October 2012 Coastal Scuttlebutt
Scalise and Cassidy don’t deserve re-election
Today The Times-Picayune endorsed all three congressmen running for reelection in southeastern Louisiana. These are: Steve Scalise (R-Metairie), Cedic Richmond (D-New Orleans) and Bill Cassidy (R-Baton Rouge). In each case the endorsements referenced the respective congressman’s ‘leadership’ on coastal issues.
I agree with the editorial that Scalise worked to help pass the Restore Act to funnel 80% of the BP fine money to Louisiana. On the other hand, that support was truly a no-brainer, given that his constituents suffered so much from the Deepwater Horizon blowout.
I concur strongly with the endorsement of Cedric Richmond, who shows great promise as a statesman, but I strongly disagree with the endorsement…on coastal grounds no less…of Scalise and Cassidy, who both serve as members of the critical House Committee on Energy and Commerce (E&C), which deals with the following issues:
This committee has…operated continuously–with various name changes and jurisdictional changes–for more than 200 years. The Committee has developed what is arguably the broadest (non-tax-oriented) jurisdiction of any Congressional committee. Today, it maintains principal responsibility for legislative oversight relating to telecommunications, consumer protection, food and drug safety, public health, air quality and environmental health, the supply and delivery of energy, and interstate and foreign commerce in general. This jurisdiction extends over five Cabinet-level departments and seven independent agencies–from the Department of Energy, Health and Human Services, the Transportation Department to the Federal Trade Commission, Food and Drug Administration, and Federal Communications Commission–and sundry quasi-governmental organizations.
Scalise and Cassidy each show an implacably partisan unwillingness to even acknowledge climate change and Louisiana’s vulnerability to it. Scalise even went so far as to say he thinks global warming is a charade. He and Cassidy both rail against EPA and stonewall the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and those of the Bayou State.
River levees and Nungesser gastric bypass
Benjamin Alexander-Bloch reported today in The Times-Picayune that Billy Nungesser, sand berm salesman and media star creation of Anderson Cooper, had gastric bypass surgery on October 1. Mr. Nungesser, who has been gaining weight, was advised by none other than TV network weatherman Al Roker to undergo a surgical procedure to reduce his net food intake.
Few politicians in coastal Louisiana are sufficiently savvy in the ways of public relations as to be known by their first name alone. Nungesser is one of them, being known both by supporters and detractors by the sobriquet “Billy,” which renders his well known Republican family name Nungesser somewhat redundant.
The pugnacious and portly president of Plaquemines Parish shares the appearance and personality of another rotund politico, Gov. Chris Cristie of New Jersey.
Plaquemines Parish is a peninsula overlaying the mouth of the largest river in North America. Whoever presides over this ever-changing strip of land that was long ruled by the iron fist of Leander Perez, will ultimately determine the specific appearance of future satellite images and maps of
While writing this I flashed on another Louisiana politico (this time a Democrat) who was also widely identifiable as Billy and who also had coastal influence. Former attorney general Billy Guste also changed the map of the coast as a party to multiple coastal development schemes during the pre-restoration mentality of the eighties. The family of General Billy built poorly thought out waterfront subdivisions in coastal forest habitat around the northeastern rim of Lake Pontchartrain, including Eden Isles, Port Louis and Madisonville-on-the-Lake.
My mind sees a parallel between a gastric bypass operation and the flood levee system that prevents the nourishment of America’s Delta. I see large scale river diversion projects as the converse of gastric bypass. One slows the passage of delta ‘food’ and increases the retention of nutrients, expanding the girth of the system. The other accelerates the rate at which food (sediment) passes through a nourishment system, starving the system and preventing its expansion.
Billy has vehemently opposed diversion projects designed for the long term health of the delta, to which he holds the key.
West Bay project extended for a decade
Mark Schleifstein reported today in The Times-Picayune that the Corps of Engineers has reversed a 2008 decision to de-authorize and shut down the first river sediment diversion project designed to build land, rather than to offset increasing salinity from a rising gulf. I remember the debate over approving the West Bay project, back in 1991 or so while I was Governor Edwards’ coastal advisor.
The project concept was to dredge a deep hole in the west bank of the river, so as to allow the river to escape its main channel during high Spring stages, carrying with it enough suspended sediment to begin creating a subdelta platform in an area with extremely high subsidence rate. West Bay was the first large scale project approved under the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA) a program that has generally been limited to building small scale ‘band aid’ projects.
The well-intentioned project wasn’t actually ‘constructed’ until 2002 and it was unfortunately sited so far down the river as to make it far less effective than would have been a similar scale project located further upstream, where gravity would push much more sediment into the marshes surrounding the channel. Moving the project site further upstream would have been opposed by Plaquemines Parish oyster interests that traditionally oppose diversion projects. The CWPPRA program is notorious for its timidity and not having the stomach for political controversy.
I was never a big fan of the West Bay project because of its suboptimal site. Nevertheless, it was far better than most CWPPRA projects. It was cussed and discussed, approved, constructed…and subsequently blamed for increased shoaling of an anchorage area vital to the navigation industry. The corps finally decided to shut it down because the state would not pay for increased dredging.
Nevertheless, during the last few years, the rate of land building, accelerated by the great river flood of 2011, has been sufficiently impressive to convince the powers-that-be to reverse the decision to pull the plug on West Bay. Shutting down this project would seriously discredit and jeopardize coastal restoration in general and the CWPPRA program in particular.
Potato levees are not the answer
By now it should be common knowledge that there will never be enough federal or state money during the next 20 years to construct earthen levees between all southeast Louisiana homeowners and the Gulf…even if such a strategy made sense…which it doesn’t.
Two solutions to this dilemma involve (1) buying out at-risk homes and businesses; or (2) constructing local ring levees around communities to provide limited risk reduction at a reasonable cost…and without the ecological costs incurred by enclosing (and destroying) coastal wetlands with levees.
A highly knowledgeable coastal whistleblower and friend forwarded this link to an article by Susan Buchanan in HuffPost Green on October 9. The article describes the chronic discontent among south Louisiana residents living outside of existing levee protection, particularly the area around Lafitte. The article uses the term potato levees, which presumably refers to levees temporarily fortified by the addition of sand bags.
My friend offered a little interesting history on the Lafitte issue, which presumably occurred before the election of current Lafitte Mayor Tim Kerner:
I worked for a planning firm in 1975 and was assigned to make some maps of the Lafitte area. I was surprised when the “potato levees” became a source of controversy at a public meeting. It seems that they were constructed without permits. There was also litigation in the 1970s concerning a highway and a waterline to Lafitte, and as I understand it, the court restricted growth in the area by limited highway access. It was my sense that the town of Lafitte was in trouble with CMD and the Corps on a frequent basis as a result of its unpermitted actions.
Mississippi River Delta restoration meeting
Yesterday Amy Wold reported in The Advocate on the coastal meeting at LSU that I complained about not having been invited to (scroll down to coastal rant). As it turns out I was able to attend the meeting briefly before lunch. I’ve been involved in medical issues most of today in New Orleans, so I’ll comment briefly tomorrow on a few of my thoughts about the significance of the meeting.
I complained yesterday about being treated like Rodney Dangerfield (scroll down). I’ve not been invited to recent coastal meetings…including the SEST meeting today and tomorrow at LSU on restoring the Mississippi River Delta…or in my parlance, America’s Delta.
I was assured by a number of folks that my presence at the meeting will be more than welcome. Apparently my invitation had in fact been ‘lost in the email.’ Many colleagues are still trying to use a long-obsolete email address.
I plan to attend the morning sessions today and tomorrow. See some you there.
I spent the weekend pissed. Here’s why. On Saturday I opened an email sent by a close associate on Friday notifying me of a major coastal conference scheduled atypically for a time and place that I could attend…but a day past the registration deadline. Flashback to my feeling upon learning that I was not invited to the recent reception at The Water Institute of the Gulf.
I’m not sufficiently egotistical to believe that I’m purposely excluded from notification lists of virtually EVERY coastal organization/office that schedules meetings without letting me know. I rather think that folks are still using my long-obsolete gmail address: (email@example.com).
Mark Schleifstein told me several years ago that as a member of the media and no longer a state official I don’t have to feel bound by registration deadlines or fees. Thus I plan to show up tomorrow.Perhaps I’ll even see a few friends and readers there.
Here’s the meeting agenda:
Answering Fundamental Questions about Mississippi River Delta Restoration
Dalton J. Woods Auditorium (Rotunda) Energy, Coast and Environment Building Nicholson Drive Extension Louisiana State University Baton Rouge, LA 70803
Tuesday, October 9
8:30 am to 9:00 am: Registration
9:00 am to 9:10 am: Introduction to the Science and Engineering Special Team (John Day, G. Paul Kemp, Angelina Freeman)
9:10 am to 9:20 am: Introduction to the Ten Questions About the Mississippi Delta (Mary Kelly)
9:20 am to 9:35 am: Mississippi Delta Overview (Angelina Freeman, Harry Roberts, Liviu Giosan)
9:35 am to 10:00 am: The Last Naturally Active Delta Complexes of the Mississippi River: Discovery and Implications (Richard Condrey, Paul E. Hoffman, D. Elaine Evers)
10:00 am to 10:25 am: History of Human Intervention for Navigation and Flood Control on the Mississippi River and Delta (David Rogers, G. Paul Kemp, William Nuttle, Jaye Cable)
10:25 am to 10:40 pm: Mid-Morning Break
10:40 am to 11:10 am: Sediment Availability and Delta Restoration (Clinton S. Willson, Angelina Freeman, Samuel Bentley)
11:10 am to 11:40 am: Optimal Design of Sediment Diversions for Delta Restoration (Samuel Bentley, Angelina Freeman, Clinton S. Willson, Liviu Giosan, Jaye Cable)
11:40 am to 12:10 pm: Implications of Nutrient Enrichment on Deltaic Wetlands (James Morris, Andy Nyman, Gary Shaffer)
12:10 pm to 1:30 pm: Break for Lunch
1:30 pm to 2:00 pm: Does Restoration Pose a Risk to Fisheries? Conversely, what will be the Fate of Gulf Fisheries without Restoration? (James H. Cowan, Linda Deegan)
2:00 pm to 2:30 pm: Delta Restoration to Sustain Navigation and Flood Control on the Lower Mississippi (G. Paul Kemp, David Rogers, Clinton S. Willson)
2:30 pm to 3:00 pm: Complexities of Resilience: Adaptation and Change within Human Communities of Coastal Louisiana (Conner Bailey, Shirley Laska, Robert Gramling)
3:00 pm to 3:15 pm: Mid-afternoon Break
3:15 pm to 3:45 pm: Economic Costs if There is no Restoration (Fred Sklar, Sarah Mack, William Nuttle, Angelina Freeman, David Batker, Mary Kelly, Robert Costanza)
3:45 pm to 4:15 pm
Economic and Ecological Importance of the Mississippi Delta to the Nation
David Batker, Fred Sklar, Sarah Mack, William Nuttle, Angelina Freeman, Mary Kelly, Robert Costanza
4:15 pm to 4:45 pm: The Implications of Climate Change and Energy Scarcity on Mississippi Delta Restoration John Day, Matt Moerschbaecher
4:45 pm to 5:30 pm: Reception
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
8:00 am to 8:30 am: Registration
8:30 am to 9:00 am: The Once and Future Delta (David Muth)
9:00 am to 9:30 am: Conclusions: Unsustainability of Current Trends and Urgency of Major Restoration Actions (John Day, G. Paul Kemp, Angelina Freeman)
9:30 am to 9:45 am: The 1927 Crevasse at Caernarvon: Implications for Restoration (Jaye Cable)
9:45 am to 10:00 am: Non Sustainability of the Maurepas Swamp Gary Shaffer
10:00 am to 10:15 am: The Next Step: The Chenier Plain Andy Nyman
10:15 am to 10:30 am: Mid-Morning Break
10:30 am to 10:45 am: Carbon Markets and Coastal Restoration Sarah Mack
10:45am to 11:00 am:Lessons from Everglades Restoration (Fred Sklar)
11:00 am to 12:30 pm: Panel Discussion: Policy Implications
Science, politics and ignorance
Here’s a great essay posted by Konstantin Kakaes in Slate.com that describes the way politicos misapprehend the way that science works and the bizarre implications of technological illiterates attempting to direct science for specific…usually quite narrow…goals. Richard Nixon’s ‘War on cancer’ that has stumbled on for generations longer than the shooting war in Afghanistan is a perfect case in point.
For a chilling example of the entrenched influence of science illiterates (some of whom are MDs, like Georgia’s Congressman Paul Broun and our own Bill Cassidy) read this report by Daniel Politi in Slate.com on Broun’s views on evolution, The Big Bang theory, etc.
Broun, who calls himself a scientist, serves on the House Science Committee, along with Missouri Congressman Todd Akin, who infamously thinks that female victims of rape don’t get pregnant. Here’s a quote from Dr. Broun:
You see, there are a lot of scientific data that I’ve found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young Earth. I don’t believe that the earth’s but about 9,000 years old. I believe it was created in six days as we know them. That’s what the Bible says.
And what I’ve come to learn is that it’s the manufacturer’s handbook, is what I call it. It teaches us how to run our lives individually, how to run our families, how to run our churches. But it teaches us how to run all of public policy and everything in society. And that’s the reason as your congressman I hold the Holy Bible as being the major directions to me of how I vote in Washington, D.C., and I’ll continue to do that.
Finally, even worse than the views of elected officials who can at least be voted out, check out this report by Mark Sherman in HuffingtonPost.com on comments from Supreme Justice Anthonin Scalia, who believes that the 18th century moral (and technological) understanding of the drafters of the constitution was equally relevant to set public policy now as it was then.
“I don’t believe in putting our coal under the ground forever.” Mitt Romney
As reported today in Politico.com, Darren Samuelson described Mitt Romney as having doubled down on his recent public criticism of the EPA with respect to new air quality regulations on coal and agriculture.
The GOP presidential nominee is telling voters in Colorado, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia that Obama’s EPA is to blame for wiping out the coal industry. Romney and his surrogates are warning Iowans of EPA plans to regulate for farm dust and railing against the agency for flying airplanes over livestock operations to spy for dirty water.
…Energy experts say the coal industry’s problems are a byproduct of all-time lows in natural gas prices rather than new air pollution requirements that have been subject to legal battles for more than a decade.
…But the Romney campaign is betting that public perception won’t factor into complicated realities of energy and environmental policy.
…“I don’t believe in putting our coal under the ground forever,” Romney said Friday at a rally in southwestern Virginia, the swing state’s main coal-producing region.
Am I missing something here; has Obama ever proposed burying coal to keep it out of Mr. Peabody’s coal trains? Check out this priceless ‘clean coal ad’ produced in 2009 by the Coen Brothers and posted here in HuffingtonPost Green.
Coastal passenger rail transit idea won’t die
Timothy Boone reported yesterday The Advocate that support for passenger rail service between Baton Rouge and New Orleans remains strong.
Global fishery management
Most demographers dismiss the work of Thomas Malthus, who noted in 1798 that human food production never catches up with human population growth, which has been increasing exponentially since the industrial revolution. I remain convinced that poor ol’ Tom was indeed correct…just a few centuries ahead of his time.
In my LSU correspondence course in environmental science I ask my students to consider the many reasons why the world’s fishery stocks continue to decline under intense pressure. Here’s an incomplete list that I put together, in no particular order:
Expanding global protein demand; climate change; river dams; loss of coastal wetlands and reefs; habitat destruction by trawls, etc.; eutrophication; invasive species; technology; relatively cheap fuel; by-catch; government subsidies; pollution;…and the ‘commons’ phenomenon of unregulated fishery zones.
In terms of the latter, The Washington Post published an editorial today calling attention to overfishing on a global scale and suggesting a possible partial solution. Here are some key quotes:
The best way to do that is to give fishermen a direct stake in the long-term health of a stock. U.S. fishery managers, for example, have increasingly introduced “catch share” systems in which regulators divvy up fishing rights among local captains.
Catch share-style programs might not be ideal solutions for every fishery, particularly in places where the government is weak. But even in places where institutions remain feeble, there is room for productive experimentation. Governments could consider devolving control over who can fish and how much to particular regions, towns or villages, institute cooperative fishery management or find other, inexpensive ways to offer those harvesting fish some sense of ownership over common, precious and currently overtaxed resources.
Dinosaur coal-fired power plant upgrade in coastal Louisiana doesn’t raise an eyebrow.
Richard Burgess reported in The Advocate that the Lafayette Parish Council unanimously approved borrowing $88 million to upgrade a coal-fired power pant to meet new federal air quality regulations, despite opposition from environmental interests. I was particularly surprised that the ongoing related processes of climate change, global warming and sea level rise were not even mentioned in the article.
Here are some quotes from the article that reveal the provincial thinking of the leaders of a major coastal municipality…an urban center whose economic well-being is inextricably tied to energy issues:
Lafayette Utilities System Director Terry Huval said the city-owned utility service is open to studying alternative energy sources in the future but that any major shift away from coal would be expensive and unworkable in the short term.
“If the community wants to pursue that, we are very interested in pursuing that, but those are all high-cost alternatives,” Huval said.
Some residents suggested relying more on natural gas, generally considered a more environmentally friendly fuel for electric plants.
Huval said natural gas prices, though low at this time, have in the past been unstable and can rise or fall unexpectedly.
“The cost of delivered coal tends to remain very stable over the long run,” Huval said. “… Even at today’s lower natural gas prices, it is still cheaper to generate power with our coal plant.”
Note the irony of Mr. Huval using the phrase, ‘in the long run.’ That’s rich.
This agreement will lock Lafayette taxpayers into a 19 year package, during which time the coast will continue to degrade and formerly hurricane safe Lafayette will become increasingly vulnerable to hurricane storm surge. This dinosaur mind set is perfectly framed by the results of a new national state-by-state comparison of energy efficiency. This study by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy is summarized in the graphic.
It’s hardly surprising that Louisiana would proudly share the energy caboose with Alaska, Kansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, West Virginia and Wyoming.
MRGO plan AOK IMHO
Mark Schleifstein reported in today’s The Times-Picayune and Amy Wold reported in The Advocate that the Corps of Engineers signed off yesterday on a $2.9 billion long-debated plan to repair some of the damage caused by constructing The ill-conceived Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MR-GO). The problem is that the State of Louisiana would have to cough up 35% of the bill, or about $1 billion to complete the three-tier plan.
Another problem is that estimated benefits of the project would be neutralized if relative sea level increases at the highest rate considered in the study (that’s a combination of absolute sea level roise and landscape subsidence.
Schleifstein’s article concludes with the following sentence:
A copy of Bostick’s report, the feasibility report, and an accompanying environmental impact statement are available on the web at www.mrgo.gov/.
I’m not sure who ‘Bostick’ is but presumably he works with Greg Miller, who’s been the principal Corps of Engineers at the district office. Greg has been the hands-on coordinator of the study and plan development.
In general I have a positive view of the MR-GO restoration plan, with several reservations, including the overly modest size (volume) of the Violet diversion component. My sense is that this plan was developed in good faith, with markedly less provincialism, anti-science bias and political pressure that has always plagued the release of specific recommendations to change the map of south Louisiana.
IMHO, restoring the Pontchartrain Basin will be contingent on implementing a plan like this one. Success would also require the addition of a large scale pulsed diversion project to nourish the east bank in lower Plaquemines Parish and the development of a deep draft slackwater navigation channel to replace the SW Pass infrastructure.
Warmer oceans mean smaller fish
For many, many years I’ve taught a survey correspondence course in Environmental Science (ENVS 1000) at LSU. One of the essay questions in the lesson on worldwide fisheries involves the historic decline in the size of fish harvested, as global protein demand and fishing pressure increases with the boom in human population.
This trend is explained by artificial selection – harvesting the larger specimens of a species like cod, allowing smaller animals live for another day. I suggest that my students look up the definitions of two zoological terms, ‘neoteny’ and ‘precocial.’ These terms describe the phenomena of the evolution of independence and sexual maturation of immature and juvenile stages of some animal species.
ne·ot·e·ny [nee-ot-n-ee] noun Biology .
1. Also called pedogenesis. the production of offspring by an organism in its larval or juvenile form; the elimination of the adult phase of the life cycle.
2. a slowing of the rate of development with the consequent retention in adulthood of a feature or features that appeared in an earlier phase in the life cycle of ancestral individuals: Neoteny in the ostrich has resulted in adult birds sporting the down feathers of nestlings.
pre·co·cial adjective Biology .
(of an animal species) active and able to move freely from birth or hatching and requiring little parental care ( opposed to altricial).
HuffPost Green carries a post from Reuters on September 30 by Alister Doyle that predicts smaller body size of fishery species from 14 to 24% through 2050. This decline is predicted to result from warming seawater in the autotrophic (surface) zone, which will reduce the concentration of dissolved oxygen, resulting in declining habitat quality in the lower layers that serve as fishery habitat. Here’s a quote:
The reductions in body size will affect whole ecosystems,” lead author William Cheung of the University of British Columbia in Canada, told Reuters of the findings in the journal Nature Climate Change.
His team of scientists said a trend towards smaller sizes was “expected to have large implications” for ocean food webs and for human “fisheries and global protein supply.
“The consequences of failing to curtail greenhouse gas emissions on marine ecosystems are likely to be larger than previously indicated,” the U.S. and Canada-based scientists wrote.
Two Louisiana women receive coastal recognition: Vickie Arroyo and Nancy Rabalais
Two separate indicators of cultural and academic achievement and prestige have evolved during the last few decades. One is to be invited to give a TED Talk. and one is to be named a MacArthur Fellow. It could be argued that since the rise of the internet a Wikipedia page is a third index but the qualifications for the latter include infamy as well as fame.
I don’t claim to have any insight as to the nomination or selection process for a TED talk or a MacArthur genius grant but I’d like to call attention to two Louisiana women who have been honored for their coastal achievements in 2012, one with a TED talk invitation and one with a $500,000 MacArthur genius grant.
Vicki Arroyo gave an address at the annual TEDGlobal2012 conference in Geneva last June, in which she discussed the science and coastal implications of anthropogenic climate change.The following is a quote from the TED web site:
Vicki Arroyo knows a thing or two about climate change. A lawyer by training, she is the executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center, which works on policies to help government leaders (and the world) deal with climate change’s inevitable disruptions. But that’s not the only reason she’s familiar with climate change. As she tells us, she also grew up in New Orleans, devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, a disaster in which 1,836 people died, nearly 300,000 homes were lost, and in which her mother and sister were caught up. They were able to get away in time, but their homes — with everything in them — were destroyed.
Before moving to DC Vicki distinguished herself as an official with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality during the Roemer administration, where I first met her.
Over a year ago, on September 14, 2011 I posted on Nancy Rabalais, the executive director and professor of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium and the guru of gulf hypoxia. Dr. Rabalais has just been named a 2012 MacArthur fellow who will receive a $500,000 MacArthur genius grant.
She can spend her grant monies however she desires, presumably in the pursuit of her coastal science dealing with cultural eutrophication and oceanography…with no strings attached.
My hearty congratulations to both of these prestigious Louisiana women whom I’m proud to call colleagues and friends.