September 2012 Coastal Scuttlebutt
EPA and the state’s love-hate coastal relationship
As I write this the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force is meeting in Des Moines Iowa to discuss the perpetual unfunded effort to reduce gulf hypoxia.
When I was a member of the task force during the Foster and Blanco administrations I got to know and came to respect one of the more outspoken and proactive task force members, an Iowan named Patty Judge. Ms. Judge was a former Iowa Lt. Governor and Agriculture Commissioner, who had the requisite strong connections with corn farmers but who was fair, open minded and sympathetic to our cause.
Coincidentally, Charles Mahtesian reported today in politico.com that EPA is under fire by agricultural interests who want to harness regulations that would benefit Louisiana…but sure enough the regulations are being defended by Patty Judge.
Louisiana’s task force member is Garret Graves, who is, as usual, not in attendance at the meeting. Garret’s stand-in in Des Moines is Charles (Chuck) Killebrew, a long-term state employee, currently a loyal staffer of the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities. The fact that Dr. Killebrew is never quoted in the press is a reflection of the importance of the hypoxia issue to Governor Jindal.
EPA has become a favorite target of the anti-regulatory tide that is rising along with the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney. Here’s what is shown on Gov. Romney’s campaign website re environmental regulation:
As president, Mitt Romney will eliminate the regulations promulgated in pursuit of the Obama administration’s costly and ineffective anti-carbon agenda. Romney will also press Congress to reform our environmental laws to ensure that they allow for a proper assessment of their costs.
EPA’s administrator is Louisiana native Lisa Jackson, whose leadership in promoting the establishment of the Gulf Restoration Council was recently praised by Garret Graves, Governor Jindal’s coastal advisor. This creates a bizarre tension re the fierce Jindal opposition to Ms. Jackson’s leadership in regulating greenhouse gas emissions.
A brief note in today’s thehill.com describes the ongoing effort by the GOP-controlled House to remove language on scientific concerns about climate change from a greenhouse gas bill that would curb EPA’s authority to lower CO2 emissions from power plants. Here are some quotes:
The latest House bill aimed at thwarting climate change regulations drops previous language that acknowledged scientific concerns about global warming and evidence of rising temperatures and sea levels.
The House is slated to vote next week on several bills aimed at battling what Republicans call a White House “war” on coal — a package that includes previously passed legislation to block greenhouse gas rules from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
It would be great to see an acknowledgement y Garret Graves of the coastal tension between support for EPA’s role in coastal restoration and opposition to EPA’s role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. I’m not holding my CO2-laden breath.
Did bolstered New Orleans levees push flood waters into adjacent areas?
The passage of Hurricane Isaac was accompanied by flooding from record water levels in areas outside of the post-Katrina $15 billion newly refurbished levee/pump system for the New Orleans area. This prompted residents outside of the new system to blame it for displacing water into their backyards. The only way to test this hypothesis is by the use of numerical computer models, such as SLOSH and ADCIRC.
Bruce Alpert reported today in The Times-Picayune that the Corps of Engineers has agreed to an outside review of the effect of the enhanced New Orleans system on adjaccent, non-protected areas. The review was requested by Senator David Vitter, who specifically asked that the review be carried out by the Louisiana Water Resources Council, a five-member team established in 2010. This review agreement was also reported in today’s The Advocate.
Vitter also asked that the newly-created The Water Institute of the Gulf (TWIG) weigh in on this question. It will be very interesting to see the results of the reviews.
Deep cleaning Macondo beach ‘kitty litter boxes’ is ill conceived
Mark Schleifstein reported in The Times-Picayune today that BP has announced a proposal to remove oil residue from certain Louisiana barrier beaches, such as at Grand Isle and Fourchon, using mechanical devices to dig down as much as four feet to dislodge and rake up tar balls.
Coastal officials and environmental advocates have expressed strong concerns about this proposal. Here’s a quote:
“When you deep-clean, you wash out suspended sediment, reduce the compaction rate, and that results in a loss of sand from the beaches,” said Garret Graves, chairman of the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. “When they used the method on Grand Isle, they didn’t go down to 4 or 5 feet, which is what they’re requesting now.”
The BP proposal to clean the ‘Macondo kitty litter box’ appears to reflect a decision to (1) acknowledge the presence of significant residues of trapped hydrocarbons; and (2) to bow to pressure from state officials to be more aggressive in the long-term cleanup.
Officials from the governor’s office have complained for two years about the timidity and overly passive response of BP in terms of cleaning oil from both beaches and marshes. Now they are (justifiably) concerned about both physical and ecological damage caused by dislodging sediments that have become relatively stable. I can’t discern a bottom line that would satisfy state critics and I continue to believe that more harm than good will come from a mechanical cleanup.
President Obama creates Gulf Coast Restoration Council. Question: Would Mitt Romney keep it alive?
Today, on the 11th anniversary of 9/11, Bruce Alpert reported in The Times-Picayune and Jordan Blum reported in The Advocate that President Obama has created by executive order a Gulf Coast Restoration Council, headed by the EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
This council will oversee the recovery and restoration of the northern gulf coast from the Macondo Deepwater Horizon well blowout in April, 2010. The new council will replace the existing Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, an interim joint state-federal body established to stipulate how to spend RESTORE Act fines of from $5 to $20 billion expected to be levied under the Clean Water Act.
Neither article describes how the transition will occur and how state input will be accommodated into the future. Of greater interest to me, however, is the fact that neither reporter noted the elephant in the room, that the very existence and authority of the council through 2016 would seem to be extremely tenuous, given the imminent end of the President’s first term.
Continued strong federal support for the restoration of the northern gulf coast is anything but a given. At a minimum it would be contingent on either the reelection of President Obama or the conversion of Mitt Romney from a drill-baby-drill zealot to a supporter of the sustainable future of the gulf coast ecosystem.
Remember, this is the same guy who has derided President Obama’s concern about global sea level rise. Here’s a quote from a post by Joanna Zelman in HuffingtonPost Green:
Mitt Romney outraged environmental activists on Sunday, telling NBC’s David Gregory, “I’m not in this race to slow the rise of the oceans or to heal the planet,” during an interview on “Meet the Press.”
So far I’ve heard nary a word from Governor Jindal on how much he believes that his friend Governor Romney cares about America’s Delta or understands its tenuous existence.
The above text was corrected via email as follows by an colleague who shall remain nameless:
The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council is set up by the RESTORE Act, not by Obama, so it doesn’t actually matter who is President, the Council will still exist.
What the executive order actually does (attached) is add the EPA and USDA to the BP NRDA Trustee Council, which makes a lot of sense, harmonizing the Ecosystem Restoration Council and the NRDA council, as they will need to keep a close eye on each other’s efforts – one funded by BP to repair what BP’s oil destroyed, the other funded by BP to repair what was damaged in the Gulf pre-BP (in our view, politicos likely see it as a gravy train for pork barrel projects).
It also sunsets the Gulf Coast Restoration Task Force, headed jointly by the EPA and Garret.
2013 will likely be even hotter than 2012!
Slate Magazine published an article by Stefan Rahmstorf, originally published in The New Scientist that predicts the hottest ever year on record for the US in 2013…unless the world experiences a major volcano. Here are some key quotes:
It has been another “normal” global-warming summer in the Northern Hemisphere. The United States sweltered in the hottest July on record, following the hottest spring on record. More than 60 percent of the contiguous United States is suffering from drought, as are parts of eastern Europe and India. In the Arctic, sea ice cover is at a record low, and the Greenland ice sheet shows what the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center calls “extraordinary high melting.” Global land temperatures for May and June were the hottest since records began in the 19th century…
For the past 30 years, global temperature has shown a linear warming trend of 0.16 C per decade (Environmental Research Letters, vol 6, p 044022). When looking for the cause of this warming, a physicist will look for the heat source. One possibility is that the oceans are releasing heat. But measurements show the opposite: The oceans are soaking up heat. The other possibility is that the heat is coming from above, and indeed it is: More radiation is entering the top of the atmosphere than leaving it. This is because increasing amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere hamper the loss of heat into space…
Three known factors explain much of the natural variation. The first is volcanic eruptions—the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 was followed by three cold years, for example. Then there is the sun’s variability, mostly in the form of the 11-year sunspot cycle. Finally, there is the irregular oscillation between warm El Niño and cold La Niña conditions in the Pacific…
In the case of El Niño, the warmth comes from the ocean. During El Niño events, the global ocean releases heat, whereas during La Niña events, it recharges its heat store. That is confirmed by satellite measurements of the radiation balance: During recent La Niña events our planet did not lose heat to space. On the contrary, it absorbed more than normal. That is to be expected: When the ocean exposes colder waters at its surface, as during La Niña, these soak up extra heat.
So if global warming of the past decades was due to El Niño or another mechanism involving heat from the ocean, the ocean would have lost heat. But the heat content has gone up, not down. And it is well understood why: because we created a radiation imbalance by adding greenhouse gases to our atmosphere.
The signal of global warming caused by humans is very clear, despite attempts by certain parties to drown it out with a lot of noise.
The Koch Brothers are arguably the most vocal and effective climate change deniers on the planet and a direct threat to south Louisiana. For example, see This Koch’s Not For You.
Therefore I modestly suggest the ceremonial release on December 31 of three giant helium-filled balloons bearing the respective likenesses of Charles and David Koch and Philip Ellender, the Koch’s Louisiana shill. This ceremony would represent a plea to the gods of vulcanism to come forth with another Mount Pinatubo for each of the next three years.
A reality check on coastal funding
Yesterday I posted a link to a must-read essay by John Barry (scroll down). Today I’m posting a link to a must-read article In today’s The Advocate by Jordan Blum, which effectively summarizes the chronic funding shortfall that continues to preclude implementation of major coastal engineering measures in Louisiana. First a little background.
Hurricane Isaac ripped the scab off of Louisiana’s huge coastal sore that continues to bleed vital resources, including the natural storm protection of barrier shorelines. The fact that Isaac wreaked so much havoc despite its relatively modest energy level shocked officials and SE Louisiana residents, especially those who live outside of the New Orleans area ‘federal protection’ system.
This has renewed calls for dramatically expanded levee protection vs. ecosystem restoration and I expect this debate to heat up over time. This subject deserves serious discussion, especially in light of the stark reality of the growing cost of coastal protection and restoration.
Must-read John Barry essay
Since Hurricane Isaac headed northeast much has been written about the success of the roughly $15 billion of emergency federal funds, 2/3rds of which already spent, to bring the levee/pump system that reduces storm flood risk in SE Louisiana up to par and to expand its capability.
The fact that areas within the federally funded system escaped major flooding, while unprotected areas were severely damaged, is predictably being used by elected officials and their constituents to argue that virtually ALL of SE Louisiana should be surrounded with levees and surge barriers and dried out with pumping systems.
The rational case against this strategy is very strong, including the huge economic and environmental costs that would be incurred and the availability of alternative strategies that aren’t as sexy. For example, a friend of mine pointed out that if another $15 billion were to be divided equally among residents willing to walk away from their property with a check for $150,000, a total of 100,000 properties and perhaps five times that many individuals would no longer need protection from future storms.*
Another argument involves the fact that the newly refurbished system is still highly vulnerable…more so than most folks know. On August 30 The Daily Beast published an unvarnished and highly informed reality check of this vulnerability in the form of an essay by John M. Barry. Barry is a resident of New Orleans, a member of the South Louisiana Flood Protection Authority East (SLFPAE), an alternative member of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) and the author of several books, including Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America.
*My ‘coastal arithmetic editor’ Harley Winer pointed out that my original post, which read 1.5 million households, was slightly exaggerated. Sorry. That’s why I didn’t stay in engineering as an undergraduate major.
So long Jindal Berms
Dr. Asbury (Abby) Sallenger is an oceanographer with the USGS who’s an expert on the alarming retreat and dissolution of Louisiana’s barrier shoreline, For decades coastal advocates have dreamt of a program to nourish and bolster this retreating shoreline with hundreds of millions of cubic yards of sand (or tens of thousands of Mercedes Benz Superdome Equivalents) dredged and pumped in from offshore.
Funding for such an enterprise would be enormous, however, and time, erosion, subsidence, sea level rise and shoreline retreat continue to take their toll. No realistic funding source for bolstering barrier shorelines has ever materialized.
Then the Macondo well blowout in April 2010 seemed to change the equation. The gushing BP oil provided an excuse to force BP to pay for pumping sand willy-nilly on an emergency basis…supposedly to intercept the oil and save the delta. Thus was born the BP emergency sand berm concept.
The idea was flawed from the get-go and the scientific community was strongly opposed but it provided a political platform for Governor Jindal and Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser. These two men conspired with a coalition of dredging interests to use the media exposure of invading oil to pressure BP to agree to a $360 million emergency sand pumping stipend, a Maginot line of sand berms with virtually no input from barrier shoreline authorities, such as Abby Sallenger.
Long after the well had been capped the state was still engaged in squandering $260 million of BP money to pile up sand berms. What a waste.
One of the largest reservoirs of Louisiana barrier shoreline sand resources is entrained in the ancient Chandeleur Island Chain east of the river about 12 miles from the closest land. One of the primary justifications for restoring coastal sand is to help absorb the energy of hurricanes but the Chandeleurs are too remote from land to have much impact in this regard.
Among other mistakes most of the $260 million was spent to build berms east of the Chandeleurs. Today Mark Schleifstein reported in a feature article, without a touch of irony, in The Times-Picayune shows that most of this sand has been washed away by Hurricane Isaac, as shown by Abby Sallenger. What a surprise.
Entergy changes its CEO
Richard Thompson reported today in The Times-Picayune that J. Wayne Leonard, the longest reigning head of Entergy, Louisiana’s only remaining Fortune 500 company, will step down in January. Here’s a quote with the coastal significance highlighted:
From early on in his tenure, Leonard helped stablize the utility and spur growth in its main nuclear power plant and regulated power monopoly businesses. He also became a vocal supporter of climate change action, and pushed for usingcleaner-burning fuels like natural gas to power plants.
I’m a customer of Entergy, the only Fortune 500 company left in Louisiana since Shaw was sold. This utility company that keeps our home comfortable and well-lit has been on my mind a lot lately and not usually in a favorable sense. Nevertheless, the fact that Entergy has been headed since 1998 by a firm believer in climate change is much more important than whether or not the company was effective in responding to Hurricane Isaac.
A staff report in The Advocate also described Leonard’s departure, which includes the following quote:
Leonard’s recognitions include a 11 straight years as a finalist for CEO of the Year in the annual Platts Global Energy Awards competition and being ranked as one of the top CEOs in the power industry for seven consecutive years by Institutional Investor magazine. Leonard was named top CEO in 2004 and 2010 and a member of the magazine’s “2010 All-America Executive Team.”
I met Mr. Leonard during a 2010 America’s Wetland Foundation symposium on the world’s deltas that Entergy co-sponsored. I seem to remember that he was accompanied at that symposium in Baton Rouge by Leo Dennault, CFA, who will be taking Leonard’s place as CEO. I hope and assume that the two company leaders share the belief that climate change has dire consequences for the gulf coast and that Entergy will continue to be a voice of reason, re the need for a Cap and Trade policy on CO2 emissions..
Numerical storm surge modela…some of them are dead on
In today’s The Times-Picayune Mark Schleifstein reported on a number of hydrodynamic computer models that are currently being used by oceanographers to forecast water level elevations in SE Louisiana in a timely manner during the approach of tropical storms and hurricanes. These numerical models are constantly evolving and improving and each version has its own proponents, advantages and limitations. Digital output from the models is used to generate detailed maps, which now form the basis for lie-and-death decisions on whether or not to issue evacuation orders for specific areas evacuations.
Another primary use of these models is using them to test the effectiveness of various coastal restoration measures, including those listed in the Louisiana Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast.
Given the political sensitivity of decisions on evacuation and the fact that most state and parish officials lack a background in modeling I’m very curious how policy decisions are made, in terms of deciding which models to use and on what criteria evacuation decisions are to be made. Some officials are openly skeptical about trusting computer models to make decisions on which so much is at stake.
Schleifstein touches on serious communication problems in terms of model output: (1) sharing time series of surge prediction maps with a skeptical public; (2) justifying evacuation decisions as a storm approaches landfall; and (3) getting buy-in by a majority of the agency officials, most of whom have political power and some carry a deep-seated distrust of computer models.
He alludes to the partial solution of these problems in the following quotes:
Rick Luettich, a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researcher who is the co-creator of the ADCIRC model and is a member of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, said part of the problem for the public in understanding Isaac’s surge is how the storm stalled as it reached the coast, increasing the time its winds — even though fairly low — could push surge well inland.
Today, the National Hurricane Center is in the midst of a two-part effort to create a separate, easily understandable surge prediction: an easy-to-read map that might be unveiled in the next year or two, and a formal forecast message dedicated only to surge, which might be issued in partnership with the rest of the hurricane forecast, said Jamie Rhome, leader of the center’s storm surge unit.
Democratic platform acknowledges climate change…well that’s something!
Ben Gemen reported in E2-wire, energy and the environment blog of TheHill.com that the platform being unveiled at the Democratic National Party Convention in Charlotte includes a call for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The plank is slightly weaker than the 2008 platform but stands in direct conflict with the GOP platform.
Here are some quotes:
The Republicans platform called on Congress to thwart Environmental Protection Agency climate change regulations, alleging they will burden economy, and Mitt Romney supports stripping EPA’s power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
It (the Democratic platform) supports an “all-of-the-above approach to developing America’s many energy resources, including wind, solar, biofuels, geothermal, hydropower, nuclear, oil, clean coal, and natural gas.”??The 2008 version lacked this language, and indeed made multiple pledges to free the nation “tyranny” of oil – a line that’s not repeated in the 2012 version.??The 2012 version also backs “expediting the approval process to build out critical oil and gas lines essential to transporting our energy for consumers.”??The new platform, however, also devotes space to numerous lines of support for “clean” energy programs, backs the toughened auto mileage rules the administration has issued, and reiterates Democratic calls to nix tax breaks for oil companies.
Power’s back on!
Along about 7:00 PM yesterday yours truly Len Bahr and Guille Novelo got electrified once more. This morning we moved home, after chilling for three days at the comfortable Garden District home of the very special friend of my daughter Emilie. I want to thank him for his generosity without mentioning his name, lest I jeopardize his professional career that has coastal connections.
Just as I wanted to kiss all the emergency medical folks at Baton Rouge General Hospital after they relieved my agonizing pain from a swollen bladder on May 13 I now want to kiss all the utility workers who managed to end our power outage. I was only kidding about my power outrage, folks.
New Orleans flood gauges; an idea that won’t die
On January 16, 2009 I posted the following notice by John M. Barry about the need for water level markers to be installed around the portions of New Orleans flooded during Hurricane Katrina.
Yesterday at the board meeting of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, John Barry successfully moved for passage of a resolution that the board sponsor a proposal by an ad hoc committee of interested citizens to seek a grant from the Greater New Orleans Foundation to design and install a system of flood markers to record peak flood levels on August 29-30, 2005. The resolution read as follows:
Whereas: Three years after Hurricane Katrina the public memory of the magnitude of flooding throughout New Orleans on August 29-30, 2005 is rapidly fading; and
Whereas: no official markers have been installed in New Orleans to demonstrate the severity of flooding that occurred; and
Whereas: the role of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority East (SLFPAE) is to protect the public from flood hazards; and
Whereas, outstanding flood protection requires the knowledge and involvement of individual citizens; and
Whereas the proposed project to mark flood heights involves placing accurate markers in the form of bands on telephone polls and the like which will inform citizens of flood heights in their neighborhoods; and
Whereas the proposed project involves no cost either in direct or indirect expenditure to the Orleans Levee District or the SLFPAE,
therefore be it resolved that:
The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority East agrees to act as sponsor for a proposed project to design and install a system of flood markers throughout New Orleans to accurately document and commemorate historic peak flood levels during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and to work with an ad hoc committee of technical authorities(1) to apply for and administer a grant application to the Greater New Orleans Foundation (GNOF) in the amount of $50,000 to accomplish the goals of this worthwhile project.
Today’s Baton Rouge Advocate includes an article by Allen M. Johnson, Jr., which describes the unexpectedly spirited discussion following the motion to support the resolution. It finally passed 6-1.
The committee seeking the grant includes: John Barry, Richard Campanella, Mark Davis, John Kelly, Ron Rodi, Jakob Rosenzweig, David Waggonner and yours truly.
An AP report in today’s The Times-Picayune notes the absence of flood gauges following Hurricane Isaac. Here’s a quote: Reliable information is critical in making decisions during a disaster like a hurricane, but when it comes to flooding, the New Orleans metro area lacks working gauges to provide that data.
SEPTEMBER FIRST (and SECOND)
Marathon men Paul Ryan and Len Bahr
Paul Ryan completed a marathon 22 years ago, when he would have been 20. Apparently he bragged last week that he ran this race in under three hours. Now, as shown in this post by Alana Horowitz in HuffingtonPost, he’s fessed up to Runner’s World magazine that his actual marathon time was over four hours. This is a very big deal for us serious runners, which strikes very close to home for moi. For example, 31 years ago I ran the 1983 Boston Marathon at the age of 43 with a time of 2:54.
He may believe that exaggerating his athletic prowess is a harmless little white lie, unrelated to his deeply felt positions on the most important political issues of our time. Various objective fact-checking services have caught Paul Ryan in several flagrant lies delivered during his speech in Tampa, with respect to his present and past positions on the role of government, taxes, budget deficits, etc.
I see a pattern here and I’m concerned that Ryan’s moral compass shows the influence of a political magnet manipulated by lobbyists and ego.
*The 1990 Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota. I wish I could find the records of the race but digital distance running results hadn’t been conceived of back in the day.