August 2012 coastal scuttlebutt
Oh goodie; more rocks along the shoreline.
In today’s The Advocate Vic Couvillion reported on a coastal agenda item passed during the last Tangipahoa Parish Council meeting. The council voted to approve the construction of a rock barrier along part of the western shoreline of Lake Pontchartrain. Here’s the relevant quote from the short article:
AMITE — The Tangipahoa Parish Council Monday voted unanimously to award a $4.8 million contract to Bertucci Contracting Co. of Metairie to construct a stone breakwater designed to halt coastal erosion in the extreme northwestern corner of Lake Pontchartrain.
Parish engineer Maurice Jordan said a 10,000-linear-foot wall can be constructed from an area just west of the mouth of the Tangipahoa River toward Pass Manchac, which empties into Lake Pontchartrain. The total distance from the river to the pass was about 18,000 linear feet but the federal Coastal Impact Protection Agency grant for the breakwater could not cover it, he said.
The parish engineer explained that the stone wall will be about 30 feet wide at its base and eight feet wide at its peak above the water. The contractor will bring the stone from out of state to the site using either barge or rail service to the nearby Port of Manchac and the material will then be barged to the construction site. Work should begin in 30 to 45 days and Bertucci has about a year to finish it.
The project is apparently funded under the federal Coastal Impact Assistance Program (CIAP) to help offset coastal impacts of oil and gas production in South Louisiana.
I’m not a fan of the use of hard structures to retard shoreline retreat along fragile wetland boundaries. They don’t work and often worsen the problem in the long run…but they’re very popular with elected officials and residents. I must assume that the folks at the Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration (OCPR) have looked at such impacts as reducing the tidal exchange of critters and organic matter but don’t have the stomach to fight the politics.
Trouble in paradise?
Jordan Blum and Amy Wold reported today in The Advocate on the unprecedented situation in which a large but unspecified amount of money will soon be available for coastal restoration projects under the newly passed RESTORE Act…before a specific gulf coast restoration plan is approved by/for the Gulf Coast Restoration Council.
RESTORE is an adroit piece of ‘political engineering’ that was skillfully crafted and hand walked through Congress by Louisiana delegation members, with serious help from national environmental groups (NGOs), especially the National Wildlife Federation. The article implies that we’ve put the coastal cart before the horse, by concentrating on passing the act and ensuring funding, rather than project priorities.
RESTORE is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that represents 80% of a multi-billion dollar fine against BP under the Clean Water Act, based on the volume of oil estimated to have been released.
I was struck by the pessimistic flavor of this article, which makes it sound as though the ongoing efforts to craft a restoration plan to spend the money that is acceptable to state, federal and public interests AND compatible with the RESTORE Act, are in jeopardy.
I’ve been incapacitated and unable to attend coastal meetings since mid-May. Have I been missing some important changes in attitude? For example, are the NGOs and the governor’s office having a falling out?
Jindal swears he already has the perfect job.
Jonathan Tilove reported today in The Times-Picayune that Gov. Jindal’s national political ambitions took a serious setback when Paul Ryan was selected as Mitt Romney’s running mate. The coastal implications are significant in that we will still have a part time governor with his eyes on another prize and Jay Dardenne will stay on as Lieutenant Governor.
Whether or not you’re a fan of Edwin Edwards I would encourage you to listen to Jim Engster’s interview with our only four-term governor yesterday on WRKF-FM 89.3. The philosophy of governance of the Bayou State occupied the conversation. Even after correcting Edwin’s comments for self-serving bias, the podcast is worth listening to.
Paul Ryan: climate change denier and Koch Brothers acolyte
Mitt Romney has chosen his VP nominee and, alas, his choice is Paul Ryan, not Bobby Jindal. Now it’s time to see what floats the boat for Joe Biden’s debate opponent on Thursday, October 11 at Centre College, Danville, KY.
Paul Ryan, (R-Wi) turns out to have a voting record that predicts in absolute terms how he…and his new boss would view Louisiana’s coastal issues, were Romney to be elected.
Voila, the first reference from a simple Google search for: ‘Paul Ryan and global warming,’ turned up this informative article by Brad Johnson that was just posted this morning on thinkprogress.com. The following quotes from the article pretty much summarize where Congressman Ryan stands on global warming, right after the warmest month ever recorded in the lower 48 states of his country.
http://www.democraticunderground.com/10021110484 favorite of the Koch brothers, Ryan has accused scientists of engaging in conspiracy to “intentionally mislead the public on the issue of climate change.” He has implied that snow invalidates global warming.
Ryan has voted to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from limit ing greenhouse pollution, to eliminate White House climate advisers, to block the U.S. Department of Agriculture from preparing for climate disasters like the drought devastating his home state, and to eliminate the Department of Energy Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E).
Ryan is known by the GOP as something of a guru on energy and economics. His level of sophistication in this critical area is indicated by the fact that, like his congressional colleague Michelle Bachman, he voted against the Communist plot to encourage consumers to use more efficient light bulbs.
In other words, he’d be very popular speaker at the Louisiana legislature. I predict a run on Atlas Shrugged by iconoclastic philosopher Ayn Rand* at Barnes and Noble.
*Until recently, Paul Ryan’s hero.
Ag. Commissioner Mike Strain toes the official state line on global warming
I studied zoology at the University of Maryland during the heart of the cold war, where I learned that Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin had set back soviet agricultural production by dismissing genetic science of the day, very much like right wing pols of today are denying the science of climate change.
Stalin listened to a widely discredited evolutionary theorist of the day named T.D. Lysenko, who convinced his boss that the principles of Mendelian genetics, on which modern plant breeding depended, were bogus.
On his August 9 radio show on WRKF-FM 89.3 Jim Engster interviewed Mike Strain, a licensed veterinarian serving a second term in what is arguably the second most powerful Louisiana statewide elected position, Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Forestry. I was appalled to hear Strain repeat the GOP mantra that climate change is a natural cyclic phenomenon, not related to burning fossil fuel.
Dr. Strain makes no bones about his interest in becoming governor of Louisiana, perhaps in three years. He has a disconcerting habit of referring to climate change as climactic change. Someone needs to tell him that the nouns ‘climate’ and ‘climax’ are unrelated.
Six minutes into the interview Jim asked Strain about the current all time record-breaking heat and drought, which Strain says has benefitted Louisiana farmers, relative to their counterparts in surrounding areas hit by the drought. It was noted that last month was the state’s warmest July on record since 1895.
Engster: “Steven on Jefferson asks if this is a product of global warming.”
Strain: “Well, we don’t think so…Most climatologists believe we’re going into a cyclical pattern. In other words we’ve been in a wetter than normal period for the past 50-75 years and now we’re returning to the drier pattern…We’re going to be dealing with this over the next 5, 10, 15 or 20 years.”
During his comments Strain referred to a ‘raging debate’ over the climate change issue and mentioned the loss of (stratospheric) ozone as a possible culprit.
Twenty minutes into the interview “Mike,” a caller from downtown, whose voice I recognized but who did not want me to use his name, compared Strain’s denial of anthropogenic climate change to T.D. Lysenko.
Mike (the caller) pointed out that there is no raging debate over cyclical climate change vs. human causation and that virtually every credible national scientific organization, including the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and the American Geophysical Union (AGU) has concluded that the argument over global warming is settled.
Come on Commissioner, open your eyes.
Louisiana crawfish are poor coastal ambassadors
Benjamin Alexander-Bloch reported in today’s The Times-Picayune that Louisiana crawfish, Procambarus clarkii, are being imported…uncooked…by middle school science teachers on the west coast and elsewhere, who ultimately release the hardy little mudbugs in a misguided mission of mercy that only PETA could love.
Our hardy red swamp crawfish has already invaded wetlands in the Mediterranean, as described in this 2007 study in Hydrobiologia.
Bayou State science teachers are encouraged by our infamous 2008 Louisiana Science Education Act to teach that a breeding pair of crawfish rode in style on Noah’s Ark. Now science teachers in Oregon are encouraging their students to spread invasive species willy-nilly.
We could be turning Louisiana crawfish into little gustatory ambassadors. Each sack of crawfish leaving the state should be required to carry a tag with directions on how to boil and eat the tasty little critters…and warning of the danger of turning them loose to wreak local havoc.
What say you, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne; Ag and Forestry Secretary Mike Strain; and Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Bob Barham?
It ain’t the humidity, Dahlin,’ it’s the heat
On July 6 Cindy OK reported in Slate Magazine that the science is no longer ambiguous…recent heat records are definitely a symptom of anthropogenic climate change. Here’s a quote:
“It is no longer enough to say that global warming will increase the likelihood of extreme weather and to repeat the caveat that no individual weather event can be directly linked to climate change,” the paper’s lead author, James E. Hansen, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed previewing the study’s findings. “To the contrary, our analysis shows that, for the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change.”
Here’s a quote from Dr. Hansen’s essay:
This is the world we have changed, and now we have to live in it — the world that caused the 2003 heat wave in Europe that killed more than 50,000 people and the 2011 drought in Texas that caused more than $5billion in damage. Such events, our data show, will become even more frequent and more severe.
There is still time to act and avoid a worsening climate, but we are wasting precious time. We can solve the challenge of climate change with a gradually rising fee on carbon collected from fossil-fuel companies, with 100?percent of the money rebated to all legal residents on a per capita basis. This would stimulate innovations and create a robust clean-energy economy with millions of new jobs. It is a simple, honest and effective solution.
Obviously, the senior member of the Louisiana congressional delegation Steve Scalise (R-Metairie) didn’t get the memo, however. Bruce Alpert reported in today’s The Times-Picayune that Scalise remains totally unconvinced by the scientists, however. Alpert’s article includes the following quote from our most senior congressman from Metairie:
“One Berkeley professor flip-flopping his opinion on global warming* doesn’t create any kind of consensus on this issue, and there’s still vast amount of disagreement throughout the scientific community on the causes of climate change. In fact, recent scientific data shows that the earth is currently in a cooling period, and it’s predicted that it will continue to cool over the next 20 years,” Scalise said.
Representative Scalise’s arrogance is exceeded only by his ignorance.
More on dispersants
Bruce Alpert reported in today’s The Times-Picayune that the Gulf Restoration Network (GRN) and other environmental NGOs have filed a lawsuit against EPA for failing to establish rules on the use of chemical dispersants in response to future offshore oil releases.
On August 1 I posted on this subject (scroll down), concluding that when all is said and done a primary culprit in the overall environmental damage from the 2010 BP blowout will have been the unprecedented application of large volumes of Corexit, a commercially available dispersant applied a mile deep at the wellhead, as well as sprayed at the surface.
I hasten to point out that I have no technical expertise in the fields of petrochemical pollution, toxicology, vertebrate physiology, etc., etc. In other words, my oil pollution knowledge base is pretty much limited to what is available to anyone online. That being said, I tend to agree that EPA administrator Lisa Jackson has been unnecessarily silent on the development of these rules. On the other hand Ms. Jackson has the very technical expertise that I lack.
This morning at 1:33 EDT a six-wheeled dune buggy named Curiosity came to rest on a precise spot on the floor of a large crater on the surface of Mars, after a trip of 345 million miles from Earth. JPL engineers designed and fabricated the hardware and programmed the software, based on homework carried out by generations of astrophysicists, geoscientists and yes, rocket scientists.
This $2.5 billion NASA mission was sold on the basis of arguments that humans will benefit significantly from knowing more about the last three billion years of evolution in our backyard solar system. I fully expect to see evidence from this mission that life has not been confined to the ‘last few weeks’ (six millennia) since Adam and Eve.
The idea that the price tag for gaining such radical insights is being funded by congressional deniers of climate change gives me special pleasure.
Two clashing headlines from within the DC Beltway:
I. Climate change is here — and worse than we thought
This is te headline for the August 3 Washington Post Op/ed by James E. Hansen, director, Goddard Space Flight Center and titular father of climate change.
II. Harsh weather doesn’t prove global warming, Republican lawmakers say
This is the headline for the August 5 post by David Kaner on the influential political web-based magazine TheHill.com, that the conservative members of the Senate and Congress are staunchly defending their discredited argument that the ongoing record breaking floods, droughts and wildfires are merely cyclic phenomena, not signs of a trend.
Compare the tone of these pieces with this article by Marc Kauffman on the Mars landing scheduled for early in the morning. I know whose science I would trust to get us through the seven minutes of terror, in which we’re totally dependent on computer models such as the ones that make global warming projections.
Let’s marshall Bob Marshall as coastal Marshal!
On August 2 Bob Marshall let it all hang out again in the form of an op/ed essay in The Times-Picayune on the utter failure of Louisiana pols to deal with the biggest threat to saving America’s Delta, global warming and sea level rise.
Obviously you should read thia piece but before toasting Mr. Marshall for what he says read some of the negative comments engendered by his piece. Sigh.
West bank levee plan unveiled by Corps
On August 2 Mark Schleifstein described the release by the Corps of Engineers of a $252 million plan to create or expand wetland projects to mitigate for damage done to existing wetlands as a result of enhancing the levees on the West Bank following Hurricane Katrina.
I’m not in a positon to judge the approrpiateness of the projects listed but I do want to talk about the term ‘mitigation,’ as used here to compensate for flood risk reduction measures.
Senator David Vitter and some parish officials have been saying that virtually any project that reduces flood risk of coastal residents is by definition, an environmental enhancement project that should not require wetland mitigation. On the other hand, when tidal wetlands are enclosed by levees they lose their ecosystem value, which in a just world would then require compensation in the form of enhancing existing wetlands or creating new wetlands de novo.
Created wetlands do not substitute for the overall value of as their natural counterparts, so this can be an expansive and controversial undertaking. I remain a skeptic about the whole enterprise of wetland mitigation. Some of my colleagues with extensive experience working on wetlands permitting issues with the corps argue that that agency is more willing to approve wetland damaging projects, now that mitigation banking has become widely accepted.
The other issue raised by Schleifstein’s article is the fact that constructing levees requires mining high volumes of substrate from south Louisiana, which robs Peter to pay Paul. Paul Rioux wrote an article for today’s The Times-Picayune describing the fact that the Corps will spend $1.5 billion to raise levees in Plaquemines Parish.
The idea of quarrying native clays from the rapidly subsiding Plaquemines Parish peninsula so as to build flood levees strikes me as a very bad joke. Levee sediments should be imported from upriver…or obtained from materials already stockpiled locally. I have previously posted on the huge stockpiles of levee-suitable substrate located near Gramercy that would be donated to the cause. The corps remains silent on my proposal. Why?
Mitt Romney reads Jared Diamond? I doubt it.
My opinions of political candidates for high office are largely colored by my perception of their apparent intellectual curiosity. Until Sarah Palin lowered the bar by an order of magnitude George W. Bush represented the previous intellectual nadir and I would rank W and Willard M. Romney at about the same level…both men interested perhaps in business spread sheets and baseball stats but not in 100 Years of Solitude or Thomas Malthus.
As a student of biological evolution and natural selection I’ve been influenced by some great authorities on that subject, several of whose names have coincidentally begun with the letter ‘D.’ These include Charles Darwin, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Jared Diamond. Professor Diamond wrote an op/ed piece for The New York Times yesterday that took Mitt Romney to task for having misquoted Diamond in a speech that he (Romney) gave to some of his right wing backers in Israel on Sunday, July 31.
Here’s the opening paragraph of Diamond’s essay:
Mitt Romney’s latest controversial remark, about the role of culture in explaining why some countries are rich and powerful while others are poor and weak, has attracted much comment. I was especially interested in his remark because he misrepresented my views and, in contrasting them with another scholar’s arguments, oversimplified the issue.
Professor Diamond’s best-known book, Guns, Germs and Steel, published in 1997, describes the huge differences in cultural advances and technology that can be explained on the basis of purely accidental geographic factors and natural resources.
Here are quotes about several geographic factors, including coastal influence:
A different set of factors involves geography, which embraces many more aspects than the physical characteristics Mr. Romney dismissed. One such geographic factor is latitude, which has big effects on wealth and power today: tropical countries tend to be poorer than temperate-zone countries. Reasons include the debilitating effects of tropical diseases on life span and work, and the average lower productivity of agriculture and soils in the tropics than in the temperate zones.
A second factor is access to the sea. Countries without a seacoast or big navigable rivers tend to be poor, because transport costs overland or by air are much higher than transport costs by sea.
A third geographic factor is the history of agriculture. If an extraterrestrial had toured earth in the year 2000 B.C., the visitor would have noticed that centralized government, writing and metal tools were already widespread in Eurasia but hadn’t yet appeared in the New World, sub-Saharan Africa or Australia.*
*I’m reading Charles C. Mann’s book ‘1491,’ on the pre-Columbian New World and, based on what I’ve read so far, I’m not sure I agree with the last statement by Diamond. Nevertheless, Guns, Germs and Steel remains on my list of books that have significantly influenced my thinking about human cultural evolution and I’d be truly amazed if Mitt actually read the entire book.
For example, last night on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart played a clip of Romney being interviewed by a Fox News host on November 29 2011. At 6:32 into the episode Romney was asked whether he was currently reading or had just finished a book that he would like to mention. He furrowed his brow from this obvious ‘Gotcha question’ and declined to answer because he said it was a ‘fun’ book.
Fly in the dispersant
Question: What are the two best things to happen…or not…along the northern gulf coast during the past seven years?*
Two years and four months have elapsed since the Macondo Deepwater Horizon well blew up and unleashed the largest volume of rogue oil and gas in the history of deepwater offshore drilling.
Estimates of $20 billion or more of direct and indirect damage to Louisiana from the blowout will continue to be refined and litigated for years but it’s clear that BP fines and penalties will be the single largest source of funding to pay for part of the Louisiana Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast.
In terms of ecosystem damage the 4.9 million barrels of rogue oil triggered the rapid expansion of the ambient microbial community, fueled by an almost unlimited food source. Thousands of years of oil seepage into the gulf sea floor ensured the presence of bacteria dependent on petroleum hydrocarbons as a food source.
The latest in a series of studies on the ecological impacts of the Macondo Deepwater Horizon blowout was described by AP reporter Janet McConnauqhey in an article published today in The Times-Picayune.
Several Alabama scientists used macrocosms consisting of 53 gallon barrels containing various combinations of seawater, oil and dispersant, along with the background planktonic biotic community on which the chemicals impinge. Preliminary results show that dispersants seemed to short circuit the process by which bacteria feed on the oil and ciliates feed on the microbes.
Having read the results of numerous studies of the blowout since 2010 it appears that the principal fly in the ointment has been the widespread and highly contentious application of Corexit dispersant to minimize oil droplet size, reducing its visibility and the obvious effects of oiled beaches and marshes. It seems clear to me that absent the use of Corexit, the hydrocarbons would eventually have been eliminated by the microbes with far less overall damage to people and the ecosystem.
*The absence of a major tropical storm making landfall since 2005 and the BP blowout in 2010.