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November 2012 Coastal Scuttlebutt



On the one hand...and on the other.

Jindal calls out Geezers Only Party (GOP) for stupidity

Jonathan Martin reported in that on Monday November 12 Louisiana’s Governor Bobby Jindal accused his GOP party leadership of strategic stupidity. His words implied that had he been in charge of the campaign President Obama would have gone down to defeat.

Here are some quotes:

“It is no secret we had a number of Republicans damage our brand this year with offensive, bizarre comments — enough of that,” Jindal said… We’ve also had enough of this dumbed-down conservatism. We need to stop being simplistic,…we need to stop insulting the intelligence of the voters.”

 Calling on the GOP to be “the party of ideas, details and intelligent solutions,”* the Louisianan urged the party to “stop reducing everything to mindless slogans, tag lines, 30-second ads that all begin to sound the same. “

He added: “Simply being the anti-Obama party didn’t work. You can’t beat something with nothing. The reality is we have to be a party of solutions and not just bumper-sticker slogans but real detailed policy solutions.”

Jindal was later quoted as follows in a phone interview with HuffingtonPost, after a little reflection:

“Mitt Romney is an honorable man. He’s a good honest man. He deserves our respect, and our gratitude,”*

Attacking the officers in your clubhouse is pretty cheeky but Jindal knows that he doesn’t fit the baby boomer lily-white image of what has become the Geezers Only Party. I’ve never been as impressed with Jindal’s intelligence as are most of the pundits who seem mesmerized by his memorized sound bites.

I’d have been much more impressed with Bobby’s reform rhetoric had he proposed specific recommendations for a new GOP image that reflected respect for economics and science, not the mindless mantra of unrestricted offshore drilling, tax cuts for fat cats like Tom Benson and Boysie Bollinger and global warming denial.

If the governor really believes that he’s got a shot at national office he should develop a pragmatic plan to deal honestly with the coastal consequences of sea level rise and the socio-economic consequences of childhood poverty and obesity, teen pregnancy, high school dropout rates, all time incarceration levels, approaching cuts in public health, crumbling infrastructure and the need for high speed rail service along the gulf coast.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing if Bobby J. were to cite his fellow GOP governor Chris Christie’s response to Stormageddon Sandy as a model for his party’s appropriate view of environmental disasters at the state level?

*Like intelligent design?


Louisiana should secede from the U.S., say 26K petition signatories, of which over half don’t even live here.

Graphic from 'The Simpsons'

According to an article in HuffPost, the re-election of Barack Obama has prompted self-appointed spokespersons for 31 states to petition the White House to allow them to peacefully secede from the federal government.

States for whom someone (not necessarily a resident) has filed secession petitions include: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.

First I’m amazed that this list doesn’t include Idaho, the state notorious for folks who want to be left to their own (sometimes crazy) devices. Note that this list includes about half and half coastal (14), to non-coastal (17), states.

The petition from Louisiana was created by Michael E. from Slidell (unfortunately, no last names are included). Here’s the title of his petition:


Peacefully grant the State of Louisiana to withdraw from the United States of America and create its own NEW government.

After scanning the first 100 names on the Louisiana petition (that included the state of residence) I discovered that just over half (52) of those who want to see Louisiana out of the union are not residents!  I’m intrigued that these folks apparently don’t appreciate the importance of the Bayou State to their lifestyle, for example as a source of refined gasoline. Should we take this personally, or perhaps blame it on the governor?

Coastal planning is a serious exercise…or should be

On a more sober note, an article in HuffPost by the following writers John Rudolf, Ben Hallman, Chris Kirkham,* Saki Knafo and Matt Sledge blames a huge part of the damage caused by Stormagedon Sandy was preventable, in that it’s the indirect result of coastal sprawl and permitted beachfront development, for example. A friend who knows the Coastal Management Program very well emailed the following message:

The national coastal zone management program has not been doing its job. The people at NOAA in Silver Spring, MD, have long criticized Louisiana’s coastal policies, but they’ve been blind to what’s happened nearby.

My comment: What say you, my friend Margaret Davidson?

*Formerly from The Times-Picayune.

NOVEMBER TWELFTH (this was originally listed as 11/13; oops).

Wanna bet whether Mayor Bloomberg has flood level markers installed in lower Manhattan?

Flood level markers in NY and NJ?

A November 11 AP article in describes the painful connection between Katrina flood victims in New Orleans and the many unfortunate new recruits in New York and New Jersey to a growing coastal storm flood fraternity. The following paragraph caught my eye:

In New Orleans, the recovery is far from over more than seven years later. Many homes still bear the water lines and spray-painted marks left by rescuers searching for survivors.

As indicated in this May 13, 2011 post, in 2006 I led an unsuccessful campaign to convince the powers that be in the Nagin Administration to support the installation of Katrina flood markers throughout the 80% of the city that went underwater. Opposition from local real estate development interests presumably held sway.

I wonder whether NY and NJ Governors Mario Cuomo and Chris Christie would support the installation of prominent flood elevation markers to remind their constituents in the most densely populated part of the country of their increasing vulnerability to sea level rise and hurricane flooding. Federal funding to make coastal storm flood victims whole should carry a requirement for flood markers and local politics should not be allowed to thwart this critical public service.


Keystone Pipeline project big test of Obama’s climate change policy

Killing Keystone

“So long as oil is used as a source of energy, when the energy cost of recovering a barrel of oil becomes greater than the energy content of the oil, production will cease no matter what the monetary price may be.”

M. King Hubbert (as Referenced by Ivanhoe, 1982).

After the Republican primaries the hapless nominee Mitt Romney repeatedly promoted the concept, not of American energy independence, but of North American energy independence. He was of course assuming that the massive volume of carbon bound up tightly in Canadian tar sands, could substitute for South American, European, Middle Eastern and Russian petroleum. This thinking reflects profound ignorance of the second law of thermodynamics and the fact that the net energy available in liquid petroleum can be over two times greater than what’s available in tar sands. See Table 1.

Table 1. Energy Efficiency Estimates*

Resource and Process          Gross energy value          EROI** (net energy value)

Conventional petroleum                    92                                          10.5

Alberta Oil Sands (in-situ)               86                                            5.0

*Source: DOE Office of Petroleum Reserves

**Energy Return on Investment

Today’s Washington Post carries an op/ed column by well-known climate change expert and political activist Bill McKibben on the issue of the Keystone XL Pipeline project that would extract petroleum from Canadian tar sands, in the process releasing as much extra CO2 into the atmosphere as has been saved by the president’s improved CAFÉ standards for automobiles.

The GOP (Geezer’s Only Party) is squarely behind Keystone, but the scientific community, of which Dr. McKibben is a spokesman, is warning the WH that approving this project…and its inevitable successors…would (1) ignore an important chance to wean the U.S. economy off of fossil fuel and onto renewable energy; and (2) perpetuate American dependence on extremely dirty source of foreign (Canadian) oil.

What is sorely needed in the long run is a universal carbon tax to level the playing field, reduce the current $16 trillion American debt and provide an incentive for the free market system to increase conservation and slow down sea level rise. In the short run the Keystone XL pipeline needs to be killed by driving a steel pipe through its heart.


Corps estimates of flooding enhancement by levee upgrades around New Orleans.

Corps releases study on impacts of New Orleans flood reduction project re Hurricane Isaac

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently completed a $14.5 billion project to bolster the levee system around New Orleans and to add a surge barrier in Lake Borne. This project was  implemented on an unprecedentedly fast track basis, in part to assuage the corps’ embarrassment from  levee failures that made Katrina deadly…and the most expensive storm in history.

Unexpected flooding on the North Shore and west of New Orleans during Hurricane Isaac prompted calls for a hydrologic modeling study to determine whether the New Orleans project could have exacerbated this flooding by forcing surging waters from the gulf to expand laterally. Amy Wold reported in today’s The Advocatethat the study was just released and that it was negative, i.e., it showed no significant increased flooding caused by the project.

Of course there are skeptics, such as in St. Johns Parish, who want levee protection, like their counterparts in New Orleans. Where money for stand alone artificial levees would come from is anybody’s guess and it would compete with funding for the Louisiana Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast.

The complete study is currently under review by The Water Institute of the Gulf (TWIG) and the five-member Louisiana Water Resources Council that was established in September 2010.


Sandy is killing climate change denial!

Cartoon by Emily Flake in The New Yorker

A New Yorker cartoon this week shows angry victims of Hurricane Sandy saying they’d have taken the storm a lot more seriously if it hadn’t been named so innocuously. Harmless-sounding name or not, Hurricane Sandy has created a sea change in thinking about climate change and global warming. That’s a very big deal.

Bob Marshall came out of retirement to write a guest op/ed column published today in Marshall pointed out in his succinct style that our delegation is 180 degrees out of step with respect to current thinking about climate change in this post-Hurricane Sandy era. Go Bob!

Note: Just before posting I read the comment from Sandy Rosenthal (scroll down), which reminded me that the folks in New Orleans would never take a hurricane named Sandy very lightly, especially officials from the Corps of Engineers who’ve learned to respect the names ‘Sandy’ and ‘’ ever since Katrina!


Katrina/Sandy photos from HuffPost Green.

Comparing hurricanes

An interesting ‘infographic’ post in HuffPost Green by Tim Wallace and Jaweed Kaleem compares the two most damaging modern hurricanes on record…Katrina and Sandy, in terms of the following 16 parameters:

landfall wind speed, duration over land, death toll, persons displaced, peak power outages, extent of sustained winds over 50 mph, days until presidential visit, number of evacuees before storm, maximum storm diameter, rainfall, barometric pressure, top wind speed, number of states affected by winds, number of states in disaster areas, population in affected areas, and total cost.

I was amazed that the authors left out perhaps the most critical technical metric…peak storm surge elevation (from both empirical measurements and simulation modeling). This variable could theoretically be altered artificially, using surge barriers, for example (scroll down to November 5).

It would also be interesting to compare the vertical profiles of the near shore zone along the trajectory of both of these storms and the diameters of the eye wall. I’d like to see a systematic comparison of all the modern storms, including such parameters as the presence of natural barriers, such as coastal forests, shell reefs, etc., how each storm ranked on the Stafford-Simpson scale, surface water temperature, etc.


Louisiana totally aligned with the GOP… Geezers Only Party

Chris and Barry discuss coastal cooperation. Bobby eavesdrops.

I see the decisive re-election of President Obama as a repudiation of the explicit political philosophy of Louisiana’s elected officials on fiscal, environmental, scientific and social issues. The election outcome confirms the dismal fact that Louisiana is now totally out of step with the majority philosophy of the younger, more diverse and far more progressive parts of the country.

Our elected leaders* have made the conscious decision to climb into bed with the party of humorless old white men…the Geezers Only Party (GOP). This decision strongly suggests that neither sex nor coastal funding is on the horizon.

Speaking of coastal funding, Louisiana’s $50 billion Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast is fundamentally dead in the water without a reliable source of federal funding from Congress. Unfortunately, Hurricane Sandy may have seriously diluted our case for federal help, however.

New Orleans, if not all of south Louisiana, has traditionally been seen by Americans as worth protecting from hurricanes…but competition for federal bucks is on the rise in many other coastal cities, along with sea level.

I’m currently working on a draft post describing how Hurricane Sandy unleashed the flood gates, so to speak, of interest in multi-billion dollar surge barriers, to protect Atlantic and gulf coast cities and around the world. The growing risk of flooding from global warming is bound to elevate the competition for urban surge barriers.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie doesn’t think like a Democrat but he dramatically boosted his future on the national political stage by graciously working with President Obama on what became a model bipartisan state/federal response to Sandy Stormageddon. Christie clearly comprehends the core principle that compliments are far more likely than carping to capture congressional coastal support.

Chris Christie’s record with President Obama has been acclaimed by pundits as a model of effective public policy, based on honest cooperation and respect for mutually beneficial goals. This record stands in stark contrast with Obama’s childish treatment by Bobby Jindal following the Macondo blowout. In each case the governor needed help from the feds but you’d never know it from our governor’s petty rhetoric and hostile body language.

*With the notable exceptions of Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu and Congressman Cedric Richmond.


Nate Silver, poll reader extraordinaire

Short and sweet on election day

Given the significance of today’s election and the emotional energy that I’ve embodied anticipating the outcome* I decided to give myself a break and not invest a whole lot of time on today’s coastal mini-post.

Yesterday I received this incredible videoclip from YouTube that superimposes Mitt Romney campaign rhetoric on dramatic footage of Hurricane Sandy. In about 30 seconds the Sound and the Fury of the imagery convey as effective a political message as I’ve seen during the entire campaign. I couldn’t add a damn thing.

My thanks to a Yankee coastal colleague for sharing this gem with me and with LaCoastPost readers.

*I’m going with Nate Silver’s prediction that Barack Obama has a 90.9% chance of staying in the White House. Check out this videoclip of nerdy Nate last night describing his prediction model to Stephen Colbert.


Black and white issues on election eve

On this day before the biggest political event of the next four years of coastal time I feel compelled to share some political thoughts that should engage your thoughts…and perhaps distract you from less weighty matters. This mini-post is a legitimate coastal piece in that IMHO nothing happens in south Louisiana without somehow influencing or being related to coastal processes.

As I walk to my polling place tomorrow, exactly a one mile round trip, I’ll be fulfilling an obligation that my late mother Florence Riefle Bahr in Baltimore effectively inculcated into my thinking, more by example than by words. She didn’t harangue her kids about her uber liberal political views; she just did her thing and let my sisters and me soak it in.

During my ‘stroll to the poll’ I’ll doubtlessly be thinking about the incredibly shrinking demographic slot that I represent  in Louisiana. I’m a proud, mature,  environmentally conscientious, socially liberal, non-religious, fiscally frugal, southern white male and registered Democrat…an uncommon classification to say the least.

This morning Don Gonyea on NPR’s Morning Edition described the increasingly confining racial corner into which the GOP has painted itself into, with implications for this election and far into the future. Our dominant white days are definitely numbered.

Here’s a key quote:

“Republicans are 90 percent white. Democrats are only about 60 percent white,” says Pew Research’s Andy Kohut. “The Republicans have a white problem — or a lack of diversity problem. It’s not apparent in this election so far, but over time, the changing face of America is going to represent more of a challenge to the GOP than to the Democrats.”

Minorities overwhelmingly favor Democrats. That trend is likely enhanced by President Obama’s status as the nation’s first black president. In this election, African-American support for Obama tops 90 percent. Polls show Hispanics supporting the president by better than 2 to 1.

As for white voters, polls show they prefer Republicans. They went 55 percent for John McCain four years ago, and this year Gov. Romney is doing just as well or even better among whites.

Slate Magazine published a strikingly insightful and provocative essay by Tom Scocco, about why white men, especially older guys in the south, strongly prefer Mitt Romney to “Barry” Obama.

Chris Rock was apparently inspired by this essay to videotape a short routine to convince us white voters that Lo and Behold, Barack Obama is really a honky! If you’re a white male and this doesn’t make you wince and laugh maybe you need to go back to bed.

Don’t forget to vote tomorrow. It’s for the coast!


Here's one way to protect your castle (Barry Waguespack by his Sorrento home, as shown in The Advocate)

FEMA indirectly endorses slab-on-grade construction in Sorrento…WTF?

Here’s the headline to an article by Bret H. McCormick in today’s The Advocate – FEMA: Copy man’s flood practice.

Hurricane Sandy has generated untold suffering among residents of the most densely populated part of the country. This unique storm has simultaneously garnered accolades for the actions of Craig Fugate, Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

This is probably related to the fact that Mr. Fugate was appointed, not for his political stroke but because he’s an emergency professional from Florida, with long and extensive experience in disaster response. He shares that characteristic with former FEMA head James Lee Witt, who served admirably under Bill Clinton. I had several opportunities to discuss Louisiana coastal sustainability with Mr. Witt while I was Mike Foster’s coastal advisor and again when Kathleen Blanco hired him as a consultant after Katrina.

Whatever is known at FEMA headquarters about Louisiana’s unique coastal situation, however, does not necessarily filter down here to inform regional and local FEMA decisions.

Here's another way. The stately Gentilly residence of the late great Louisiana naturalist Percy Viosca.

For an example of what sounds like a very naive one-size-fits-all policy, I was astonished to read in McCormick’s article that FEMA has indirectly endorsed a building practice in flood-prone south Louisiana that should be prohibited by local, state and federal officials. I’m talking about the slab-on-grade construction practices, in which buildings are erected directly on a reinforced slab of concrete barely above ground level.

Hurricane Katrina left many such bare slabs looking like huge grave markers in St. Bernard Parish. The Department of Natural Resources and coastal parishes, including Ascension should be advising private home builders and contractors not to build slab houses anymore.

Our ancestors were too smart to do this but we’ve grown so comfortable living behind levees that slab houses have been standard since the sixties. For example, my home in Baton Rouge was built on a slab in 1965. On the other hand, it’s about three miles north of I-10 on the stable Pleistocene Terrace.

The FEMA story involves a man named Barry Waguespack in Sorrento, who’s showing proper respect for flood risk, as shown by the following quote:

When he first bought his 2-acre lot 12 years ago, Waguespack elevated it by a foot using 80 truckloads of river silt before constructing the house. Still, he knew a flood was possible, and has purchased flood insurance since 2001. 

My question is about the cost differential in current dollars if Mr. Waguespack had saved the dirt hauling cost and built the house let’s say 8 ft off the ground. That would have given him (1) reduced insurance rates; (2) storage space; (3) confidence that flooding would not be likely any time soon and (4) no need to call friends to fill sand bags whenever a hurricane approaches.

With respect to flood risk reduction, FEMA apparently fails to recognize geomorphic differences in different coastal areas around the country. Addressing flood risk in the largest delta in North America is a far different animal than on the rock-solid archipelago on which NY City was created. They only have sea level rise to contend with; we have subsidence as well.


Bobby Jindal speaks to reps of the nation''s largest nitrogen fertilizer manufacturer. It's all good! (photo from The Advocate)

Expanding nitrogen plant in Donaldsonville could expand the dead zone as well

On November 2 Bret H. McCormick reported in The Advocate that C.F. Industries, already the nation’s largest producer of nitrogen-based fertilizer, is expanding its Donaldsonville plant, to the tune of $2.1 billion.

The following quote from the article shows how Louisiana stands to benefit:

Local officials, too, were pleased with CF Industries’ investment decision, which CF Industries officials said is expected to create 93 new plant jobs and 250 construction jobs.

The following quotes show that there is no better (cheaper) place to produce:

…anhydrous ammonia, urea, and urea-ammonium nitrate — the three nitrogen-based products most heavily used by agricultural, industrial and other markets.

…The plant’s location near five major natural gas pipelines and multiple modes of transportation, as well as the availability of cheap natural and shale gas, enticed company officials into the expansion, (Company spokesman Tony) Will said.

Our revenue-strapped state and Ascension Parish have signed sweetheart deals to show how much we love CF Industries and to ensure that they stay here. That’s a joke; where in Hell else would they go, Arkansas? Nevertheless, the following quotes show what state and local officials saw fit to offer, just in case:

The parish offered CF Industries a rebate of 0.45 percent on its sales and use tax for construction materials and initial equipping of the plant, Eades said, while Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley said the Sheriff’s Office will rebate 0.25 percent. Together, that will save more than $6 million, officials said.

The state, meanwhile, offered an incentive package consisting of a $3 million tax credit, a $2 million loan that is forgivable if the company meets payroll targets, and access to the state’s workforce development training program, Gov. Bobby Jindal said.

The article is replete with glowing tributes from state and local officials about what a sweet deal this expansion will be for everyone, as Louisiana’s petrochemical complex continues to expand along the river corridor. No one mentions potential local, regional and global environmental impacts of the plant, which will include air and water pollution emissions,  including expanding Louisiana’s already hefty industrial carbon footprint.

Most ironic to me is thr fact that 70% of the summertime Gulf hypoxia that covers a huge part of our nearshore coast comes from runoff from Iowa cornfields…of the nitrogen fertilizer produced by CF Industries. Natural gas from Louisiana is converted into corn fertilizer, shipped to Illinois, Iowa, Indiana and Kentucky, where it runs off the cornfields and comes right back to us.

Wouldn’t it be nice if Bobby Jindal invited the CEO of CF Industries to visit our state to discuss how the company could contribute funding and/or expertise to breathe a little life into the failed 20 year old non-funded (voluntary) program to reduce hypoxia?


The biggest hills are bridges.

Big Easy experts help drain the Big Apple

As far as I know the third (vertical) dimension, or elevation with respect to sea level, still doesn’t show up on hand held GPS systems, but it’s probably only a matter of time.

New Yorkers don’t normally pay attention to variations in elevation as they travel around the city, where office buildings extend to nose bleed levels,  On the other hand, runners in the NYC Marathon this Sunday  certainly will. I never ran the New York Marathon but I have run in Central Park and the hills are quite significant!

NOTE: the race was canceled by Mayor Bloomberg on November 2.

The terms downtown vs. uptown and Lower vs. Upper Manhattan took on new meaning to non-runners on October 29, when lower and down referred not just to lower street numbers and latitude but also to lower vertical elevation. From what I’ve heard, power loss and flooding extended from the lower tip of the island all the way up (north) to 39th Street. carried a report by Mark Schleifstein today that dewatering experts from the New Orleans District Office of the Corps of Engineers are either headed to or are already in New York, taking on the challenge of removing the remains of the unprecedented 14  foot storm surge that filled the vast network of underground tunnels in lower Manhattan.

Subway tunnels don’t exist in New Orleans, of course, although it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that some intrepid engineer proposed below ground infrastructure (other than utilities) at some time, given the way the venerable city was developed directly in the face of Mother Nature.

The Corps guests in the Big Apple will use lessons learned from returning to its source the water from Lake Pontchartrain that poured into New Orleans, following Katrina. Dewatering New Orleans is obviously analogous to draining lower Manhattan. It was gratifying to see that Schleifstein used my Superdome equivalents (SDE) meme to describe the volume of Katrina water that was pumped back into Lake Pontchartrain after Katrina. Here’s the relevant quote:

The unwatering* team successfully removed 250 billion gallons of water from Orleans, St. Bernard and Jefferson parishes after Katrina — enough water to fill the Mercedes Benz Superdome 267 times.

*Only the Corps would make up the awkward term ‘unwater’ when a perfectly good term ‘dewater’ already exists. Government-speak is like a disease against which the corps cannot be immunized.

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