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August 2012 Coastal Scuttlebutt (cont.)

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AUGUST THIRTY-FIRST

Photo taken in Plaquemines Parish from nola.com

In Romney World, families will outrank sea level rise.

I listened to Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in Tampa on Thursday night the hard way, sitting in a dark, warm, powerless house listening to the rhetoric on a little wind-up radio that was the premium for a recent dues payment to WRKF FM 89.3 (part of the National Public Radio system from which the GOP platform threatens to withhold funding). I listened with extremely low expectations. Mitt’s hopes and dreams for our country don’t reflect anything even tangentially related to energy and the environment that most concern me.

I was not surprised at what he left out. He didn’t mention droughts or floods or ethanol production or eutrophication or aquifer drawdown or fishery depletion or the economic cost of wetland loss…or the dreadful comprehension of science by his presumed constituents. On the other hand, it’s one thing not to hear a word about coastal issues, which clearly don’t concern him, but quite another to hear a line specifically hostile to Louisiana’s future.

President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. MY promise…is to help you and your family.

Mitt’s speech was preceded by Clint Eastwood, aka Dirty Harry, who finished his bizarre time at the mike with the single line,

Go ahead; make my day.

In Romney World the streets are paved with gold and families are clearly independent of the hydrosphere, the lithosphere and the atmosphere.

EPA gives $600 K for the coast.  Anything will help but the Koch Brothers won’t be impressed.

My friend and coastal science colleague John Hall alerted me to the following August 31 press release from EPA, announcing the release of a grant of almost $600,000 grant to the Louisiana University Marine Consortium (LUMCON) under the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the National Estuaries Program (NEP), for the implementation of the Comprehensive Coastal Management Plan (CCMP) that has been in existence since the late eighties.  Don’t you love the acronymns?

EPA Awards Over $1.1 Million to Assist In Restoration of Coastal Habitats

Release Date: 08/31/2012?Contact Information: Dave Bary or Jennah Durant at 214-665-2200 or r6press@epa.gov??(DALLAS – August 31, 2012) The Environmental Protection Agency has awarded the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium and the Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program $597,333 each to assist in the restoration of disappearing coastal habitats along the U.S. Gulf Coast in Louisiana and Texas.??The National Estuary Program (NEP) was established by the federal Clean Water Act to protect and restore water quality and ecological integrity of estuaries. The Clean Water Act requires each National Estuaries Program to develop and implement a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) to address water quality, habitat, and living resources challenges within the estuary watershed. ??Currently 28 estuaries along the Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific coasts and in Puerto Rico are under the NEP. Each estuary’s program focuses its work within a particular place or boundary which includes the estuary and surrounding watersheds. ??The Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium will use the funds to implement the CCMP outlined in the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuaries Program annual work plan. The Barataria-Terrebonne estuarine complex encompasses 4.2 million acres of wetlands, ridges, forests, farmlands and communities between the Mississippi and Atchafalaya River Basins in southeast Louisiana. ??The Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program is dedicated to restoring and protecting the bays and estuaries of the Texas Coastal Bend. The mission of the Coastal Bend Bays work plan is to protect and restore the health and productivity of the bays and estuaries while supporting continued economic growth and public use of the bays. This 515 square-mile area of water includes all bays, estuaries and bayous in the Copano, Aransas, Corpus Christi, Nueces, Baffin and upper Laguna Madre Bay systems.??An estuary is a partially enclosed body of water along the coast where freshwater from rivers and streams meets and mixes with salt water from the ocean. Although influenced by the tides, they are protected from the full force of ocean waves, winds and storms by such land forms as barrier islands or peninsulas. ??Estuaries are among the most productive areas on earth, creating more organic matter each year than comparably sized areas of forest, grassland, or agricultural land. The tidal, sheltered waters of estuaries also support unique communities of plants and animals especially adapted for life at the margin of the sea.??More about activities in EPA Region 6 is available at http://www.epa.gov/aboutepa/region6.html

 AUGUST TWENTY-NINTH and THIRTIETH

Sorry about the interruption in posts, thanks to Isaac. With luck I’ll have electricity tomorrow!

Check out this post on flood risk in New Orleans by John M. Barry that was published on Ayugust 29.

AUGUST TWENTY-EIGHTH

When a picture’s worth a bookshelf

Click on the link below to see the detail in this graphic by Dan Swenson

Seven years ago Hurricane Katrina demonstrated fatal flaws in the existing flood protection system for the greater New Orleans area, which took almost 1,800 lives and ultimately became the most costly accident* in US history. The system that failed had been certified by the corps as capable of protecting residents from a 100-year storm, a storm with a 1% probability of occurrence during any given hurricane season.

As it turned out Katrina fit within the scope of a 100-year storm, meaning that the levees should not have failed. This disaster embarrassed the corps and culminated in the unique fast track design and approval of a project to repair and upgrade the entire flood protection system for SE Louisiana. In other words, the corps was charged with overseeing a project that would satisfy the original flood protection stats. New elements were included, especially a surge barrier in Lake Borne, because of new information learned from Katrina and additional land loss suffered since the original project was completed.

This project carried a price tag of almost $15 billion, of which two thirds of that figure (~$10 billion) has been spent to date.

I’ve never met Dan Swenson but I’ve long been impressed by his graphic ‘translations’ of complex hydrologic coastal projects for The Times-Picayune. Today’s issue includes a perfect example…a graphic illustration of this $10 billion investment. Click on the link to see the details.

He showed that a picture can be worth far, far more than a thousand words. I can only imagine how many feet of shelf space, pages of engineering documents, or column inches of text have been produced to summarize in words this $10 billion mouse trap. Dan Swenson did it in one picture.When TS Isaac becomes Hurricane Isaac later today all eyes will be focused on whether the investment worked.

*Accidental does not imply that the Katrina disaster was unpreventable.

AUGUST TWENTY-SEVENTH

CB Forgotston, political curmudgeon

Discrediting science in Louisiana

Mark Schleifstein is writing ongoing updates on the approach of Tropical Storm Isaac for The Times-Picayune, adding to his outstanding record of covering such meteorological events for many years. The coincidence between the timing of Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall on August 29, 2005 and the estimated landfall exactly seven years later of what is expected to be Hurricane Isaac is not a happy one.

As I write this the welfare of my daughter Emilie, her brother Jason, her mother Carolyn and many friends who live in New Orleans, top my personal concerns. The fate of my town house in Port Louis near Madisonville is also on my mind of course.

Let’s wish each other well through the next three days.

The main thrust of this post, however, involves an interview with C.B. Forgotston that Jim Engster just conducted on his radio show on Baton Rouge’s NPR affiliate WRKF-FM. Mr. Forgotston is a conservative political consultant with many years’ experience. I particularly appreciate his irreverence for sacred cows and his cynicism about the state of Louisiana politics.

During the interview I was struck by a comment to the effect that members of the scientific community disagree about the nature of the threats to the Louisiana coast, e.g., rates of subsidence. At that point I called in to assure Mr. Forgotsten and Jim’s listeners that in fact the scientists don’t disagree about bottom line coastal issues but that Governor Jindal has so discredited science that no one knows what to believe, from a technical standpoint.

AUGUST TWENTY-SIXTH

Gov. Jindal’s coastal record

Jindal at the helm

Bobby Jindal has campaigned tirelessly for his party during the last two years. For that reason he was invited to deliver a speech in the second tier time slot after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie Tuesday evening at the Republican Convention in Tampa.

Bobby Jindal is the ‘CEO’ of Louisiana, the second most depauperate state in the union. He’s held this post exactly as long as Barack Obama has been president. Does anyone else think it’s strange that he was invited to explain to the nation why Obama’s economic leadership has been an abject failure?

In her column in today’s The Times-Picayune Stephanie Grace predicted that the gov will probably not embarrass himself or his constituents during this address but suggested that he’s still not ready for prime time. She recommended that he should put more energy into the issues of his state…largely coastal issues, of course.

Speaking of coastal issues, in her column Grace praised Jindal’s performance and leadership during Hurricane Gustav in 2008. In my opinion the Gustav record is an outlier that is totally overshadowed by his coastal record ever since the BP blowout in 2010.

For better or worse, Bobby Jindal has steered the SS Louisiana dramatically to starboard, in accordance with national GOP positions on fundamental philosophical, social, economic…and environmental perspectives. This course change includes privatizing basic government services…starving the beast to let the free market flourish.

Downsizing government, which includes dismissing the need for current science, makes for great sound bites but it’s a frightening prospect for south Louisiana. No state is more dependent than Louisiana on the understanding and use of state-of-the-art science; no state is led by a governor more ant-science than Bobby Jindal and no state is more dependent on government largesse for environmental assistance.

Models from the Hurricane Center show a westward trend in the trajectory of Isaac, which may now reach landfall closer to Mobile than Pensacola. It’s ironic that Jindal may be speaking in Tampa during the time when Isaac wave energy is tearing apart what’s left of the sand berm barriers east of the Chandeleur Islands, sand berms on which Bobby Jindal spent perhaps $100 million of limited BP dollars to create.

AUGUST TWENTY-FIFTH

Caption: Randy Pench / rpench@sacbee.com Miles of levees along the east bank of the Sacramento River, above, and the south bank of the American River were declared Thursday to have failed to meet federal maintenance standards. Sacramento could lose FEMA flood certification as a result.

New Orleans and Sacramento levees face similar issues

According to the following notice in today’s The Times-Picayune, flood levees in Sacramento recently failed to pass muster for the Corps of Engineers. This notice may seem like a non-sequiter for LaCoastPost but it complements a post on which I’ve been working on local discussions about federal levee standards, risk of failure, money and politics.

It looks like the New Orleans area is (not) the only metropolis with federal levee problems. Levees protecting most of the city of Sacramento and 15 other areas of the Central Valley were declared on Thursday to have failed federal maintenance criteria, according to the Sacramento Bee.

As a result, those levees are no longer eligible for federal money to rebuild if damaged in a storm, the website reports. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers made the declaration after concluding that a new state plan to improve Central Valley levees does not provide enough detail to ensure that maintenance problems, such as erosion and intruding structures, will be fixed.

Stay tuned.

AUGUST TWENTY-FOURTH

Gene Turner

Turner given lifetime achievement award

The Advocate published the following brief notice today from LSU about Professor R. Eugene Turner, a faculty member and coastal scientist who was honored in June with a lifetime wetland achievement award:

A wetland scientist at LSU received the Wetland Lifetime Achievement Award during the ninth International Wetland Conference put on by the International Association for Ecology, according to a university news release.

Eugene Turner, a distinguished research master and Shell Endowed Chair in Oceanography and Wetland Studies at LSU, has worked for years on the issues of low oxygen areas off the coast of Louisiana, commonly known as the “dead zone.”

The conference was held in June in Orlando, Fla., and attracted 1,240 participants from 43 countries.

The second Wetland Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to an LSU alumnus, K. Ramesh Reddy, graduate research professor and chair of the Soil and Water Science Department at the University of Florida.

His expertise includes biogeochemistry, soil and water quality and ecosystem restoration, the news release says.

Gene and I both came to LSU in the early ‘70s but he stayed on campus and established a distinguished career in traditional academia, doing research on dysfunctional coastal ecosystems, including our very own. My choice of the adjective traditional is ironic, in that, although the typically bland LSU news release about him doesn’t say it, Gene also established a 38-year reputation as a fearless contrarian and naysayer…someone who’s not afraid to challenge conventional wisdom.

In that sense, although Gene and I disagree over some science issues, especially on diverting river water into America’s Delta, we are similarly motivated and I respect him for his views.

Science is not a democratic process but then, come to think of it, neither is the Louisiana’s current partisan political process!

Congratulations, Gene. Hope you had a good celebration!

AUGUST TWENTY-THIRD

Silt source for river sill draws outbursts at CPRA meeting

Yesterday (scroll down) I posted about a vocal dispute over coastal policy that I had been told had taken place in the August 22 meeting of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA). The disagreement was only the latest in an ongoing struggle for the hearts and minds of American taxpayers between the state and the Corps of Engineers.

The dispute was not over major restoration project. It was over the placement, cost and borrow source for silt to create a sill across the river to block salt water from moving up the river bottom and contaminating drinking water for residents of SE Louisiana.

This morning I was curious about how the meeting would be described by Amy Wold here in The Advocate and Mark Schleifstein here in The Times-Picayune.

There have been increasingly frequent flare-ups over coastal policy between the state and local government and the feds in which unprofessional language is commonplace. This has been particularly true since the Macondo well blowout but the friction is rarely discussed in media accounts. Am I the only one who thinks that there’s an important story here?

Schleifstein gave the dispute more space than Wold but neither reporter interviewed the ‘disputants’ to try to provide some insight on the nature and depth of the hostility. I wonder about analogous situations in south Florida over the Everglades project.

A court reporter is always hired to record and transcribe the discussions at these meetings but I have never seen a single paragraph of official testimony and I’m not sure that Gov. Jindal would sign off to the public release of this information. Would it be appropriate to request an official transcript under the state version of a FOIA request?

AUGUST TWENTY-SECOND

Bob Marshall issues another coastal reality check

On August 4 I praised Times-Picayune Outdoors Editor Bob Marshall for having created a new responsibility for himself…coastal marshal.

In a south Louisiana world that is rife with BS, Bob has created a virtual marshal’s badge for himself that helps him gain access to information beyond the Pablum to which the public is generally treated. Today’s The Times-Picayune contains another of Marshall’s coastal reality checks with an op/ed column on the Restore Act and what it REALLY means in terms of contributing to the $50 billion price tag of the Louisiana Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast.

Around 11:00 this morning a spy attending the August meeting of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) downtown called to tell me what was happening. I was told that Chairman Garret Graves, Governor Jindal’s coastal advisor, spent considerable time publically berating Col. Ed Fleming, who directs the New Orleans District of the Corps of Engineers. This suggests political theater, not open and honest discussion about crucial policy issues.

Graves apparently used unprofessional terms and suggested that the Corps is not an honest coastal broker in its partnership with the state. Complaints by state coastal officials about how we’re disrespected by the feds have become commonplace. Unfortunately, these public displays of affliction have marked the Jindal administration.

It will be interesting to see how Amy Wold and Mark Schleifstein describe the meeting tomorrow in their respective accounts in The Advocate and The Times-Picayune. In his role as Outdoors Editor for the T-P, Bob Marshall may be given a little more leeway to be frank than if he were doing straight reporting.*

Keep it up, Marshal Marshall!

*This comment is in no way intended to criticize the yeoman work of Wold and Schleifstein ,

AUGUST TWENTY-FIRST

Today’s Coastal Scuttlebutt takes a birthday break for my life partner Guille Novelo

Sandy Rosenthal, founder and director of Levees.org, has organized a press conference in New Orleans on Wednesday August 22 to call attention to new information re the levee failures that turned Katrina into a Katastrophe in August/September 2006. Here are the details:

PRESS CONFERENCE: Corps of Engineers blamed New Orleans officials for Katrina flooding but new data shows Corps took $100 million deadly shortcut

Harry Shearer (producer The Big Uneasy, voice of the Simpsons) will participate via skype.

Contact: Sandy Rosenthal, Levees.org 504-722-8172 

When: 10 a.m. Wed Aug 22, 2012; Where: Lakeview Harbor Restaurant; 911 Harrison Avenue, New Orleans. Plenty of free parking

After Hurricane Katrina, the Army Corps of Engineers told national media that local New Orleans officials played a contributing role in the failure of flood walls along the city’s outfall drainage canals and in the resulting flooding.

For several years, top Corps brass delivered this consistent message regarding the failure of the 17th Street and London Avenue Canals. They claimed that local New Orleans agencies forced the Corps to build an inferior system.

Now, in a response to a records request submitted by Levees.org, to be released on August 22, the Corps admits that it cannot produce any data to support the claim.

Furthermore, Levees.org has uncovered a stunning analysis showing that the Corps of Engineers improperly conducted a pre-Katrina study and misinterpreted the results. Decisions made as a result of the Corps’ botched study led directly to the failure of two outfall drainage canals in 2005, and flooded the city’s main basin, the area with the highest concentration of people, property and infrastructure.

Levees.org has created a short video to illustrate this newly uncovered information and will have copies available at the press conference on broadcast-quality DVDs.

AUGUST TWENTIETH

Not rollin’ on the river

Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

The Great Mississippi Flood of 2011 and the Great Drought of 2012 pretty much span the range of flows and management issues with which the Corps of Engineers has contended* since the late 1800s.

Yesterday The New York Times published an interesting account by John Schwartz of the current effort to keep today’s less than mighty Mississippi River in active commerce under its lowest stage since the record low in 1988. Schwartz reported that the water level at Vicksburg is almost 60 feet lower this year than last (see photo).

Those of us who dream of a river managed primarily to maximize the accretion of delta landscape tend to forget that significant growth of America’s Delta is only feasible during exceptionally high stage years. This lesson is misunderstood by opponents of large river diversion projects, who mistakenly assume that these projects would divert water at a steady flow rate, irrespective of river stage.

*With the notable exception of the land building role that is only now beginning to be taken seriously by the corps.

AUGUST NINETEENTH

Gasoline-ethanol program is breaking bad, like the hit TV series

Breaking Bad (TV) program

This evening I’ll be watching Breaking Bad, currently in the middle of its fifth and final season on the AMC network. For those who prefer useful activity over tension-laced escapism this show is about Walter White, a brilliant and ruthless high school chemistry teacher who becomes the head of his own meth  cartel in New Mexico.

Walter and his hapless side kick Jessie are clearly doomed from the git-go, as they make and market meth under the very nose of the DEA. The question is when and how their convoluted attempt to blend business, crime and quasi normal family life will fall apart.

Ethanol (government) program

Huffingtonpost published an editorial from Bloomberg that calls attention to the misguided government-subsidized attempt to blend corn-based ethanol with gasoline as a means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This program has become a lesson in the unintended consequences of mixing agriculture, transportation and the environment.

Edited text:

Record-high corn prices should be sending a clear message to policy makers in Washington: Requiring people to put corn-based fuel in their gas tanks is a bad idea.

Since 2005, the U.S. government has mandated that gasoline contain ethanol, almost all of it derived from corn. The policy, ostensibly aimed at reducing the country’s dependence on foreign oil and at improving the environment, has been a bonanza for farmers…*

Now the drought of 2012, the worst in more than 50 years, is making clear the downside of a policy that leads the U.S. to devote 40 percent (of) its corn harvest to fuel production. With this year’s crop expected to be the smallest in six years, corn prices have jumped 60 percent since June. The ethanol requirements are aggravating the rise in food costs and spreading it to the price of gasoline, which is up almost 40 cents a gallon since the start of July.

…Beef and pork producers are slaughtering their stocks at a record pace to cut use of corn feed that costs two-thirds more than three months ago…U.S. cattle herds next year are forecast to be the smallest since 1952, a guarantee of more expensive food in years to come.

Ethanol production and the drought are hardly the only forces contributing to higher prices…and it is true that ending the ethanol mandate might cut food prices by no more than 5 percent at best.

Still, the drought lays bare the folly of trying to expand an industry where the economic fundamentals don’t make much sense. Based on its energy content, ethanol is roughly 50 percent more expensive than gasoline, and the acreage required to produce it distorts land prices. Farmers this year planted the largest corn crop in 75 years, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. The price of an acre of prime farmland in Iowa – the nation’s biggest corn producer — has more than doubled in the past five years, a time when other real estate prices tumbled.

Researchers at Texas A&M have estimated that diverting corn to make ethanol forces Americans to pay $40 billion a year in higher food prices. On top of that, it costs taxpayers $1.78 in subsidies for each gallon of gasoline that corn-based ethanol replaces, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

…growing corn is energy intensive. Tractors that run on diesel fuel must plow fields, plant seed, spread fertilizer and pesticides (that run into local waterways), harvest the crop and haul it to refining plants…By some calculations, ethanol takes more energy to produce than it yields, negating the environmental benefits.

More than 150 House members and 25 U.S. senators, as well as the director general of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, have asked Obama to temporarily suspend the ethanol mandate in order to check the rise in food prices. He should listen to them, and Congress should permanently roll back the ethanol requirements.

This isn’t to say ethanol doesn’t have a place in the U.S. energy mix. Gasoline needs to be combined with agents that carry oxygen to help cars and trucks run more efficiently. Ethanol fits the bill. But the government should let the demand for ethanol obey the laws of the market, rather than the desires of the agricultural lobby.

*It has also exacerbated the need to reduce nitrogen runoff from the corn belt so as to reduce Gulf hypoxia.

AUGUST EIGHTEENTH

US CO2 emissions reach 20 year low but don’t expect celebrations

The Times-Picayune published this AP story by Kevin Begos, Seth Borenstein and Jonathan Farley on a government report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration* that documents a sharp reduction in U.S. Carbon Dioxide emissions going back to the year 1992. It seems to me that this is really big news but it doesn’t seem to be getting much press.

I’m heartened by the trend, which is clearly the result of substituting natural gas for coal to power electrical generation. This is an all too rare example of positive environmental news, especially on the coastal front. I’m also intrigued by the fact that even during this increasingly ugly campaign season the report was issued with absolutely no fanfare or partisan spin.

For example, the Obama team in Chicago won’t be on NBC-TV’s Meet The Press tomorrow morning bragging about how American CO2 emissions have been lowered on Obama’s watch…beyond the Kyoto goals. Likewise I’ll guarantee that neither the Romney team in Boston nor George Will will say a word on ABC TV’s This Week with George Stephanopoulas extolling the fact that more electricity can be generated with lower CO2 emissions under free market competition without government incentives.

Could it be that (1) the Dems are avoiding green energy issues in the campaign, while so many Americans are jobless; and (2) that the GOP has become so vested in the denial of global climate change that the Romney folks can’t acknowledge a reduction in the American carbon footprint as good news?

Just wondering.

*That’s an agency I hadn’t heard of.

AUGUST SEVENTEENTH


Wasting the record drought

Yesterday afternoon both members of our household met friends at a bar, where I sipped Baton Rouge tap water, while everyone else had spirits of one form or another. My drink (not of choice) prompted a conversation about American freshwater, from local to national.

We discussed the current situation in which, even as the Great American Drought of 2012 continues unabated in most of the heartland, potable water is not an issue in Baton Rouge.* Downriver it’s a different story, with a wedge of saltwater being sucked upstream toward New Orleans by the vacuum of low river stage. I’m working on a post on this incident.

Our household water bill has reached outrageous levels that I could understand if we lived in Tucson or Las Vegas…but Baton Rouge? Our July bill for $138.93 (a rainy month) make me suspect dripping spigots and leaking commodes but they don’t look that bad. One of our friends in the conversation yesterday has a swimming pool and said his bill was about $50.

Anyhow, the New York Times published an op/ed essay by Charles Fishman, a technical writer who recently authored a book on global water issues. Fishman argues that this drought, which should be a deadly serious learning experience for the country and a practical tutorial on dealing with global climate change, will soon be forgotten. Here’s a quote:

Our nation’s water system is a mess, from cities to rural communities, for farmers and for factories. To take just one example: Water utilities go to the trouble to find water, clean it and pump it into water mains for delivery, but before it gets to any home or business, leaky pipes send 16 percent — about one in six gallons — back into the ground. So even in the midst of the drought, our utilities lose enough water every six days to supply the nation for a day. You can take a shorter shower, but it won’t make up for that.

*Actually there is a serious issue, a conflict over groundwater vs. surface water in Baton Rouge. This is related to high volume industrial use of high quality groundwater for low quality cooling and process purposes, rather than using the river water flowing right next to the refinery, but that’s another story.

AUGUST SIXTEENTH

Wind energy supporters reportedly think that coal is a four letter word!

Mike Grunwald reports that the stimulus package as effective as the New Deal.

I first met Michael Grunwald after he had established a reputation as an observer of the politics of environmental issues, especially coastal issues. He created a stir as a critic of the Corps of Engineers’ dismal environmental record while a reporter for the Washington Post. He blew the whistle on biased cost/benefit studies used to justify Mississippi River miss-Management policy.

I first met Mike after he moved to Florida as a correspondent for Time Magazine, and had written a book on the Everglades restoration project, about which I posted here.

On July 22, 2010 I spent a day with Grunwald and some folks with the Gulf Restoration Network (GRN) in a small boat in the Barataria Basin, looking for BP oil. I posted about this field trip on July 30 that year.

Grunwald was recently interviewed by David Plotz with Slate Magazine about his hot off the presses book The New New Deal. This book has serious coastal significance, in that the much derided $800 billion stimulus package promoted both by George W. Bush and his successor Barack Obama pushed alternative energy onto the stage. As a result of tax credits for renewable energy innovations, wind power grew into fifth place* in the US after coal, natural gas, nuclear and hydroelectric.

Graphic from Wikipedia

The presidential campaign has been notable among other things for the diatribes against renewable energy by every prospective GOP candidate other than Jon Hunstman. Now that the GOP ticket is settled the Romney-Ryan team is continuing that pattern. Not only is clean energy castigated, coal-fired electricity, the dirtiest of the dirty is being promoted in West Virginia and Ohio, where coal miners are understandably concerned about the increase of natural gas-fired electricity…and photovoltaics and wind energy.

Global warming will not be reduced unless and until global coal use is reduced.

Karen Kasler reported for NPR on August 14 on a fiery speech by Mitt Romney in coal mining country in Beallsville, Ohio. The Ohio state treasurer Josh Mandel praised Romney’s candidacy was praised by Ohio state treasurer Josh Mandel who said, “Coal opponents think coal is a four letter word.”

Will Oremus reportedon the political significance of wind power in Slate Magazine and how a new president could take all the wind out of wind power. Here’s a quote:

According to a new report from the Department of Energy, wind accounted for about a third of all new electricity capacity installed in the country in 2011. That’s not too far behind natural gas, which accounted for 49 percent of new capacity amid an ongoing boom in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Overall, it still amounts to just 3.3 percent of the nation’s electricity demand—coal and natural gas dominate, followed by nuclear. But it has now been the second-fastest-growing electricity source in six of the past seven years, thanks in part to a renewable electricity production tax credit originally signed into law by George H. W. Bush in 1992.

Coastal advocates can only hope that the stimulus package is not reversed by an incoming coal-promoting administration that doesn’t believe in or care about sea level rise.

*The original post left out a major player…nuclear power. Harley Winer, who frequently spots errors in my arithmetic, I asked me what the other sources are, which prompted this correction.

 

AUGUST FIFTEENTH

Doesn't this look fun? (photo from NPR).

Weather weirdness

Regular readers of LaCoastPost know by now that, as an experienced, broadly trained coastal scientist, albeit not a geophysicist, oceanographer or climatologist, it is my considered opinion that anthropogenic climate change is the biggest threat to human kind in general and Louisianans in particular.

Given my passion for writing about coastal Louisiana, the political irony of this conviction is obvious, given the almost total dismissal of global warming among all state elected officials with coastal authority, from the governor on down.

I assume that regular readers do not tire of learning more about this complex issue.

With that in mind, today’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross features an interview with Michael Lemonick, co-author of a new book, Global Weirdness: Severe Storms, Deadly Heat Waves, Relentless Drought, Rising Seas, and the Weather of the Future.

Lemonick was interviewed by Dave Davies, Terry’s stand in, and I’m posting this before the program podcast is online, based on the transcript. This interview is definitely worth hearing. Here are two quotes from the transcript:

The book, published by the nonprofit research organization Climate Central, details the effects of climate change and greenhouse gases in ocean acidity, existing ecosystems, disruptions to food supply and rising sea levels. Lemonick says sea level has risen by about eight inches overall worldwide since around 1900, and the waters are expected to rise an estimated three feet by 2100.*

“Sometimes we forget that the damage in New Orleans in 2005 from Hurricane Katrina came not from wind or rain, but from the storm surge [that caused flooding] ahead of that storm,” Lemonick says. If sea levels rise as expected, “all of those storm surges are going to be starting from a level three feet higher, which means that they have much greater potential to drive inland, to wash over barrier islands, and to really inundate the coast. … Many, many millions of people and trillions of dollars of infrastructure are in serious danger, if those projections are correct.”

*Some projections are even higher.

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  19. Uh, Len, about the August 26th post: “He’s held this post exactly as long as Barack Obama has been president.” Jindal has been governor one year longer than Obama has been president. He’s now serving his 5th year in office, though it seems like an eternity.

  20. stormineaux says:

    Transcripts of CPRA meetings. From its inception, officials of the Louisiana coastal restoration program have been dismissive and cavalier about complying with the Louisiana Open Meetings Law (OML). The OML, among other things, sets the rules for the conduct of public meetings and hearings. In the past, CPRA meeting agendas have sometimes not been posted at meeting sites 24 hours in advance of meeting dates as required; frequently, agendas have not even been made available until minutes before meetings began; meeting locations have been changed on a last minute basis; and meetings have been scheduled on such short notice that the 24 hour advance notice requirement could not be met. Anyway, as stated in the OML, transcripts are public records. See excerpt from OML below:
    §7.1. Written minutes
    A. All public bodies shall keep written minutes of all of their open meetings. The minutes to be kept by the legislature and legislative committees and subcommittees shall be governed by the provisions of R.S. 42:7.2. The minutes of all other public bodies shall include but need not be limited to:
    (1) The date, time, and place of the meeting.
    (2) The members of the public body recorded as either present or absent.
    (3) The substance of all matters decided, and, at the request of any member, a record, by individual member, of any votes taken.
    (4) Any other information that the public body requests be included or reflected in the minutes.
    B. The minutes shall be public records and shall be available within a reasonable time after the meeting, except where such disclosures would be inconsistent with R.S. 42:6, R.S. 42:6.1, and R.S. 42:6.2, or rules adopted under the provisions of R.S. 42:7.2.

    Also see:
    http://biotech.law.lsu.edu/cases/la/adlaw/la-openmeetings.htm

    Perhaps the CPRA is somehow exempt from OML, but assuming that it is not, if CPRA is not conducting its business in conformance with the OML, is it possible that some of its actions are technically legally invalid?

    Lawyers, what do you say?

  21. Sultan Alam says:

    Len
    I am back in LA for a few days to participate with BCG, LSU and OCPR in the design of the expanded version of the Small Scale Physical model which seems to be progressing and will be a big step forward in the hydraulic modeling efforts of Large Scale sediment Diversion Projects from the Mississippi River to the Delta. I am really happy that slowly but surely things are progressing in the right direction.
    Sultan

  22. The current state plan calls for $50 billion to be spent over 50 years. However if climate challenges become much worse, as discussed above, and energy costs grow, then $50 billion today will buy much more than $50 billion spread over 50 years. A careful analysis of this issue is sorely lacking.

  23. Kelly Haggar says:

    More applicable to FL or TX than to very much of LA. We have some sandy beaches in Cameron Parish and west of the Causeway on the Northshore.

    From the blog post received just now; URL follows:

    “Nationwide, more than one-third of the U.S. population currently lives in the coastal zone; and 14 of the 20 largest U.S. urban centers are located along the coast. Replanting and nourishing natural ecosystems such as salt marshes can have value for coastal hazard mitigation and climate change adaptation. Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan includes many land use changes, including structural protection, bank stabilization, oyster barrier reef, ridge restoration, shoreline protection, marsh creation, barrier island restoration, sediment diversion, and hydrologic restoration. These ecosystem based approaches harness nature to buffer human communities against climate change. Benefits include resilience to coastal storms and storms surges, improved water quality and ecology, and greenhouse gas reduction through carbon sinks.”

    http://www.ccap.org/blog/coastal-restoration-courtesy-of-new-zealand-and-new-jersey/

  24. President Obama and the Dems need not be reticent about “green jobs” – they are one of the fastest growing parts of the economy. A recent Brookings Institution report pointed out that

    “The ‘clean economy’, which employs some 2.7 million workers, encompasses a significant number of jobs in establishments spread across a diverse group of industries. Though modest in size, the clean economy employs more workers than the fossil fuel industry and bulks larger than bioscience…

    “The clean economy grew more slowly in aggregate than the national economy between 2003 and 2010, but newer “cleantech” segments produced explosive job gains and the clean economy outperformed the nation during the recession. Overall, today’s clean economy establishments added half a million jobs between 2003 and 2010, expanding at an annual rate of 3.4 percent.

    http://www.brookings.edu/research/reports/2011/07/13-clean-economy

  25. The low river water is causing the Corps to scuttle the long distance pipeline marsh creation in favor of a sill. The drought is striking us down on the coast. Climate change is causing a water emergency in Plaquemines parish as i type.

    s

  26. Kelly Haggar says:

    How Florida plans to plan for its RESTORE $$$:

    http://www.nwfdailynews.com/articles/act-51751-restore-.html

  27. “‘Sometimes we forget that the damage in New Orleans in 2005 from Hurricane Katrina came not from wind or rain, but from the storm surge [that caused flooding] ahead of that storm,’ Lemonick says.”

    Um, no. The damage in New Orleans came from faulty design and construction of levees and floodwalls by the Corps of Engineers. The outfall canal floodwalls – whose failures were responsible for most of New Orleans’ flooding – failed feet below their tops. That’s what truly gets forgotten.

    If you’re using Katrina as an example of how powerful storm surge can be, then you need to speak only of the damage wrought on the Mississippi coast. The damage and deaths in New Orleans were completely manmade and avoidable, but in a different way than climate change.

    • Matt-
      I agree with your comment and I’ve posted numerous times on the culpability of the Corps in terms of the Katrina tragedy. The Lemonick quote was used to emphasize the increasing vulnerability of SE Louisiana to ‘Katrina !!’ no matter what the corps does or doesn’t do.
      Len

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