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Jan. 2012 Coastal Scuttlebutt (cont.)

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This mini-post is typically updated daily by noon.

JANUARY THIRTY-FIRST 

Shrimp as a canary in the coast line

America’s Delta is such a large and complex macro-ecosystem, with so many independently and dependently varying metrics, that detecting change in its ‘fitness’ is a particularly difficult statistical challenge. Therefore, long-term quantitative data collections on specific coastal fauna and flora are extremely rare, and particularly valuable.

Only five months after the oil and gas eruption from the infamous Deepwater Horizon well had finally been shut down, I suggested in a mini-post that the birds then being counted in south Louisiana by volunteers with the National Audubon Society during its ongoing 111th Christmas Bird Count (CBC) were serving as modern day Canaries in the Coal Mine. At that time coastal scientists were only beginning the effort to assess the short and long-term impacts of the largest coastal oil pollution episode in history, close to where the birds were being counted…for the 111th time since 1900.

Several related species of Penaeid shrimp have been harvested for centuries along the Louisiana coast. These tasty crustaceans have been closely monitored for decades by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (WL&F), which also qualifies them as canaries in the coastline, like the resident and migratory birds counted by Audubon.

A trio of interesting articles by Benjamin Alexander-Bloch in The Times-Picayune on January 30 describe how shrimp have become a barometer of the ecological condition of the Gulf in general; an index of the subtle impacts of the Macondo well blowout in 2010; and a key sign of climate change. The first article deals with the commercial implications of shrimp harvest data.

A second deals with the scientific interpretation of both the catch statistics and the results of detailed examination of shrimp samples for signs of lingering impacts of rogue oil released in 2010 in the northern Gulf. The third article describes work by Chris Swarzenski with the USGS, which implies that shrimp data could provide more evidence of climate change.

Two groups of organisms in Louisiana and throughout North America are either unaware of or ignorant about various climate change models that all project a warmer and bleaker future. One group includes conservative politicos and the other includes a growing number of species of non-human organisms, whose habits are changing and whose habitats are rapidly expanding northward.

JANUARY THIRTIETH

According to every remaining GOP candidate for president (other than Buddy Roemer) human beings had absolutely no influence on this trend.

Weather extremes in 2011: dry, wet and hot!

We still haven’t recovered from the serious drought along the northern gulf coast in 2011 and Dallas wants some of our river water now more than ever before.

Meanwhile, the Corps of Engineers is concerned that the impacts to flood protection measures in the lower Mississippi River valley from the Great Flood of 2011 have not been resolved.

Finally, in terms of temperature, I’ve become much more sensitive to cold weather than I was even a few years ago. Thus it seems noteworthy that, as January comes to an end and we enter what is typically the coldest period in south Louisiana, the canvas top on my pre-antique roadster has been folded down for several days.

In terms of records, it seems that there’s a minor disagreement between NASA and NOAA over whether 2011 was the ninth or eleventh warmest year since 1880. See this dramatic animation on the pattern of warming over that time period that’s posted today in HuffingtonPost.

FLASH!

This morning on his show on WRKF-FM 89.3 in Baton Rouge, Jim Engster interviewed Jason Theriot, a doctoral student at the Kennedy School of Government who’s been working on a dissertation and book on the fascinating role of oil and gas impacts on the Louisiana coast. Mr. Theriot will be presenting his work at 4:00 PM today at the Manship School of Communication at LSU. I hope to be able to attend. As I posted this at 10:30 AM the interview hadn’t been archived yet but it will be rebroadcast at 8:00 PM.

JANUARY TWENTY-NINTH

Ruth’s Chris scion, sea food, science and the Master Plan

Politics makes strange bedfellows..and luncheon conversation at some Louisiana eateries.

My San Antonio ensconced Bro’-in-law Mo Fox alerted me yesterday to an Op-Ed from The New York Times
opinion page on 
January 27 with this title:

The Mississippi Delta Must Be Restored; to halt the erosion of the delta wetlands. 

This essay expresses strong support for the draft 2012 Comprehensive Louisiana Master Plan for Coastal Protection and Restoration (MP) that is ‘out on the street’ for public review.

The piece was written by Randy Fertel, son of the founder of Ruth’s Chris Steak House, the iconic international restaurant and hospitality enterprise. I have no clue about what happens at their out of state restaurants but in their home state Ruth’s Chris Steak House eateries are known as places where political decisions are cooked along with the food…before being signed into law at the state capitol.

These restaurants are highly successful as purveyors of seafood as well as beef, which is not surprising, given that the Fertel family hails from Plaquemines Parish, which is ground zero for both finfish and shellfish. The Plaquemines peninsula is also where most opponents to sediment diversions reside.

This opposition ignores the science behind the MP and is primarily coming from politically influential folks involved with catching, selling or promoting fishery products or services. They’re concerned about the short term impact of diversion projects in terms of displacing oyster leases and fishing grounds and apparently forgetting the long term consequences of not diverting the river.

Mr. Fertel not only endorsed the MP but noted its most fundamental feature sediment diversions on east and west banks of the river…originating in Plaquemines Parish. I don’t know where he currently resides but it’s great to see home boy support for the only way to save part of Plaquemines and its neighboring coastal parishes.

During the past week a coastal colleague attended all three of the public meetings to solicit public feedback on the MP, including New Orleans, Houma and Lake Charles. This informant told me that P.J. Hahn, who represents Billy Nungesser, President of Plaquemines Parish, expressed strong opposition to these sediment diversion projects at all three meetings.

One can only wonder how many conversations about the MP in general and sediment diversion projects in particular have been and will be held at various Louisiana Ruth’s Chris Steak House outlets over raw oysters and steamed shrimp.

On January 23 I posted this feature overview of the MP, expressing strong support for the guts* of the plan, which surprised some readers who know me to have been a harsh critic of the planning process. to a supporter of the primary feature of the MP.

Science and the Master Plan

Much of my criticism of the planning process has been based on a long term pattern…the virtual absence of independent science. The primary reason that I’ve now become a supporter is because, unknown to me, for about 18 months a number of serious scientists have been working behind the scenes to provide the technical basis for the projections claimed.

On January 27 I attended the first of three presentations of the actual science behind the projections, the hydrodynamic model and the vegetation model. I came away from the meeting (at LSU’s School of the Coast and Environment) very impressed, for reasons that will be expressed over time.

*The call for massive diversions of water and sediment as the ONLY way in the long run to keep America’s Delta above the rising Gulf of Mexico.

Carbon credits

In today’s The Times-Picayune Mark Schleifstein reported about an important effort being undertaken by local scientist/entrepreneur Sarah Mack, Ph.D., who is working to quantify the net amount of carbon dioxide that is sequestered by restored wetlands.

JANUARY TWENTY-EIGHTH

Free source of levee clay?

Yesterday The Times-Picayune published a letter to the editor by yours truly, in which I challenged the rationale for mining native clay to raise hurricane levees downstream from Gramercy, where 120 million cubic yards (24 Mercedes-Benz Superdome Equivalents) of levee-appropriate red mud is stockpiled at Noranda Alumina.

The draft 2012 Louisiana Comprehensive Master Plan (MP) calls for spending $50 billion over the next 50 years, of which $17.9 billion is allocated for marsh creation, $1.74 billion for barrier shoreline nourishment and $12.2 billion for structural flood protection (levees). This totals $31.84 billion, or 63.7% of the overall cost. A huge part of this amount is presumably the cost of obtaining mineral sediment.

Wouldn’t it be prudent for the state and the Corps of Engineers to use as much free material as possible for these defensive measures…especially for the lowly purpose of forming the inner core of hurricane levees?

Before he left his position as Assistant Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, Louis Buatt told me that he was very interested in using red mud. So who dropped the ball?

JANUARY TWENTY-SEVENTH

ENOLA ‘Wildsmolder’ saga continues

Key missing datum shown in red; MSL refers to the mean elevation of Lake Pontchartrain.

In yesterday’s mini-post (scroll down) I argued that dealing effectively with any coastal issue requires current spatially-explicit information on surface elevation of the landscape…the 3rd dimension. It also requires information on the vertical rate of change of the surface, either in a positive or negative direction.

In my opinion, coastal protection and restoration strategies are seriously handicapped, both by insufficient information on elevation with respect to mean sea level (MSL) and recognition by officials and the public that this is even a problem.

A specific example is the unsuccessful effort to extinguish the ‘Zombie Wildsmolder’ in eastern New Orleans. After posting I learned that Mark Schleifstein had written a fascinating article on the burn site that was published yesterday in The Times-Picayune.

The article provided important details, graphics and photos…but no information on the average elevation of the entire 2,000 acre site* or the precise elevation of the two soldering areas.

I’ve never been on site and have been limited to vicarious ‘visits’ using Google Earth but the more I learn about this sunken landscape that was once healthy swamp the more intriguing this story becomes. For example, I’ve heard that Lyndon and Ladybird Johnson once considered investing in the area as a prime residential site.

Extinguishing the wildsmolder must be be a growing headache for the Mayor’s Office, which according to Schleifstein, now faces lawsuits from accident victims of smoke-related car crashes.

Considerations by the owner and the parish government about the future of the site are fundamentally dependent on knowing its precise elevation. Presumably the landowner, Mr. John Cummings, has such information…which may or may not be current. He purchased the tract in 1994 and during the ensuing 18 years it has certainly sunken significantly.

I’m hereby soliciting input from anyone who has recent survey data, including LIDAR, or other quantitative information on the area.

*Adjacent to the Bayou Sauvage Wildlife Management Area.

JANUARY TWENTY-SIXTH

Don’t forget the third dimension!

I remember a singing group from the 60s called the Fifth Dimension, that popularized an ‘elevating’ Jimmy Webb song called Up, up and away. Anyhow, since 2000 a band with the more modest name…the 3rd Dimension, has been a part of the coastal music scene in the British Virgin Islands. Cllck here for a sample from YouTube.

This is relevant in that on January 25 The Times-Picayune published a short letter to the editor by an Abita Springs resident (quoted below in its entirety) that points up the fundamental importance of the 3rd dimension in America’s Delta. The letter refers to the unsuccessful attempts to extinguish the source of smoke that has plagued eastern New Orleans since September and that may have caused the recent deaths of at least two commuters on I-10.

In reference to the fire in the marsh in eastern New Orleans that has been burning for months and has caused many problems:

From what I understand, it is surrounded by water. Why not put pumps there to pump the water into the area and put out the fire?

John Calcote, Abita Springs

According to Google Earth, Mr. Calcote’s Abita Springs backyard, which resides on the very ancient and very stable Pleistocene Terrace, is roughly 9 meters (~28 ft) above mean sea level (MSL). Therefore, extinguishing a wildfire in the vicinity of his home would require pumping water uphill.

On the other hand, the site of the ‘Zombie Wildsmolder’* in eastern New Orleans (again according to Google Earth) occupies landscape that is only about 3,000 years old and, since it was impounded, has sunk to from 1-2 meters (3-6 ft) below MSL. Mother Nature would happily ‘pump’ water from Lake Pontchartrain onto the site at no cost to tax payers…were the decision made to allow the former wetland to flood with brackish, rather than potable freshwater. The former wetland ecosystem wouldn’t mind, but the local residents might.

It’s discouraging to realize how little the public at large seems to understand the importance of absolute elevation…and its rate of change at any specific site in south Louisiana.

*My newest suggested name for this fire.

JANUARY TWENTY-FIFTH

Chain of fools?

Ms. Aretha Franklin attending a SONY BMG Post Grammy Party

Remember Aretha Franklin’s iconic song in which she comprehends that she’s been a fool in a chain of deceit?

That song came to mind yesterday on NPR’s Talk of The Nation (TOTN) when host Neil Conan interviewed Naomi Oreskes, a history professor at the University of California San Diego, who has been researching the history of the debate about human-caused climate change.

The interview was prompted by Oreskes’ January 22 Op/Ed column in the LA.Times, in which she suggested that Americans have been reluctant to take sides in the debate on climate change, in a misguided attempt to be fair and open-minded…like a juror faced with making a verdict with life-changing consequences for the accused.

Dr. Oreskes co-authored a book that uncovers what looks like another chain of fools, Americans who are being duped by key players in the current debate over a link between human emissions of greenhouse gases and climate change.

It seems that these same masters of deceit  were also involved in the long ridiculous debate over the obvious link between tobacco use and cancer…with mortal consequences for millions of ignorant smokers.

Oreskes argues that Americans should no longer be ambivalent about whether humans are causing global warming. Postponing what the science indicates will ultimately be a ‘guilty’ verdict is unnecessarily prolonging policy decisions with life-changing consequences for billions of humans.

Both the ten-minute interview and the column are worth a listen and a read. Do yourself a favor, my climate change skeptic friends!

JANUARY TWENTY-FOURTH

Here's the way nature built land; that's what sediment diversions are all about.

Opponents to sediment diversions threaten to scuttle the coastal plan.

Yesterday, after posting my initial response to the draft 2012 Louisiana Comprehensive Coastal Master Plan (MP) I debated long and hard about whether to drive from Baton Rouge to New Orleans to attend the first of three public meetings to solicit feedback to the plan.

In the end I didn’t go but Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Mark Schleifstein attended the meeting and his description in today’s The Times-Picayune of the comments expressed sounded pretty much like what I had expected.

Those who commented on the MP last evening seemed to split among two groups. On the one hand there were big picture, constructive critics who recommended increasing the scope, credibility and relevance of the plan by explicitly placing it the context of global climate change, which predicts accelerated sea level rise, extremes flood and drought events…and increasing demands on freshwater. On the other hand there were narrowly focused critics who objected to specific elements of the plan that they believe will impact their parochial interests.

The latter include spokesmen of fishing interests who adamantly oppose large sediment diversions, which would ultimately create the most new landscape at the lowest cost, out of concern that their oyster leases and/or favorite fishing areas will be displaced further south. Diversion opponents repeatedly use the Davis Pond and Caernarvon river water diversion projects as proof that diversion projects don’t build land. These critics of the MP know full well that both the Davis Pond and Caernarvon projects skim relatively small volumes of surface water from the river into the delta for extended periods…to reduce salinities…not to create marshes.

That’s a totally different animal than the proposed large capacity deep sill control structures that will be designed to be operated opportunistically so as to pulse massive volumes of sediment-rich water into the delta on both east and west banks of the river and from the lower Atchafalaya River into former Terrebonne wetlands.

Success of the MP is fundamentally contingent on these diversions that will slowly build land, without the energy cost of dredging and pumping sediments through pipes. Let’s hope that such parochial critics aren’t allowed to scuttle what may be the last chance to get approval for a plan that could make a difference. The MP isn’t perfect but it’s the only game in town.

JANUARY TWENTY-THIRD

Erath rules!

U.S. natural gas prices set at Erath, Louisiana

Richard Thompson reported yesterday in The Times-Picayune that the price of natural gas reached a record low last week, thanks partly to the high producing Haynesville Shale in North Louisiana. This is occurring while oil prices are on the rise, thanks partly to heightened tensions over Iran and proposed European sanctions on Persian oil. Here’s a quote:

But while natural gas prices at the Henry Hub  fell about 9 percent, from $4.37 per million British thermal units in 2010 to $3.98 per million Btu’s in 2011 — and registered at $2.32 per million Btu’s on Thursday, the lowest since 2002 — the price of crude oil rose 10 percent.

Among many ironies embedded between the lines in Thompson’s article is the fact that natural gas prices in the U.S. are established at the Henry Hub, located in Erath Louisiana in Vermilion Parish west of New Iberia. This little town of 2,200 is only nine feet above sea level, which is rising even as the price of natural gas declines.

Click here to see how the northeast U.S. is impacted by the fluctuating price of natural gas at Henry Hub in coastal Louisiana.

Louisiana energy analysts and economists are scrambling to predict the short and long term effects of cheap abundant natural gas, which is attracting new industry to Louisiana, lowering the cost of producing electricity and prompting discussions about the conversion of liquid fueled vehicles and ships to natural gas. All of these changes have coastal implications but it’s highly unlikely that Steven Moret, who heads the Louisiana Department of Economic Development (LDED), is thinking about them.

In the short run cheaper energy sounds great but it reduces the incentive to shift to renewable energy, which is very bad for America’s Delta and all other deltas around the world.

JANUARY TWENTY-SECOND

Squeezing blood from a turnip:
Coastal funding worries for FY 2013

On January 18 the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) spent almost three hours discussing the just-released 2012 Louisiana Coastal Master Plan, a $50 billion, 50 year ‘recipe’ for reversing land loss in south Louisiana. The discussion was dominated by the strategic priorities for allocating limited resources over a half century.

In contrast, the next day Mark Schleifstein posted an article in nola.com that examined the practical reality of the very first annual increment, projects to be implemented during fiscal year 2013. This theme was picked up today in a staff editorial published in The Times-Picayune on the challenge of funding the fiscal year 2013 piece of the Master Plan.

The editorial follows on the heels of an AP article posted yesterday on the web site of WRKF-FM, Baton Rouge NPR affiliate that the state faces roughly a $1 billion budget shortfall this year. The article quotes Louisiana Budget Project Director Jan Moller as saying that Louisiana needs a more sustainable, broad-based tax base.

The Louisiana legislative session that begins on Monday, March 12 and ends on June 4 will force our state senators, representatives and governor to face both the shortfall and approval of the draft master plan, which will cost real money. Should be quite interesting, watching these folks trying to squeeze blood from turnips.

JANUARY TWENTY-FIRST

Bayou Trepagnier in 2008Photo by Brett Duke, The Times-Picayune.

Sophie’s Choice at Bayou Trepagnier

Twenty years ago, as Governor Edward’s coastal advisor, I met for lunch with the environmental manager of the Shell Norco* refinery  to discuss the beneficial use of the significant stream of cooling water that the plant pumps out of the river 24/7/365. The concept was to use this (warmed up) river water to help nourish the dying swamps along the western edge of Lake Pontchartrain, wetlands that had been separated from the river by artificial levees.

What I didn’t know back then was that the state had allowed previous operators of the plant to dump the most toxic byproducts of the refinery operation into the Bayou Trepagnier swamp…right where the water would have to flow. That was long before the phrase ‘Superfund Site” had been coined and before the state gave a tinker’s damn for coastal forests.

Yesterday, Matt Scallan reported in nola.com that, after years of remediation by dredging away the most toxic surface layers and capping with non-contaminated clay, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has declared the site ‘clean.’ In other words, putting river water into Bayou Trepagnier and Bayou Labranche may finally be possible…but not without risk, because trace residues of lead and other toxins still exist.

Remember that, unless strong action is taken to reverse the persistent inundation of coastal landscape, every buried toxic waste pit throughout south Louisiana will ultimately go under water. Thus, despite reported concern on the part of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation (LPBF) to flowing river water into the site, I would opt for action to save the Pontchartrain Basin wetlands as the lesser of two risks. It’s a Sophie’s Choice, but so be it.

*Now Motiva Shell Norco.

JANUARY TWENTIETH

Water water everywhere but we should be wary of who wants it to drink!

Up on the mast in a storm: wood-engraved illustration by Gustave Doré.

Two extremely important discussions dominated the January 18 meeting of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) at the State Capitol. About two thirds of the meeting involved a detailed presentation of the draft 2012 Louisiana Coastal Master Plan
that is now out for public review. If all goes as planned, a review of this plan will be published in LaCoastPost on Monday January 23.

The other third of the CPRA meeting was devoted to an extended discussion of the urgent need for a comprehensive statewide freshwater plan that includes both surface and groundwater. The coastal implications of the need for such a plan became painfully obvious in the year 2,000, when unprecedented drought turned 19,000 acres of salt marsh brown.

The lack of a plan to manage Louisiana freshwater into the future became newsworthy, thanks to a recent proposal to sell some of Louisiana’s half of the Sabine River flow to thirsty buyers in Dallas and Houston.

One of the would be Louisiana water salesmen is prominent Louisiana shipbuilder Donald T. “Boysie” Bollinger. He recently told the Sabine River Authority that river water flowing through the state and into the Gulf of Mexico was wasted. Such ignorance of estuarine function and why America’s Delta
is so uniquely productive was a real eye-opener.

Mark Davis* presented a summary to the CPRA of the legal implications of this proposal in the context of Louisiana’s Public Trust Doctrine. Professors Davis and Jim Wilkins** recently co-authored a paper on that subject: A Defining Resource: Louisiana’s Place in the Emerging Water Economy that was published in the Loyola New Orleans Law Review (10/13/2011).

The good news is that State Senator Gerald Long announced during the meeting that he will introduce a bill during the upcoming legislative session to support the development of a statewide comprehensive water plan.

* Senior Research Fellow and Director, Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy, Tulane University School of Law.

** Professor and Director, Louisiana Sea Grant Law and Policy Program, Louisiana State University.

JANUARY NINETEENTH

Emerging carbon market seen as a potential means of offsetting the cost of coastal wetland restoration

‘Blue Carbon’ is the term for the concept that wetlands (especially deltaic wetlands) absorb and sequester excess atmospheric carbon dioxide that is causing climate change. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has become quite active in this area and NOAA maintains a Blue Carbon Blog.

The recently-released 2012 Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration comprehensive Master Plan includes an intriguing reference to the possibility of offsetting some of the $20-50 billion price tag for restoring Louisiana’s coast. The concept is for industrial air polluters to purchase mitigation credits from programs that create or restore ecosystems that soak up and sequester excess atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Under such a cap-and-trade program the restoration of coastal wetlands could provide not just hurricane protection and wildlife habitat but also a huge sink for atmospheric carbon.

Marketwatch.com, the Wall Street Journal’s web site, posted a notice yesterday announcing that a real world test of this concept is underway right here in America’s DeltaThe American Carbon Registry, Entergy Corporation and Tierra Resources, LLC are field-testing this concept. Here’s a quote from the press release:

American Carbon Registry (ACR), a nonprofit enterprise of Winrock International, announces an open public comment period for a first-of-its-kind carbon offset methodology that will both quantify how wetland restoration work can combat climate change and provide a way to help pay for rebuilding the Gulf of Mexico’s disappearing coastal wetland. The methodology, Restoration of Degraded Deltaic Wetlands of the Mississippi Delta, was funded by Entergy Corporation and developed by Dr. Sarah K. Mack of New Orleans-based Tierra Resources LLC, with contributions from Dr. Robert R. Lane, Dr. John W. Day and Tiffany M. Potter.

I hope to convince Dr. Mack to write a guest post on this exciting concept.

JANUARY EIGHTEENTH

Albert King

“Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die!”

Virtually everyone in the lower third of the Bayou State strongly supports restoring the coast, at least in a generic sense. On the other hand, every recipe for a coastal protection and restoration ‘omelet’ requires breaking eggs in specific places, which inevitably raises strong local objections.

This reminds me of the great old song, played here by bluesman Albert King.

Everybody wants to live but nobody wants to die. Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die! Everybody wants to hear the truth…but still they all want to tell a lie. Everybody want to know the reason without even asking why.

The release of the draft 2012 Louisiana Comprehensive Coastal Master Plan was therefore bound to elicit local objections…especially because this plan is considerably more specific than all its predecessors.

Implementation of the Master Plan calls for breaking more eggs…and probably more hearts…in lower Terrebonne, Lafourche and Plaquemines Parishes than anywhere else in America’s Delta. By the time the public comment period on the plan closes on February 5 I suspect that the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) will have heard many more complaints than compliments from those areas. On January 14 Daily Comet reporter Nikki Buskey reported on the lukewarm reaction to the plan on the part of local officials from the Houma-Thibodaux area.

I’m currently drafting a review of the plan, based on ongoing discussions with a few folks who actually contributed to its formulation. As part of this review in a couple hours I’ll be listening carefully as the members of the CPRA express their reactions to the plan. More later.

JANUARY SEVENTEENTH

Leavin’ (coastal) Louisiana in the broad daylight

Emmylou Harris' version of Leavin Louisiana helped keep me here!

After I’d been in south Louisiana for five years Rodney Crowell’s memorable 1978 song ’Leavin’ Louisiana in the broad daylight’ ironically helped convince me to stay.

Check out this version by Emmylou Harris on Youtube. Here’s a sample of the lyrics:

… just an ordinary story ’bout the way things go, ’round and around nobody knows but the highway goes on forever…

…This is down in the swampland, anything goes, it’s alligator bait and the bars don’t close, it’s the real thing down in Louisiana…

…Never have I done it when it looked so right, leaving Louisiana in the broad daylight.

It’s hard to believe that since I first heard this song the coast has shrunk by about 700 square miles.

Home insurance rates rising faster than sea level

David Schaper reported yesterday on NPR’s Morning Edition that major American insurance companies, including Allstate, State Farm and Travelers are raising rates for homeowner policies in 2012 because of the record number of extreme weather events in 2011.

It was also reported yesterday on Baton Rouge’s NPR affiliate station WRKF-FM that Louisiana rates are already the third highest in the nation, behind Texas and Florida, with an average cost of $1,430.

Mark Schleifstein has reported on the fact that 2011 was a record-breaking weather year in Louisiana. Doubtless the extreme weather events experienced here (and in Texas) had something to do with higher insurance bills.

Weather and/or rising insurance rates may help explain the net outmigration to other states of Louisiana residents that was reported today on WRKF. It may also explain the call back message that I received Saturday from my Allstate agent!

Coastal revenue stream threatened

Bruce Alpert reported in yesterday’s The Times-Picayune that, as the most unpopular Congress in recent history reconvenes from its holiday recess, pervasive partisanship threatens to stall or derail Louisiana coastal funding efforts. Two specific legislative packages are at risk:

1) Senate and House companion bills to dedicate to the gulf coast states 80% of the fine against BP under the Clean Water Act; and

2) a bill to speed up the time at which over a third of the revenue stream from offshore oil and gas production flows to oil producing states, rather than to the federal treasury.

Taking action on projects listed in the just-released draft 2012 Louisiana Comprehensive Coastal Master Plan is contingent on these funding streams.

JANUARY SIXTEENTH

Talking about GHG on MLK Day

Monumental images

Today is a sobering reminder of what humans do to harm each other on scales from the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to the mindless emission of Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) that threaten all humans. It seemed appropriate to juxtapose this photo of the new monument to MLK to a magnificent glacier that is being destroyed by warmer seas.

Coal-fired power plants are A Number One in GHG emissions

On January 11 nola.com posted an AP story by Dina Cappiello under the title “Global warming pollution is mostly from power plants, EPA says.”  Cappiello’s brief summary of the report noted that power plants are the largest source, with refineries coming in second.

To its great credit…and to what should be the chagrin of climate change denying Louisiana officials…EPA just released a detailed inventory of American sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions broken down by state, by economic sector and even by primary companies. Texas is number one, of course, as reported today in Texas Climate News.

A very useful fast facts summary table of GHG sources from 2000-2009 is available here. This handy breakdown of GHG sources (and sinks) lists 26 sectors for carbon dioxide, including two with the intriguing titles: Croplands Remaining Croplands, and Wetlands Remaining Wetlands, the meaning of which escapes me.

Note that this same table lists rice production as a major source of methane production. It would be interesting to go through the table, breaking down all sources and sinks for GHGs specific to Louisiana, the southern third of which is ground zero for climate change and sea level rise in North America.

2012 Louisiana Coastal Master Plan fails to mention GHGs

Mark Schleifstein noted in his January 12 article on the 2012 Louisiana Coastal Master Plan in nola.com, that neither global warming are acknowledged in this plan. Here’s the key quote:

Though it uses estimates based on the Army Corps of Engineers’ climate change-driven scenarios, the report itself does not include an explanation of climate change, or even use the words “climate change” or “global warming.”

Home insurance rates to spike 10%, likely because of GHGs

NPR reporter David Schaper described on today’s Morning Edition what is likely a very tangible expression of climate change that will hit Americans directly in the pocket book. Home insurance rates charged by major large American companies in 2012, including Allstate, State Farm and Travelers, will rise because of the record number of extreme weather events in 2,011.

It was also reported this morning on Baton Rouge’s NPR affiliate station WRKF-FM that Louisiana rates are already the third highest in the nation, behind Texas and Florida, with an average cost of $1,400.  This probably explains the call back message that I received Saturday from my Allstate agent!

River power could reduce Louisiana GHGS?

On a related note, as reported here in nola.com on January 12, a renewable source of electrical power from the hydraulic force of the Mississippi River is under testing at Tulane. Is river power on its way?

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  23. Len Says: The primary reason that I’ve now become a supporter is because, unknown to me, for about 18 months a number of serious scientists have been working behind the scenes to provide the technical basis for the projections claimed.

    Sandy Says: Why in the world would that have been kept from you? You are ‘all over’ the coastal crisis. I find it very strange that you found this out for the first time. I am not accusing anyone of anything untoward, just noting something strange.

    • Sandy-
      What we have here is a failure to communicate. As you can imagine, I’m not exactly the darling of the Jindal administration, a fact that hasn’t escaped the state coastal staffers working away in their cubicles. Upon retiring from the Governor’s Office I naively expected to be notified about meeting schedules, major policy decisions, etc. I used to put my email address on sign up sheets lists at meetings but gave up. The only notices I receive are from a little cadre of ‘coastal moles.’ I’m on good terms with most of the senior scientists who have belatedly been invited to get involved in coastal planning (probably by contractors for the state) but it’s not their job to tell me what they’re doing.
      Finally, after publishing this blog for three plus years I think a lot of folks, such as yourself perhaps, just assume that I’m in the loop, which couldn’t be further from the truth!
      Len

  24. Len, Bayou Trepagnier was indeed a nasty site when I inspected it for DOTD and back in the 80′s. I’m don’t know the extent of the clean up you reference, but the bayou is not the only place in the La Branch wetland worthy of concern. We need to be reminded that fifty or more years ago the area north of Airline highway was litterally a dump site for the refinery. No one knows where it all went. I was involved in four seperate sites that were uncovered during highway projects, one of which was ajacent to the spillway levee and leaked black ooz for weeks. And don’t forget the Kennner and Pelican Landfills, each of which extended out into this wetland for nearly a mile. They are capped now but I photographed tons of medical waste there while they were in operation.
    Sophie has a lot to think about.

    • I’m sure you’re right, Ed, but what happens when the entire coast, toxins as well as bird rookeries goes under water? The choice is between taking a risk by acting or losing everything by standing pat. I’d take a chance any day.

      • Ed Bodker says:

        Wow Len,is it that black and white? That seems kin to Billy and Bobby’s justification for sand berms. Not suggesting we stand pat. Just wanted to add a little info.for consderation. Sophie may have more than two choices and a better or multipal options at the La Branch Wetlands. I would suggest giving more consideration for ways to relieve the ponding caused by the RR levee.

  25. Walt Sikora says:

    I noticed that Dr. John W. Day was listed among the developers of the methodology, for the Restoration of Degraded Deltaic Wetlands of the Mississippi Delta developed by Tierra Resources LLC, and funded by Entergy. I wonder if “Dr. John Day’s excellent idea – the christmas tree double whammy” is part of the “methodology”?
    See Web site below:
    http://www.americaswetlandresources.com/voices/stories/Christmastrees.html

    Has anyone actually measured how good the “excellent idea” works on restoring coastal marsh?

  26. It remains to be seen what kind of protocol or process the state comes up with to quantify its carbon proposal. The AW/Entergy/Tierra methodology was done independently of the state, though the state could adopt it. Another interesting question is who will buy the credits – if the state required or encouraged in-state industry to do so, Louisiana would be offsetting some of its own emissions. If they try to sell them to the Chinese or a global buyer (whoever that might be in the currently saturated C02 market), they can say they’re bringing money into the state, but that won’t offset Louisiana’s own emissions. Of course, there’s a tiny contradiction in saying you’re going to sell carbon credits when your report won’t even mention global warming. The plan talks about sea-level rise (how could it not?) but not why the rate of sea-level rise is accelerating, all of which inflicts a little more damage on the state’s credibility with the science community. This kind of self-censorship plays well in Louisiana, at least with the Governor’s backers, but we have to remember we’re playing to a bigger audience now.

  27. coastal whiz kid says:

    not only does the report not talk about climate change, a search on “climate” returned zero hits for the 172 page document

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