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February 2012 Coastal Scuttlebutt (cont.)

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

FEBRUARY TWENTY-NINTH

Most Americans believe in global warming again…but presumably not in Louisiana.

The red question marks are my addition. Why are Republicans so resistant to climate change evidence? Why are women more accepting than men? Why are college grads less accepting than non-grads?

LaCoastPost is 40.5 months of age today so this is our first ‘Leap Day’ issue. During this quadrennial presidential election year the national political temperature continues to heat up along with the thermometer as the calendar progresses toward November 7th.

As luck would have it Baton Rouge is expected to reach an unseasonable 81 degrees this afternoon. The partisan passion and temperature will doubtless rise in sync throughout Spring and Summer. Thus I suspect that coastal issues and political issues in south Louisiana will be conflated even more than usual this year.

In terms of attitudes about the physical climate, The Times-Picayune published an AP report today by Seth Borenstein that 62% of Americans currently believe that global warming is happening. His report is based on the National Survey of American Public Opinion on Climate Change (NSAPOCC) that was published yesterday by Brookings.

It’s encouraging to see that Americans are finally waking up to the reality of anthropogenic climate change. On the other hand the authors of the survey, Barry G. Rabe and Christopher P. Borick, believe that this change of heart is based more on short-term anecdotal observations than on credible science.

Here are three basic conclusions quoted from the study:

1)   More Americans than ever are pointing to experiences with warmer temperatures as the main reason they believe global warming is occurring.

2)   For Americans who believe that climate change is occurring, factors beyond weather (such as: declining polar species) appear to be having the greatest effect on convincing an individual that the planet is warming.

3)   Nearly 80% of Democrats believe in global warming, while Republicans are almost evenly split with 47% seeing evidence of increasing global temperatures.

Given south Louisiana’s increasing vulnerability to global warming and our parallel shift to the GOP point of view, most critical coastal policy decisions in our state will presumably be determined by deniers of the phenomenon. Sigh.

FEBRUARY TWENTY-EIGHTH

Assuaging your coastal guilt over big oil sponsoring the JazzFest!

Following Mardi Gras, the second most popular rite of Spring in south Louisiana is the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, whose lead sponsor is Shell Oil. I’m far from a purist and I have good friends in the oil and gas business but any serious advocate of preserving the coast who doesn’t feel a tinge of conflict over Shell’s sponsorship of the Jazzfest is either naïve, rationalizing or in serious denial.

Over the years I’ve learned how to assuage some of my Jazz-Fest sponsor guilt by participating in a third Spring-time event in New Orleans…the annual Tulane Environmental Law Summit. Don’t get me wrong, the Tulane conference isn’t  like Lenten penance…it’s actually enjoyable!

The keynote speaker this year is Charles C. Mann, who, as the author of the pre and post Columbian books 1491 and 1493, happens to be a literary hero of both my heartmate and me.

This weekend conference is planned and managed exclusively by law students, who never fail to put together an exciting schedule with one or more sessions of specific coastal import. The conference traditionally features interesting and provocative speakers who represent diverse points of view and who aren’t afraid of speaking frankly on controversial subjects.

In terms of frank speaking, yours truly has been invited to participate this year in a panel discussion of the coastal impacts of the ongoing expansion of the Panama Canal, which will soon attract a larger generation of ships to ports in the southeast, including Charleston, Miami, Mobile and New Orleans.

The official announcement for this year’s environmental summit is as follows.

The Tulane Environmental Law Society is hosting the 17th Annual Summit on Environmental Law & Policy on March 2-3.  This year’s theme, “From Local to Global,” focuses on the crosscutting nature of environmental issues and the connections they entail.  Nineteen expert panels will address topics ranging from the criminal investigation of the BP oil spill and the local movement to take down the Claiborne overpass to environmental justice claims in the Inter-American Courts and the problem of plastic waste in the oceans.  Keynote speaker, Charles C. Mann, will close the event Saturday evening. Mann is the author of critically acclaimed books 1491 and 1493.

Last year’s summit drew approximately 400 people, including professionals, students, local activists, and environmentally minded people from around the country.  This year the Tulane Environmental Law Society hopes to further expand its reach by making admission free for students at all levels, faculty, alumni and members of NGOs.

Co-sponsors include the Loyola Environmental Law Society, the Coalition to Restore Costal Louisiana, the League of Women Voters, the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, the American Bar Association, among many more.

Registration is now open on the TELS website, www.summit.law.tulane.edu and continues to the day of the event. A complete list of panel topics and speakers is also available on the website.

Contact: Ms. Corey Klemmer Phone: 914-262-9858 Website: www.summit.law.tulane.edu Email: aklemmer@tulane.edu

*By coincidence, NPR’s Morning Edition today featured a report by Nina Totenberg on a lawsuit against Royal Dutch Shell Oil, which is accused of aiding and abetting the Nigerian government in committing atrocities in the 1990s.

FEBRUARY TWENTY-SEVENTH

Macondo well blowout trial postponed for a week

Modified from an engraving of the Salem Witchcraft trial

The much discussed Citizens United decision by the SCOTUS has allowed a handful of billionaires to put their pudgy pinkies on the 2012 presidential election scale, with consequences that won’t be apparent until November 8. This infamous 5-4 decision seems to have elevated corporations to person-hood status and millions of YouTube viewers saw Willard “Mitt” Romney declare, “Corporations are people too, my friend!” as a retort to a heckler during a campaign appearance that he doubtless regrets.

If Willard was right I wonder when corporate life begins. For example, does it start with a gleam in the eye of an entrepreneur? Maybe it’s when the ‘ovum’ papers of incorporation are penetrated by a notary’s stamp; or perhaps when corporate ‘zygote’ papers are carried down the ‘fallopian’ corridors of a secretary of state’s office building. Or perhaps a corporation doesn’t gain personhood until it is ‘implanted’ into official government digital files.

In any case, a number of corporate residents of the big oil gated community in the sky were supposed to be represented today by a whole host of flesh-and-blood attorneys in the Hale Boggs Federal Courthouse at 900 Poydras Street in New Orleans. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier was set to gavel into session a complex civil trial on the corporations’ relative degrees of complicity in the 2010 Macondo well blowout that was responsible for killing 11 men, seriously injuring 17 and releasing 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

As reported by Rebecca Mowbray in The Times-Picayune, Hizzoner decided to give these corporate people perps an additional week during the Lenten season to consider whether they are willing to sacrifice their stockholders’ interests by copping pleas of sufficient magnitude to placate a whole host of plaintiffs, including the feds, the gulf states and thousands of actual people.

The chemical damage of BP oil to the northern gulf coast ecosystem seems to have been relatively trivial compared to a century of physical damage from other human-caused insults but virtually no compensation for this destruction has ever been provided. Thus the near term implementation of the 2012 Louisiana Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast is largely contingent on the financial decisions arising from the outcome of this trial. The ironic reality is that no other funding source in the tens of billions of dollars is visible on the coastal radar screen. Thus BP and its fellow perps will end up as unintentional coastal saviors.

FEBRUARY TWENTY-SIXTH

An egret wearing a BP coat of oil is symbolically held up to the Hale Boggs Courthouse at 900 Poydras St. in New Orleans, where Judge Barbier will hold sway over the Macondo blowout trial beginning February 27.

Ultimate coastal trial set to commence

Today’s The Times-Picayune published Cain Burdeau’s account for the Associated Press of the trial of the coast that will be gaveled to a start by Federal Judge Carl Joseph Barbier tomorrow morning in New Orleans. Barbier is a New Orleans native who oversees the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

Here’s a quote from Burdeau’s article:

No matter what, the case is all but guaranteed to set records as the most expensive environmental disaster in history, far surpassing the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989. Exxon ultimately settled with the U.S. government for $1 billion, which would be about $1.8 billion today.

Steven Mufson reported on the trial in today’s Washington Post and listed the witnesses who will testify tomorrow. This list includes noted U.C. Berkeley Engineering Professor Bob Bea, who was once a Shell engineer and one of the world’s experts on deepwater drilling. Dr. Bea became well known as a leader in the forensic investigation of the cause of the levee failures in New Orleans during the Katrina disaster.

Debbie Elliott and Jeff Brady also reported in depth on the trial on NPR’s Sunday Weekend Edition today. The AP, Washington Post and NPR accounts together provide an excellent preview of the trial.

Only time will tell whether in the long run more words will have been written about the Macondo well blowout or on the litigation over the event. What is certain, however, is that the outcome will provide a critical lifeline for the coast.

I have neither the knowledge or the interest in summarizing the technical issues or the legal niceties of this struggle but the state has a huge stake in the final dollar amount that is charged to BP, Transocean and Halliburton.

Governor Jindal’s coastal guru Garret Graves understands the importance of this bottom line. Here’s a quote from Burdeau’s article: Garret Graves, an aide to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and a member of a federal and state council assessing damage from the spill, was adamant that any last-minute settlement in the price range of $20 billion would let BP off too easily.

“We’re not going to sell short the citizens and we’re not going to let BP walk away,” Graves said.

This article by Kris Johnson in The Daily Comet reflects the importance of the limitations on coastal funding to the folks at ground zero for coastal collapse, who expressed their concerns to both the scale and pace of implementing restoration measures at a recent three day meeting in Houma.

Whether this dollar amount is determined by Judge Barbier or by out of court settlements, the fact is that the single biggest chunk of funding on the horizon to commence implementation of the 2012 Louisiana Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast.

FEBRUARY TWENTY-FIFTH

Leave it to Beaver 

Slightly modified from a photo in The Times-Picayune

Bob Warren reported in today’s The Times-Picayune that beavers have taken up residence between Madisonville and Mandeville, just south of Highway 22, building dams that threaten to flood the homes of their human neighbors. The changes wrought by the busy beavers has caused a rift among local residents, most of whom live on land recently developed from wildlife habitat.

One group complains about what appears to be an invasion of critters they’ve never before seen outside of zoos. The other group realizes that the ‘invasion’ was not by beavers but by the recent proliferation of apartment buildings inhabited by former dry land urbanites and suburbanites who are not particularly comfortable in their new wetland digs.

For the edification of these folks, here’s an edited version of a summary of the life history of the beaver from Wikipedia:

The native North American Beaver (Castor canadensis) is a primarily nocturnal, large, semi-aquatic rodent. The beaver is native to Canada, much of the United States and parts of northern Mexico. Beavers are known for building dams, canals, and lodges (homes). They are the second-largest rodent in the world (after the capybara) which includes the infamous nutria rat, the bane of south Louisiana freshwater wetlands. Beaver colonies create one or more dams to provide still, deep water to protect against predators, and to float food and building material.

I can just imagine the faces on the officials from the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, many of whom have degrees in wildlife management, when they’re asked to relocate native beavers to the rapidly shrinking undeveloped wet habitat in St. Tammany Parish.

FEBRUARY TWENTY-FOURTH

Distinguished environmental scientists Bob Thomas and Paul Anastas

A tale of two careers with coastal consequences

In recent days I’ve been redoubling my efforts to post coastal news items of a positive nature, so as to at least partially offset the generally gloomy stories about the current and future state of our coast that jump off both the digital and printed pages of major media sources. Today I call your attention to the careers of two environmental scientists, each of whom has markedly influenced the way we think about our treatment of and dependence on Momma Nature in general and coastal ecosystems in particular.

Paul T. Anastas, Ph.D., Yale University

In the Mardi Gras issue of The Times-Picayune Jonathan Tilove described in unusual detail the impressive and remarkably focused career of environmental chemist Paul T. Anastas, who is stepping down from his appointed position as the top scientist at EPA and heading back to academia at the ivy-covered halls of Yale University. Tilove’s article shows how Anastas’ tenure at EPA had real significance on coastal policy in Louisiana, most recently in terms of EPA’s responses to the Deepwater Horizon blowout. For example, read Anastas’ reassuring comments about the controversial use of dispersants.

During my twenty-year involvement in Louisiana coastal policy I always considered EPA to be the most forward thinking and least bureaucratic of the five federal agencies with which Louisiana has struggled to forge an effective response to our disappearing coast. With top level staffers like Paul Anastas I can understand why that is the case. It’s noteworthy that no agency…save perhaps the U.S. Army Corops of Engineers…has been more roundly criticized by elected officials from the Bayou State. Sure enough, Anastas’ appointment at EPA was held up for awhile by our own Senator David Vitter, who’s not exactly a friend of coastal science.

Robert A. Thomas, Ph.D., Loyola University of New Orleans

In today’s The Times-Picayune John Pope reported that Loyola Professor Bob Thomas has been appropriately singled out to receive credit for his many achievements as an educator and communicator, both formally in the Loyola academic setting and informally in former positions, including heading the Louisiana Nature Center in eastern New Orleans, where I first got to know him. Dr. Thomas is this year’s recipient of the Dux Academicus Award, the university’s top prize for teaching and scholarship. Check out at least the first few minutes of this 23 minute YouTube video clip in which Thomas describes his role at Loyola.

Dr. Thomas literally stands head and shoulders above many of his coastal colleagues in terms of: his influence on students and the public at large; his enthusiasm and consistency of message; his tireless efforts to bridge the gap between academic research on the environment and what the public understands; and his physical stature. In the decades that I’ve known Bob I’ve always preferred talking to him from a seated rather than standing position, so as to avoid a stiff neck.

Among his other talents Bob is a gifted naturalist, one of those rare folks with an encyclopedic knowledge of the incredibly diverse forms of coastal critters, plants and fungi that we’re surrounded with here in America’s Delta but that we largely ignore. If an NGO or other institution were to institute an official Percy Viosca Memorial Coastal Award (actually not a bad idea) Bob Thomas would get my nomination as the first recipient.

*Click here to see the first in a three part series about Percy Viosca.

FEBRUARY TWENTY-THIRD

Fighting or fleeing from rising seas

Coastal folks face a tough decision

Editor’s note: My volunteer math checker discovered an error of 3 orders of magnitude that makes the point of this mini-post 1000 times stronger. Here’s his message:

Len:

In your 23 February post “Dividing $14 billion among 1,700 people provided with somewhat reduced risk is roughly $825/person in current dollars.”  You make two mistakes.  In the preceding sentence you mention “1.7 million Louisianans” so your figure of 1,700 is off by a factor of 1000.  Your second mistake is that the math of dividing $14 billion by 1.7 million actually comes out to about $8,235 per person.

And of course at $8235 per person – protection for 500 million would be $4.1 trillion.

HuffingtonPost carried a recent news item from the Canadian Press describing a presentation on sea level rise by Professor John Plaque from Simon Fraser University, at a symposium held in Vancouver. Plaque predicted that sea level rise, which has already increased from 2 to 3+ mm/yr., is still accelerating from global warming and that by the year 2100 mean sea level will stand about one meter (3+ feet) higher than today. That’s the same projection being used as the less optimistic scenario in the 2012 Louisiana Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast.

Two notable Louisiana voices were quoted in the article. Margaret Davidson from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that about 500 million people worldwide now face the stark choice of either defending their homesteads or retreating from the coast. In other words, 7.1% of the seven billion folks alive must fight or flee.

Dr. Reed told the audience that $14 billion was recently invested to bolster and elevate levees in SE Louisiana. This reduces the likelihood of flooding for about 1.7 million Louisianians to a (still risky) 1% chance per year. Dividing $14 billion among 1,700 people provided with somewhat reduced risk is roughly $825/person in current dollars.

At that rate, providing 500 million folks worldwide who are already at high risk of flooding with a similar level of modest protection would cost about $412 billion…and an indeterminate cost in energy terms. The latter is considerably more important in the long run, given the need to reduce fossil fuel consumption worldwide to slow sea level rise.

Note: In yesterday’s post (scroll down) I wondered whether either Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich would demonstrate their Catholic convictions on their foreheads during the Ash Wednesday debate in Arizona. Neither did…but faux presidential candidate Stephen Colbert had an ash cross on his forehead during The Colbert Report last night.

FEBRUARY TWENTY-SECOND

Will they wear their faith on their foreheads tonight?

The coastal significance of Carnival celebration and Lenten sacrifice

Athough I grew up near the heavily Catholic city that spawned the Baltimore Catechism, in my rural, teetotalling, Bingo-fee surroundings, Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday were foreign phrases. Bead necklaces on Tuesday, followed by smudged foreheads on Wednesday would have raised lots of provincial Protestant eyebrows. It’s not that we didn’t sacrifice but I wasn’t allowed to play cards or go to the movies 52 Sundays a year.

Thus, my 38 years of marvelous Mardi Gras memories in Louisiana are probably more related to a prehistoric impulse to participate in a celebration of the emerging signs of Spring than to the approach of Easter. These signs include the beautiful combination of red swamp maple seeds and pale green black willow shoots that brighten the second half of the drive between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

During the final leg of the trip just past Laplace I routinely check out the prominent bald eagle nest high atop the sad skeleton of a bald cypress tree along the west side of the I-10 causeway, near mile marker 220. Yesterday during a Mardi Gras trek to the French Quarter my gaze was rewarded by seeing the two birds that have for years been raising eaglets in their magnificent but increasingly threatened abode. This dead coastal forest tract near Lake Pontchartrain is a classic victim of levees, canals and rising sea level that has doomed the eagle’s territory…just like it’s gradually dooming our human habitat.

I don’t party on Mardi Gras in anticipation of consciously relinquishing a cherished pleasure during Lent. On the other hand, like every other resident of south Louisiana I unconsciously sacrificing year-round, as your land and mine goes underwater.

Speaking of inundation, Stephanie Grace wrote a somewhat tongue in cheek Ash Wednesday themed column in The Times-Picayune in which she suggested appropriate Lenten sacrifices for various Louisiana pols. I was especially struck by this quote that squarely hit the mark re Louisiana’s top official:

As for Jindal, maybe he should give up questioning the overwhelming scientific evidence that climate change is real and exacerbated by human activity – if only because the state he governs is particularly vulnerable to the effects of the rising sea levels. Luckily, state coastal scientists and policy makers are acting as if they do believe it.

Finally, in terms of a formal commitment to Lenten sacrifice, Governor Jindal will presumably go to work today with a cross-shaped gray smudge on his forehead, signifying his Catholic faith. Two of the ‘final four’ GOP presidential aspirants share his specific religious doctrine, as they’ve repeatedly stated during campaign speeches. I’m anxious to see whether Santorum and Gingrich put this faith on display during the Arizona debate this evening. Or will they be more concerned about losing non-Catholic votes?

FEBRUARY TWENTY-FIRST

Carnival season and offshore oil revenues

The 2012 Mardi Gras season reaches its climax under balmy weather today, which prompted my last minute decision to accompany two old friends on a traditional Fat Tuesday excursion to the French Quarter in which we take in some great costumes, laugh a lot and head back before the traffic jam starts…with me as the driver designee. This preamble is my way of apologizing for a few hastily written thoughts about a confusing but highly important congressional debate that is playing out in congress, a debate of particular importance to coastal Louisiana.

The Teevee pundits all agree that the recent agreement to extend payroll tax cuts was the last nationally significant piece of legislation that will be signed in 2012 by President Obama, now that the presidential campaign is under full swing.

I assume that that prediction doesn’t hold for several related bills flying under the national radar that are critically important to Louisiana. I’m talking about legislation to steer significant federal offshore oil and gas revenues for gulf coast restoration.

I’m not sufficiently versed in the details of what is broadly known as ‘the Restore Act’ to pontificate on where it stands but here are the main questions, as I see them:

1) What is the net increase in revenues that will come to all five gulf states and will Louisiana receive 80%?

2) How much will Louisiana receive on an annual basis, $500 million? $750 million?

3) When will the revenue stream begin, 2013? 207? 2023?

4) How will the money specifically be dedicated, e.g., all for the projects listed in the Louisiana Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast?

5) How much discretion will Louisiana have over spending, i.e., how much federal oversight?

Much more on this later. Have a great Mardi Gras!!!

FEBRUARY TWENTIETH 

Liberté, égalité, fraternité!!! Slightly modified from a famous depiction of Lady Liberty during the French Revolution, by Cajun painter Eugene Delacroix.

Is Governor Jindal aware of an ‘Arab Spring’ of coastal science?

Today’s The Times-Picayune reported that a noted coastal scientist/engineer from North Carolina has been appointed to the nine-member Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Levee Authority-East (SLFPAE), to replace one of two departing members. The appointment of Richard Luettich, who has carried out important research on storm related flooding in Louisiana, follows closely on the heels of the selection of Dr. Chip Groat as the director of The Water Institute of the Gulf (Scroll down to February 15).

For the administration to sign off on the back to back recruitment of coastal experts on deltaic geology and storm surge modeling (Groat and Luettich, respectively) sends an extremely positive signal that science may finally be gaining traction in terms of influencing Louisiana coastal policy. This contrasts sharply with three years of science ‘dissing’ by the administration and causes me to wonder whether Jindal is aware of a possible scientific insurgence into the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities ‘Bastille.’

Dr. Luettich holds undergraduate and master’s degree in civil engineering from Georgia Tech and a doctor of science in civil engineering from MIT.  He currently serves as the Director of UNC’s Institute of Marine Science (Morehead City, NC); and Director of the UNC Center for Natural Hazards and Disasters in Chapel Hill.

The following are excerpts of Dr. Luettich’s description of his professional interests and achievements, all of great relevance to Louisiana:

My research has dealt broadly with modeling and measurement of circulation and transport in coastal waters…Specifically, I have co-developed the ADCIRC circulation and storm surge model that is widely used by the academic, government and private sectors and has become a cornerstone of storm surge studies following hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 (with Johannes Westerink at Notre Dame)…

ADCIRC is currently being used by the US Army Corps of Engineers to design a new hurricane protection system for Louisiana, by FEMA to update the National Flood Insurance maps in along the US coast from New England to Texas, and as the basis of several storm surge forecast systems in the southeastern US…

My measurement activities have focused on process based studies in coastal waters, often to understand the role of physics in areas of water quality (e.g., phytoplankton blooms, dissolved oxygen depletion) and fisheries recruitment…

I have also actively participated in the development of the national Integrated Ocean Observing System (presumably as a colleague of the late Dr. Greg Stone from LSU).

This expertise is of critical importance for choosing specific coastal protection measures in coastal Louisiana, given limited funding. I’m told that the ADCIRC model, which Luettich co-developed with Dr. Johannes Westerink at Notre Dame, played a major role in choosing among alternative coastal protection measures in the 2012 Louisiana Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast.

Whoever suggested bringing in the expertise of Groat and Luettich deserves a hearty pat on the back.

FEBRUARY NINETEENTH

 Verdi Gras and biodegradable beads 

Mina and me at last year's Thoth (note her lack of beads)

As I write this I’m the (only mildly apprehensive) passenger in a car driven by Mina Novelo to New Orleans, where we plan to celebrate a little bit of the carnival season with friends and family at the Thoth Parade uptown.

On February 10 Greg MacCash reported in The Times-Picayune on a three year-old phenomenon that seems to be seriously catching on…pun intended…a Catch and Release Mardi Gras bead reuse concept. This program has multiple benefits, not the least of which is providing employment to needy people and reducing solid waste disposal in landfills.

Consider the following factoids:

1) Coastal Louisiana, with its Cajun Catholic heritage, is ground zero for Mardi Gras celebrations in the Northern Hemisphere.

2) Mardi Gras beads are all manufactured in China, America’s principal economic rival, using petroleum-based plastic that cannot be recycled.

3) The price of oil is currently hovering around $100/barrel and, according to Rachel Martin’s report on NPR’s Sunday Weekend Edition today, gasoline prices may reach $5 by Summer. In other words, the cost of beads will only increase in the future.

4) Coastal Louisiana is precariously balanced between dependence on the continued global use of oil and gas and vulnerability to the rate of its use. No matter what the brothers Koch say, sea level rise is accelerating because of oil consumption.

5) As exemplified in this February 17 article by Paul Rioux in The Times-Picayune, landfills are especially problematic and controversial in coastal Louisiana.

Meanwhile, consider that:

1)   South Louisianians have a reputation for homespun innovation.

2)   The Bayou State could greatly benefit from a new industry.

3)   it’s hard to imagine that sufficient raw materials and biochemical ingenuity don’t exist in this state to concoct a home-grown carnival bauble that we could proudly use…and even export to Brazil.

This is the second Carnival season since I’ve known my beautiful driver and thus the second time that she’s been bugging me about the need for a decomposable Carnival bead. Here’s the slightly edited email that she sent me from work a few days ago:

I heard something in the radio this morning that reminded me of my proposal/idea, “Why don’t they make beads out of corn or some biodegradable material????

Beads really offend me, and I believe that you as an ecologist need to take a second look at them. Like the commentator said this morning, here we are complaining about the BP oil blowout, but we are willingly spilling thousands of tons of beads made out of petroleum, some of which is produced here and eventually winds up at the end of the day in My Gulf of Mexico. Think about it.

This Mardi Gras I’m not going to wear any beads, I never liked them anyway.

As my late mother used to say, “Let’s all put our thinking caps on.” A cane-based coastal carnival bead sounds sweet. Make ‘em into candy so they won’t go to waste. The dentists should love that idea.

FEBRUARY EIGHTEENTH

Coastal Forests in the news

Photos from the Louisiana Coastal Forest Science Working Group

Probably unknown to most of the Carnival revelers in New Orleans this weekend, the trial of the century is scheduled in begin in ten days…to determine the magnitude of the fines levied against the principal responsible parties in the Deepwater Horizon well blowout in 2010.

Mark Schleifstein reported in today’s The Times-Picayune that one of the peripheral lawsuits surrounding the disaster will be settled out of court, in this case with MOEX Offshore 2007 LLC. The total settlement agreement is for $90 million, which includes $13.5 million for environmental issues in coastal Louisiana.

Of that amount, $6.75 million will be added to the existing bank account of the Coastal Forest Conservation Initiative (CFCI), an important program established in 2006 to purchase surface land rights of coastal forest from willing landowners. Here’s a quote from the state website:

The CFCI is a completely voluntary program; its primary focus is to acquire land rights (fee title or conservation servitude) from willing landowners to address threats of conversion and/or opportunities to restore or enhance sustainability of coastal forest tracts that provide significant ecological value and/or serve storm damage reduction functions. The initiative may also include implementation of small-scale projects to restore and enhance forest sustainability.

The CFCI program oversees a revolving fund that was originally bankrolled by $16.2 million that the state received from the Coastal Impact Assistance Program (CIAP) from offshore oil and gas revenues. The $6.75 million from the MOEX settlement will be added to whatever still remains in the CFCI account.

With this money the CFCI will presumably have allocated a total of about $23 million for the acquisition and improvement of coastal forest habitat. It would be nice to know what the average purchase price has been, i.e., how much coastal forest area has been acquired or protected. It would also be very helpful if maps were published showing the location of the parcels that have already been locked down by CFCI.

I’m curious why the management of the acquired lands is not the responsibility of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, which already manages much of the state-owned coastal forest land.

FEBRUARY SEVENTEENTH

DEQ makes unilateral and shortsighted decision on the Dead Zone

Nikki Buskey reported yesterday in the Daily Comet that the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has decided not to list as impaired the seasonally eutrophic waters of the Gulf of Mexico off of Louisiana’s coast, despite the fact these waters become hypoxic each summer. The decision was presumably made because most of the excess nutrients that create the annual dead zone wash into Louisiana from cornfields in Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky, Kansas and Minnesota. Therefore, since it isn’t our fault, why should we advertise the fact that our coastal waters are polluted?

Such thinking reminds me of the bad old days in 1996 when EPA had to push Louisiana into recognizing the hypoxia issue by leading the charge to form a national hypoxia task force. Mike Foster was governor back then and his secretary of DEQ, who shall remain nameless, stood up at the inaugural meeting of the task force and said, “This problem is being caused upstream and there’s nothing we can do about it in Louisiana.”

As the governor’s coastal advisor I lobbied successfully to become Louisiana’s representative on this task force, that would be dealing with a huge issue with implications far beyond ‘just’ water quality. I can’t believe that sixteen years later DEQ is again making a unilateral policy decision that gulf hypoxia isn’t our problem.

I would hope that Garret Graves, who chairs the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), would schedule a discussion of this issue at the top of the agenda for the next meeting of that body.

FEBRUARY SIXTEENTH

A kinder, gentler Billy Nungesser?

Billy takes a toke or two on a Plaquemines Parish peace pipe.

Yesterday I was pleased…and frankly surprised…to read a positive letter to the editor of The Times-Picayune from Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, a man much better known for lobbing brickbats than bouquets. Nungesser’s letter supported the 2012 Louisiana Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast. Here’s the entire text:

The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority’s 2012 Master Plan has received a lot of attention and stirred many emotions. First and foremost, as the president of Plaquemines Parish, I endorse CPRA’s initiative in this regard.

While the plan is extensive, it acknowledges that additional projects will be needed to protect Louisiana’s coast. Our comments to date have been offered in a manner to ensure local participation. In fact, the plan states that it will provide the framework for coastal restoration activity and that local projects of interest will be included as improvements are made to protect our coast and communities.

Plaquemines Parish stands with CPRA in its interest and commitment to protect our coastline. While the debate has been heated, the commitment of all participants is the same.

We all acknowledge that an asserted and deliberate effort must be made to restore the coast of Louisiana, its communities, residents and businesses. In this regard, we stand shoulder to shoulder with all who share this commitment and look forward to working with CPRA in this regard.

Billy Nungesser

Plaquemines Parish President

Belle Chasse

This endorsement represents a huge and important turnaround. Mr. Nungesser’s coastal assistant, Mr. P.J. Hahn, vehemently trashed the Master Plan at three public meetings in New Orleans, Houma and Lake Charles. Hahn specifically opposed the large scale sediment diversion projects within his parish that comprise the backbone of the plan and without which the coast will be toast.

The letter from Nungesser implies that he understands the risk to his empire if local opposition were to scuttle legislative approval of the Master Plan, which is the first and only substantive recipe for sustaining part of south Louisiana. In  his famously ambiguous 1971 song American Pie Don McLean seemed to allude to the loss of something vital in America and I can’t think of anything more at risk of loss than America’s Delta.

The Plaquemines peninsula represents a big slice of ‘America’s Delta Pie.’ If the Master Plan is not approved and implemented the chorus of McLean’s song could become an appropriate theme for Plaquemines Parish:

Bye, bye miss American pie, drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry;* and good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye, sayin’ this will be the day that I die.

*‘Levee was dry’ would need to be changed to ‘levee’s gone bye.’

FEBRUARY FIFTEENTH

Of twigs and thumbs

In the classic children’s tale Hansel and Gretel, the clever boy sticks a twig,* rather than his thumb through the bars of his cage to fool the weak eyed evil witch trying to judge his plumpness. Speaking of twigs and thumbs…

I’ve been in an uncharacteristically positive coastal mood these days. On January 23rd I gave a double thumbs-up to the 2012 Louisiana Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast, based on its sediment diversion ‘backbone.’

Today, based on very limited information, I’m giving a single thumbs-up for an initiative that should not only complement the Master Plan but help to get it on…rather than off…the ground.

As reported here by Mark Schleifstein in today’s The Times-Picayune and here by Amy Wold in The Advocate, a new coastal science research facility named The Water Institute of the Gulf (TWIG), is preparing to hang out its official shingle in Baton Rouge.

Despite having to learn one more coastal acronym I’m pleased, based on: (1) the descriptions by Schleifstein and Wold; and (2) the fact that TWIG will be directed by Charles G. “Chip” Groat, a senior coastal scientist with both academic and political credentials. Dr. Groat is a long-term colleague and former running buddy, currently ensconced at the University of Texas at Austin. His resume’ is unusually broad and diverse, including academic and administrative experience earned at both state (Louisiana and Texas) and federal levels.

Charles G. "Chip" Groat, Ph.D.

I’m particularly happy to see a geologist, rather than someone in my field of coastal ecology to direct TWIG. I say that because of my personal conviction that, during two decades of planning for coastal restoration, the underlying deltaic (geological) processes have been underemphasized in favor of the surface (veneer) processes.

I’m also happy to see the terms ‘Water’ and ‘Gulf’ used in the name of the institute, from which I infer that: (1) both riverine and oceanic processes will be emphasized; and (2) the study universe for TWIG will include the watershed of America’s River, the waters of the northern Gulf, and the coastal zones of Texas and Mississippi.

Since I first heard state officials describe the formation of what will now be called TWIG, I’ve been concerned (based on history) that a sham science institute would be created, the recommendations of which could either be manipulated or ignored. Hearing that the new body would be modeled after the Deltares Institute in Holland did not relieve this concern, in that Deltares has been described (perhaps unfairly) as the ‘instigator’ of the infamous quarter billion dollar BP sand berm debacle.

In terms of judging the real independence of TWIG, I’ll be anxious to see how the institute deals with what has become the political third rail of coastal protection and restoration in Louisiana…our vulnerability to anthropogenic climate change. Dealing with a state full of climate change-denying politicos will be a real test of autonomy and political skill.

Dr. Groat and I haven’t conversed for a long time but I’m certain that he’s sympathetic with Rice University Professor John Anderson, who Texas Governor Rick Perry recently attempted to censor over the issue of accelerating sea level rise. Best wishes, Chip!

*The Brothers Grimm may have written ‘chicken bone’ rather than twig but I assert my poetic license, which remains current.

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  12. It’s true that firms scaled back the corporate excesses, like fancy retreats and private jets, for which they were vilified as a brutal recession gripped the country. Many of those constraints remain in place, like flying commercial on business trips, or more limited private car service for employees.

  13. Kelly Haggar says:

    Once upon a time, a parish very much like St Tammany borrowed some Army Guardsmen for hand grenade practice. The target was a beaver dam; sorta like a “twofer.” A steel box trap was set below the dam so the beaver could be relocated.

    The next day parish workers went back to pick the beaver and discovered their trap had been stolen. Then they walked further upstream to check the dam and discovered the breach had been sealed. The pesky varmits had plugged the gap with the beaver trap. The only casuality in the operation was the drowned turtle caught in the trap instead of the beaver.

  14. $14 billion divided by 1.7 million people is $8,250 per person, not $825 per person.

  15. Jason Theriot says:

    Len,

    In response to your post from Feb. 21, the potential restoration funds from the BP Clean Water Act fines (RESTORE Act, currently pending in Congress)and GOMESA (OCS Revenue Sharing passed in 2006) are completely separate, although the 2012 Master Plan reads as if all these future sources of funding will be allocated to the ongoing coastal protection and restoration effort.

    Your questions on the uses and timetable for the RESTORE Act funds are valid and, I assume, are currently being debated and discussed in various circles in B.R. and D.C.

    As for the GOMESA OCS Revenue Sharing, the four coastal “producing” states are already sharing a percentage of the OCS from a small lease area. Of the $2.3 million in revenues generated from this small lease area in FY 2010, LA received just under $300,000. The act calls for revenue sharing to dramatically expand in 2017 to include a much larger lease area. In fact, the law states that beginning in 2017, OCS Revenue Sharing will be expanded to include all revenues from GOM lease sales that were held after Dec. 2006. Louisiana’s share of that future revenue will be an estimated $150-$200 million a year.

    However, there are many questions yet to be answered: 1) How will the moratorium and postponed GOM lease sales effect this 2017 timetable?; 2) How will the potential funds from the RESTORE Act impact the future of Revenue Sharing?; 3) How will the Congress respond to the potential impact of OCS Revenue Sharing (there is a cap of $500 million/yr) on the federal budget crisis? There are others questions, such as how and when the funds will be dispersed and what, if any, restrictions of uses of the funding exist in the language.

    The 2nd Phase of rule-making on the policy are due out later this year by the Sec. of Interior, which will clarify some of the interpretations.

    Meanwhile, there are bills on the Hill seeking to repeal GOMESA and other bills designed to expand the policy to include offshore Alaska and Virginia. In its long struggle to find a “fair” and equitable solution to the offshore revenue sharing debate, and address the onshore environmental impacts of offshore development, the state has unknowingly opened a preverbal political can of worms. This will likely be an exciting and important debate to keep our eyes on.

    Jason Theriot
    HKS Fellow

  16. Kelly Haggar says:

    Len,

    That waters case from Montana case you were interested in late last year was decided today; Montana lost to the Power & Light folks 9-0. As expected, it’s mainly river stuff, not coastal. Haven’t digested it yet but my initial impression is that it changes now law, just says Montana misapplied existing law.

    http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/10-218#writing-10-218_OPINION_3

  17. Macuilxochit. says:

    Have fun! Happy Mardi Gras!!!

  18. Don Boesch says:

    Len,
    Couldn’t agree more about the Governor’s appointment of Rick Luettich to the SLFPAE. Rick was on the working group that Len Shabman and I assembled that wrote the report “A New Framework for Planning the Future of Coastal Louisiana after the Hurricanes of 2005″ (http://ian.umces.edu/pdfs/ian_report_333.pdf). Virtually over a weekend, Rick produced the striking Katrina No Marshes storm surge simulation shown in Figure 4. He’s smart, highly principled and very responsive to societal interests.
    Don

  19. Kelly Haggar says:

    As my late mother used to say, “Let’s all put our thinking caps on.”

    She was quoting a B & W cartoon character, Tom Terrific; see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Terrific.

    No, Capt Kangaroo did NOT save Lee Marvin on Iwo Jima but it was a wonderful show nonetheless. I still prefer the original theme music to the updated version. I’ll bet Mr. Green Jeans would heartily approve of corn-based beads and throws. Easier to haul than used Christmas trees.

  20. G. Paul Kemp says:

    Wow! With Dr. Groat leading the way, we can anticipate a great future for coastal Louisiana. Kudos to Garrett and the Governor on a great catch.

  21. jeff williams says:

    The appointment of Chip Groat as director or the new TWIG should put not just Len but everyone in a more positive mood for future progress in Louisiana for dealing with landloss and sea level rise and related impacts of climate change. I’ve worked with and known Chip since he was LGS Director in the 1980s and later USGS Director. Chip is an outstanding appointment and brings to the job expertise in coastal science, understanding of local-state-federal politics, and how to get diverse groups to work together to get programs moving successfully and goals accomplished. My hope now is that Chip is given the proper authotity and resources so he is able to tackle what’s been needed in Louisina for so long.

  22. Michael Beck says:

    Speaking as a non-biologist, I am pleased to see a geologist brought in.

  23. While I am sorry to learn that my alma mater and home town University will lose Dr. Groat, I am very glad to learn he will be heading up such an important undertaking for Louisiana.

  24. Len, Per Deltares, your misgivings are correct. They did circulate the first version of the berm concept in a powerpoint that was sent to state and federal agencies, and Plaquemines Parish. The concept was obviously unrealistic to anyone familiar with Louisiana’s coast, which Deltares was apparently not. Shame on the Governor, Mr. Nungesser, and their minions for latching onto it because of their own appalling lack of expertise, and then running with it for political gain despite being told by qualified people that it wouldn’t work (noted coastal scientist Anderson Cooper helped too.) Lack of expertise and integrity by our state officials: That is the legacy that the state carries into the Water Institute project, and the reason why some caution is still called for. If the state is funding the project, or controlling the funding, Dr. Groat may have some problems ahead.

  25. I am very happy to see that Len has been “in an uncharacteristically positive coastal mood these days…”

    Happy indeed!

    Sandy Rosenthal, wife, mom, whodat and founder of Levees.org

  26. I have known and worked with Chip Groat for 31 years in his various roles as director of the Louisiana Geological Survey, DNR official, LSU administrator, head of the American Geosciences Institute, Director of the U.S.Geological Survey, and professor and acting dean at the University of Texas. He is a person of broad knowledge, integrity, commitment and effectiveness in bringing science into decision making. Chip is a great choice to head the Water Institute and Louisiana is fortunate that he has agreed to come back to take this important job.

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