-killing regulatory engine of higher energy prices, with an Environmental Solutions Agency that would use incentives and work cooperatively with local government and industry to achieve better environmental outcomes while considering the impact of federal environmental policies on job creation and the cost of energy.

Although President Obama garnered more Louisiana votes in 2008 than did Bobby Jindal in 2011, he will certainly not carry the state in 2012. If Newt pulls off his party’s nomination I can’t wait to see how many Louisiana voters punch his button next November.

* Or shuts-pa, as pronounced recently by Newt rival Michele Bachmann.

**Try as I might I couldn’t find a copy of my tongue-in-cheek program.

***As defined by whom?

DECEMBER FIRST

Choosing coastal projects.

BP-funded coastal projects selected in smoke-filled rooms?

A very lengthy Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) process is underway to determine how much money BP and the other perps in the Macondo well blowout will ultimately be fined. Perhaps half of a $1 billion pre-payment on the total fine will presumably be spent on Louisiana projects.

On May 5 I proposed using $100 million (one fifth) of this cash for two purposes: (1) to commission a team of independent experts to establish coastal priorities, based on modeling results rather than politics; and (2) to purchase as much threatened coastal real estate as possible, taking current owners out of harm’s way. These recommendations were, of course, ignored by Governor Jindal and his staff.

On July 12 Mark Schleifstein described 13 projects that were chosen by Gov. Jindal’s loyal staffers. As I understand the nature of the projects on this list, the recommendations include four categories: (1) $15 million for oyster-related projects; (2) $238 million for barrier beach nourishment; (3) at least $63 million for rock breakwaters and armoring for shorelines; and $45 million for shoreline protection (also rocks?); and (4) $102 million to create ridges and land bridges. For what it’s worth, here are a few comments on each category:

1) The money used to dump oyster cultch and improve an oyster hatchery could be much better spent. I would advocate building three dimensional (elevated) oyster reefs on strategic sanctuary areas that could provide shoreline protection and enhance water quality…and provide oyster larvae to benefit commercial oyster production.

2) I’m generally supportive of using the largest portion of the money for barrier beach nourishment…but only if it’s carried out under adult scientific supervision.

3) I’m resolutely opposed to rock armoring of shorelines and segmented barriers, e.g., there are no native rocks in America’s Delta. In terms of shoreline protection, there are better ways to protect shorelines, e.g., 3D oyster reefs.

4) I support ridge creation in general but again only if they are designed strategically by experts, not by a committee of agency officials, such as shown above.

Today John Pope reported in The Times-Picayune that an impressive coalition of environmental and community outreach groups from all five gulf states has issued a formal request for more transparency and public input re the selection of coastal projects to be constructed by each state.

The report, called Sunshine on the Gulf, definitely bears reading. Louisiana is generally ranked higher than the other states, because the Bayou State has a lot more skin in the restoration game.

A critique of what has been proposed in Louisiana is shown on page 23. I generally agree with the two general comments: (1) land acquisition is not included; and (2) rock breakwaters, which are said to be a high priority of the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (LDNR) is a bad idea that has been discredited over many years.

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  2. Kelly Haggar says:

    Quakes and Climate Change. Hmmmm.

    “However,” the Yale researchers noted, “46 percent of Americans also said that global warming made the summer East Coast earthquake worse, indicating a flawed understanding of climate change.”

    Hmmmm. Yale needs to huddle up with Miami?

    http://www.rsmas.miami.edu/news-events/press-releases/2011/research-study-show-link-between-earthquakes-and-tropical-cyclones/

    Research Study Show Link Between Earthquakes and Tropical Cyclones
    New study can help scientists identify regions at high risk for earthquakes

    SAN FRANCISCO – Dec. 8, 2011 – A groundbreaking study led by University of Miami (UM) scientist Shimon Wdowinski shows that earthquakes, including the recent 2010 temblors in Haiti and Taiwan, may be triggered by tropical cyclones (hurricanes and typhoons). Wdowinski will discuss his findings during a presentation at the 2011 AGU Fall Meeting in San Francisco.

    “Very wet rain events are the trigger,” said Wdowinski, associate research professor of marine geology and geophysics at the UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. “The heavy rain induces thousands of landslides and severe erosion, which removes ground material from the Earth’s surface, releasing the stress load and encouraging movement along faults.”

    Or maybe not? I’ll bet the “consensus” among geologists is going to be that the notion of sliding around a few meters of surface mud activating plates and faults several miles/a dozen klicks down is howling-at-the-moon level nonsense.

  3. http://www.houmatoday.com/article/20111209/ARTICLES/111209554/1319?Title=Coastal-projects-head-to-drawing-board

    You just have to ask people what they think about the corps’ pace. Michel Claudet in Terrebonne wasn’t shy about sharing his feelings.

  4. Not many outlets allow their reporters to write the titles to their stories. Has it always been this way?

  5. Zombie Fire. There is a difference between a habitat type being considered marsh and being considered jurisdictional pursuant to Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. A vegetative community that is dominated by shrub/scrub plants can still be wetland. For example, there are jurisdictional wetlands in Louisiana which are vegetated almost entirely by floating mats of wax myrtle. So, it is possible that while the “marsh fire” is not in marsh, the habitat could still be wetland. However, the area is question is definitely not a tidally-influenced marsh.
    By the way, that area has been subject to persistent underground fires since at least the 1960s, when it was then being drained, even though it still retained the appearance of marsh. During that time, the New Orleans press got into the habit of referring to any fire in that area as a “marsh fire.” The press also attributed the cause of the fires to “hunters,” rather than to “arsonists” or “vandals.” Even in those days, there were many traffic accidents and road closures because smoke obscured the highways. It caused a lot of problems for the people who commuted to New Orleans from Slidell and Mississippi (yes, they did that even back then).
    Without getting into specific details (because most readers would find them excruciatingly boring), suffice it to say that your explanation of coastal use permit jurisdiction in the area is not entirely technically correct, but it is true that most uses in that area would be exempt from coastal use permitting. However, it should be noted that, while there are some exceptions, jurisdiction for coastal use permitting is primarily based on elevation and/or tidal influence, not habitat type. In any event, the State and Local Coastal Resources Management Act does not regulate the setting of fires.

  6. It’s true that cap and trade was originally a GOP concept, successfully employed by Bush I to reduce nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide that cause acid rain. But, like the health care insurance mandate once supported by leading Republicans in the early 90s, anything proposed by the President must be demonized and opposed. The dishonesty of it is less alarming than the erosion of rational thought that it reflects.

    Per the carbon market charade, La (the Governor and delegation) helped kill national climate legislation which would have set up a carbon market. So that’s not going to happen anytime soon – thus, Mr. Graves should be asked just who is going to buy these Louisiana wetland credits (IF a scientifically defensible rate of exchange can be established, since this is a financial transaction.)

    (Killing the climate bill also derailed the re-establishment of the U.S. nuclear industry, which was part of the package and something the GOP says they support. But President Obama supported the bill, see, so…

  7. I agree with you (I think) about the use of rock breakwaters but isn’t there a place for this type of structure such as on high use canals where wave action from boats is an issue. Now obviously the use of riprap in the past has not always been done correctly but is your opposition against riprap or is it against how they will likely misuse the riprap?

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