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November 2012 Coastal Scuttlebutt (cont.)

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NOVEMBER THIRTIETH

Mead Allison, Ph.D.

Mead Allison comes back to Louisiana

In the midst of the many socio-economic-political crises swirling around the coast, many of them rooted in budget issues, one very positive news item caught my attention yesterday in The Advocate.

The newly-formed The Water Institute of the Gulf (TWIG) has hired my friend and colleague Mead Allison, who was displaced to Austin from Tulane University after Hurricane Katrina,

Professor Allison is the world’s leading authority on the current geological capacity of the Mississippi River to restore and sustain some of America’s Delta. I don’t know (or much care) about Mead’s new title but whatever it is will allow him to bring his expertise to bear, along with TWIG director Dr. Chip Groat and its other critical new staffer, river hydrodynamics modeler Dr. Ehab Meselhe.

This is big news, folks.

We’re getting screwed, folks

A friend sent me the link to the following piece in HuffingtonPost by Michael Gormley, describing how the costs of Sandy keep mounting. His comment was the subtile of this mini-post.

The $108 billion damage assessment from Katrina, until now an all time record for hurricane damage, will soon be broken, with cumulative damages from New York and New Jersey piling up.

This will add further competition for coastal money for Louisiana. Sandy may have been the perfect storm in the sense of demonstrating the extraordinary cost of protecting ourselves from coastal development…especially during this year of fiscal crises and during the last five weeks of the fiscal showdown that’s dominating the news.

This growing competition for federal dollars further emphasizes the fact that the Macondo disaster is virtually the only game in town in terms of funding critical coastal projects. It looks as though it would take a BP blowout equivalent every five years or so if the $50 billion Louisiana Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coas is ever to be implemented.

.CPRA projects added

Mark Schleifstein reported in today’s The Times-Picayune that the November meeting of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) on Wednesday was dominated by a curiously optimistic discussion of how BP fines will be spent as the penalty monies become available.

Here are some quotes that caught my eye:

…By choosing a selection of major restoration projects and completing preliminary design and engineering work, state officials hope to jump start needed approvals from federal agencies and non-profit organizations that will be overseeing disbursement of the money, said Kyle Graham, deputy director of the CPRA.

Most of the projects already have been targeted as part of the state’s 50-year, $50 billion master plan for coastal protection and restoration, which was approved by the Legislature earlier this year.

…Louisiana already has been promised $1.25 billion over 5 years from BP for restoration of barrier islands and at least one Mississippi River sediment and water diversion as part of the company’s $4.5 billion in fines stemming from a guilty plea earlier this month to criminal charges associated with the Deepwater Horizon disaster and ensuing oil spill. The criminal plea agreement is awaiting approval by a federal judge.

The state also will receive about 20 percent of $1 billion that BP has set aside as an advance payment for natural resource damages to Gulf Coast states required under the federal Oil Pollution Act.

And state officials expect to see billions more from civil fines that are likely to be levied against BP for violation of the Clean Water Act and other federal and state laws…BP could be required to pay between $5 billion and $21 billion to settle the civil charges, court observers say.

The company also faces additional financial penalties to meet the requirements of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment of the Oil Pollution Act, beyond its advance payment. That money could be bundled into the civil fines settlement, or could be decided separately in federal court proceedings or a separate settlement.

Louisiana officials expect to receive a larger share of the fine money than other states, based on the larger share of oil impacts resulting from the 2010 spill. But it remains unclear exactly how much money will flow to the state, or when.

In the New Orleans area, the list of projects includes:

• A diversion of freshwater into the western part of Maurepas Swamp, adjacent to Lake Maurepas; (Note: this project should be reexamined in light of the massive tax breaks given by the state to the Nucor Corporation as they build an iron plant on a site near Convent that would be ideal for a river water conveyance channel).

• A small diversion of freshwater through the Bonnet Carre Spillway into adjacent wetlands on the edge of Lake Pontchartrain;

• A moderate-sized diversion of freshwater into the Central Wetlands Unit adjacent to the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans and Arabi that would be in the vicinity of the present Violet Canal;

• Two diversions of Mississippi River water and sediment in the middle and lower segments of Breton Sound;

• The construction of oyster reefs on the eastern edges of Biloxi Marsh;

• And the rebuilding of Breton Island.

In the Barataria Basin, including West Bank communities, the projects include:

• Restoration of barrier islands between Belle Pass on the west side of Port Fourchon to Caminada Pass;

• Rebuilding barrier islands between Barataria Pass and Sandy Point;

• The expansion of an already-planned project to build wetlands with sediment pumped from the Mississippi River by pipeline into wetland areas of Plaquemines and Jefferson parishes;

• And two diversions of freshwater and sediment into the middle and lower Barataria Basin.

In the middle of the state’s coast, including the Vermilion-Teche, Atchafalaya and Terrebonne basins, the projects would include:

• Vermilion Bay oyster reefs;

• Bayou Sale ridge restoration;

• Increasing the flow of Atchafalaya River water and sediment into eastern Terrebonne wetlands;

• Bayou DuLarge ridge restoration;

• Using the Houma Navigation Canal for restoring the hydrology of nearby wetlands;

• Bayou Terrebonne ridge restoration;

• Bayou Pointe Au Chene ridge restoration;

• Restoration of Isles Dernieres barrier islands;

• Restoration of Timbalier Islands barrier islands.

Graham said less money is likely to go to projects farther west, which had less oil spill effects. Projects in the Calcasieu and Mermentau river basins could include:

• Calcasieu-Sabine shoreline protection;

• Calcasieu Ship Channel salinity control measures;

• And a variety of other Gulf shoreline protection features.

I do not share Mr. Graham’s apparent optimism about the importance of most of these projects, many of which, like oyster hatcheries are band aids.

NOVEMBER TWENTY-NINTH

Gleaming new HSDRRS coastal emergency vehicle parked and ready to roll in New Orleans. Now what?

Col. Ed Fleming USACE and Garret Graves show off the new HSDRRS unit.

Yesterday on the way to a doctor’s appointment in New Orleans I spotted another NOLA-bound vehicle, a new silver Ford SUV bearing the logo* of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA). I recognized the occupants as coastal managers from the Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration (OCPR) and I was struck by the fact that they were heading away from the monthly meeting of the CPRA, already underway in Baton Rouge.

Speaking of shiny new vehicles, the CPRA meeting that we were missing focused on how cash-strapped Louisiana can afford to own the HSDDRS, the $13 billion coastal behemoth that was successfully road tested by Hurricane Isaac and to which the state is about to acquire title.

On November 27 Cain Burdeau wrote a story for AP posted in HuffingtonPost on how the state will manage to pay the monthly note, insurance premiums, oil changes, tire rotations, inspection stickers…as well as keeping the massive gas tank filled.

Mark Schleifstein and Amy Wold attended the meeting yesterday and they each reported, here in NOLA.com and here in The Advocate, respectively, about the discussion of who will bear the O&M cost of HSDDRS. The state commissioned a study by the Rand Corporation to estimate how much it will cost to keep the shiny new fire-truck parked and ready to roll out during future tropical storm events along the northern gulf…especially after 2016 when the corps signs off.

On September 13 Tim Doody, president of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority – East, wrote a thoughtful op/ed column in The Times-Picayune, describing how the HSDDRS performed as expected during Isaac and that the feds should take over responsibility for its O&M. Here’s the entire text:

The new flood protection system (HSDDRS) constructed to protect New Orleans, St. Bernard, Jefferson and portions of St. Charles and St. John the Baptist parishes, although not yet complete, was fully employed for Isaac — and it worked.

The Lake Borgne Storm Surge Barrier, designed to keep the Gulf of Mexico out of the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal and the city itself, saw water reach about halfway up its 25-foot structure. Without this closure, the IHNC certainly would have had its 12-foot I-walls overtopped. At these water levels, overtopping could have caused those fragile walls to fail and potentially send disastrous floodwaters coursing throughout metro New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish.

During Isaac, the Orleans, Lake Borgne Basin and East Jefferson levee districts overseen by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority East had more than 100 employees on duty. These men and women left their families to perform the work required to protect the areas within their districts, and they did it without a lost-time injury or complaint. Two members of our team lost homes during Isaac ­– one for a second time in seven years.

Note: I highlighted the following paragraph on the need to install Hurricane Isaac flood level markers, the same recommendation holds true for Katrina and perhaps SELFPA-E could take the lead on this mission.

Levee district crews are still out now documenting the “high water marks” Isaac left behind, like footprints, along the new levees, flood walls and closure structures known collectively as the Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System. These marks will be employed to help verify the hydraulic models that were used to design the system.

This complicated new system was designed to protect us from an event much larger than Isaac. It is more than just a few miles of levee; it’s an interconnected system of gates, pumps, floodwalls, levees and nontraditional levees. For it, Isaac was more like a quiz than a test. The system passed, and inside those walls and levees and gates, our problems were limited largely to power outages and drainage.

But Isaac did underscore for all of us the complexities of managing protection on this scale, and it reminded us that it is critical to keep the system well maintained and upgraded as needed. In addition to maintenance of large mechanical structures that are new additions to our system, our levees also will require lifting as our land continues to sink.

We who choose to live in and near New Orleans accept this risk in order to live in what we believe is the best city in the country.

Because of the complexity and coordination required to close these large structures, and the resources required to do so, we continue asking that Congress give that responsibility to the Army Corps of Engineers. It is in the nation’s best interest to do so.

* The logo I love to hate, showing a sesa wall between the gulf and the marsh.

NOVEMBER TWENTY-EIGHTH

Professor Norma Jean Mattei

New Mississippi River Commissioner appointed from Louisiana

In case you’ve been asleep, there’s an ultra high stakes poker game playing out on The Hill between House Speaker John Boehner and the POTUS. If Boehner blinks, American millionaires will pay slightly more in taxes. If Obama blinks a series of events will occur that are referred to as “going over the fiscal cliff.”

During the final days of this ‘lame duck’ congressional session, the allusion to waterfowl suggests the need for a water based metaphor, with the ship of state drifting inexorably closer to the brink of “the fiscal waterfall.”

To add more spice to the struggle, the president must also demand that Republicans agree to raise the nation’s $16.4 trillion debt limit, as part of any deal, which would keep draconian spending cuts from being enacted and prevent the expiration of the Bush tax cuts.

In the middle of this drama, Obama is being pilloried by GOP Senators John McCane and Lindsey Graham over (of all things) his probable appointment of UN Ambassador Susan Rice to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State until 2016.

As Garrison Keillor would say, “Wouldn’t this be the perfect time for a piece of Rhubarb pie?”

On the subject of another presidential appointment, also subject to Senate confirmation, today Kari Dequine Harden reported in The Advocate and John Pope reported in NOLA.comthat President Obama appointed Louisiana native and UNO Professor of Engineering Norma Jean Mattei, to serve for a nine-year term on the seven-member Mississippi River Commission. This commission plays a critical advisory role on the management of the entire Mississippi River watershed…America’s Waterway…with the Corps of Engineers.

William Clifford Smith

Three members of the commission are civilian engineers and, although the article doesn’t specify who Professor Mattei will replace on the Commission, I assume that it’s Louisiana’s long term member,

William Clifford Smith from Houma. Clifford was appointed by President Clinton and he has served with distinction since 1998.

I can’t imagine serious opposition to Dr. Mattei’s confirmation from members of the Senate, but who knows. Sen. David Vitter seems to specialize in making life difficult for the POTUS, even if it comes at the expense of a fellow Louisianan.

NOVEMBER TWENTY-SEVENTH

Comparing the relative flood vulnerability of two dozen coastal cities

My daughter Emilie, who’s deeply immersed in the thesis writing part of her urban planning degree program at UNO, sent me this link to an awesome piece that appeared last Sunday in The New York Times, comparing the flood vulnerabilities of 24 coastal cities under three different scenarios of sea level rise as a result of climate change, 5 ft, 12 ft and 25 ft. The flood extent of the maps for the greater New Orleans area under all three scenarios seem extremely high to me.

For example, I understand that the area around the mouth of the Tchefuncte River at Madisonville experienced about 10 ft. of SLR during Hurricane Isaac but the greater NOLA flooding footprint of the map shown for a 5 ft SLR. is far more extensive than what was experienced. Nevertheless, it is what it is.

NOVEMBER TWENTY-SIXTH

Outcome of popular vote for president on November 6. Note the support for re-electing President Obama in coastal parishes!

We hate you Mr. President…but please send cash.

An editorial in The Times-Picayune on November 25 reminds President Obama that, before Hurricane Sandy broke the FEMA bank and demonstrated the growing hurricane vulnerability of large coastal cities, he promised to help the Corps flood proof LaPlace and Slidell. The editorial suggests that the POTUS can merely lean on congress and billions of coastal protection bucks will begin to flow to Baton Rouge. Forget the approaching fiscal cliff and the $16 trillion national debt.

I would respectfully remind the editorial writers at the T-P that:

1) the president received only 40.56% of the Louisiana vote on November 6;

2) that most state officials don’t believe in the geological history of America’s Delta, in anthropogenic climate change or the need to regulate CO2 emissions;

3) that Governor Bobby Jindal has been biting the federal hand that feeds ever since the BP blowout and the temporary moratorium on drilling;

4) that he (Jindal) refuses to allow his state to participate in the Affordable Care Act by accepting $600 million in federal Medicaid funding;

5) that, with the notable exceptions of Senator Mary Landrieu and Representative Cedric Richmond, our delegation has supported Tea Party fiscal policy that requires domestic spending cuts to offset disaster relief.

Oh yes, and then there’s the fact that the T-P editorial staff includes James Varney, who endorsed Mitt Romney for POTUS.

Later today I plan to post an article describing how Hurricane Sandy provoked a notable ‘surge’ of national interest in seawalls of various configurations to protect coastal cities along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts against future hurricane surge. In SE Louisiana we once virtually owned the rationale for federal assistance with coastal protection and restoration. Now, red Louisiana is in direct competition with the powerful Democratic blue Northeast. Wanna bet who gets priority funding?

NOVEMBER TWENTY-FOURTH and TWENTY-FIFTH

Atmospheric CO2 reaches 390.9 ppm

Graphic from LiveScience

An article by Wynn Parry in Livescience on November 22 describes the somber mood of an annual United Nations Environmental Programme meeting set to begin. Here are the opening paragraphs:

Global greenhouse-gas emissions already have passed the point where the worst effects of global warming could be averted, and they are still rising, according to the third annual United Nations report on the so-called emissions gap. Some countries have made pledges to help reverse this trend by lowering their emissions. However, the report by the U.N. Environment Programme warns that the gap between these pledges and reductions necessary to cap average global warming at 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2020 continues to widen.

…The report, released shortly before an annual round of climate talks set to begin on Monday (Nov. 26) in Qatar, seeks to balance a heightened sense of urgency with a positive message. “It is technically feasible and economically feasible that the gap can be closed,” Höhne, director of energy and climate policy at the independent research and consulting company Ecofys, told LiveScience.

CO2 levels reach all time high 

Huffingtonpost linked to the following (unsigned) article from Reuters, reprinted here in full:

GENEVA, Nov 20 (Reuters) – Atmospheric volumes of greenhouse gases blamed for climate change hit a new record in 2011, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said in its annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin on Tuesday. The volume of carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas emitted by human activities, grew at a similar rate to the previous decade and reached 390.9 parts per million (ppm), 40 percent above the pre-industrial level, the survey said. It has increased by an average of 2 ppm for the past 10 years.

Fossil fuels are the primary source of about 375 billion tonnes of carbon that has been released into the atmosphere since the industrial era began in 1750, the WMO said. WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said the billions of tonnes of extra carbon dioxide would stay in the atmosphere for centuries, causing the planet to warm further. “We have already seen that the oceans are becoming more acidic as a result of the carbon dioxide uptake, with potential repercussions for the underwater food chain and coral reefs,” he said in a statement.

Levels of methane, another long-lived greenhouse gas, have risen steadily for the past three years after levelling off for about seven years. The reasons for that evening out are unclear. Growth in volumes of a third gas, nitrous oxide, quickened in 2011. It has a long-term climate impact that is 298 times greater than carbon dioxide. The WMO, the United Nations’ weather agency, said the three gases, which are closely linked to human activities such as fossil fuel use, deforestation and intensive agriculture, had increased the warming effect on the climate by 30 percent between 1990 and 2011.

The prevalence of several less abundant greenhouse gases was also growing fast, it said. Sulphur hexafluoride, used as an electrical insulator in power distribution equipment, had doubled in volume since the mid-1990s, while hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) were growing at a rapid rate from a low base. But chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and most halons were decreasing, it said.

 An article from HuffingtonPost Canada in February 2012 lists the top ten most polluting countries in terms of metric tons of atmospheric CO2 emissions in 2010. These countries emit 67% of the total from all countries.

I divided each country’s CO2 emissions by its 2010 population to derive per capita CO2 emissions in metric tons per year, shown as follow:

(1) China – 6.17; (2) United States – 17.72; (3) India – 1.67; (4) Russia – 1.36; (5) Japan 8.91; (6) 9.33; (7) Iran – 7.68; (8) Korea – 11.31; (9) Canada – 15.05; and (10) Saudi Arabia – 17.63. I can only imagine what I did to add 17.72 metric tons of carbon to the atmosphere in 2010, which is equivalent to 0.049 mt/day?

NOVEMBER TWENTY-SECOND and TWENTY-THIRD*

Another great Tom Toles cartoon from The Washington Post.

Is FEMA becoming a coastal entitlement program?

On October 31, just as the impacts of Stormageddon Sandy were beginning to sink in, the anchor of The Rachel Maddow Show (TRMS) on MSNBC reported from Manhattan that over 63 million Americans are currently coastal residents. In other words, over one fifth (20.3%) of the electorate in the recent election had a coastal dog in the fight.

Based on my investment in time and energy I would stack up my personal knowledge of the 2012 presidential campaign against that of anyone not paid as a pundit, making me an amateur authority on the specific issues and arguments raised. I certainly didn’t expect a green campaign, especially without an Al Gore or a Ralph Nader participating, but I was appalled by the virtual exclusion of environmental topics in general and coastal issues in particular.

Then poetic justice came along in the form of Stormy Sandy. Exactly one week before election day, Sandy whipped up a big pot of breathless commentary on climate change, catching both campaigns with their political pants down around their knees. Don’t you just love it?

Every year about this time I renew the flood insurance policy on my little waterfront condo in St. Tammany. As if I weren’t already paying attention, renewing this policy is a reminder that I’m a member of the 20.3% that Rachel mentioned as having a coastal ox to gore. If we were ever to coalesce on issues like sea level rise, we’d represent a serious political force in 2016…but I digress.

This year my check for $401 to Fidelity National Indemnity Insurance Company (located appropriately enough in St. Petersburg) cleared a few days before I saw an interesting flood insurance article by Erik Wasson in TheHill.com.

It turns out that the nation’s only provider of flood insurance, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), is deep underwater. Here are some key quotes:

…NFIP, America’s only provider of flood insurance, faces an estimated $6 billion to $12 billion in new claims from Sandy, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The NFIP, which is about $18 billion in debt after Hurricane Katrina, has only $2.9 billion left in borrowing authority.

An administration official said the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is working closely with FEMA to monitor cash balances for NFIP and pending claims.

…As of November 20, NFIP has $740 million in cash available to pay claims…To date, FEMA has processed 131,191 Sandy-related claims and paid $142 million.

To speed passage of legislation in Congress, sources said the NFIP debt limit would likely be tacked onto a deal aimed at averting the  “fiscal cliff” of $600 billion in tax increases and automatic spending cuts that are looming in January.

Some conservatives in Congress believe the government should get out of the flood insurance business.

…The reauthorization of the NFIP in June allowed the program to charge higher premiums for new customers and phased-in higher premiums for long-time customers.

Some congressional aides were skeptical that much could be done in the way of further reform given how hard it was to pass an NFIP (reform) bill (in June). That legislation was delayed for years as insurers, home builders, environmentalists and real estate agents squabbled over provisions.

The debate over whether and how much to raise the NFIP and FEMA debt limits should be exciting. I’m personally interested in terms of my little piece of property but I’m much more interested in how members of Congress deal with what could become a coastal entitlement program, as storms continue to worsen and flood insurance provides an incentive to live near the coast.

*Thanksgivng distracted me, so I wrote a two day mini-post.

NOVEMBER TWENTY-FIRST

Vitter creates anti-carbon tax bandwagon

This is EPA's one world socialist scheme to force everybody to drive a Prius.

Jordan Blum reported in today’s The Advocate that Senator David Vitter has mounted a campaign to defeat what he believes is a Democratic conspiracy to impose a carbon tax on consumers. Here’s a quote:

The Obama administration has not publicly proposed a “carbon tax,” which is a fee on corporations that release greenhouse gases, or 

 “cap-and-trade,” which allows companies with emissions below their permitted cap to sell the extra capacity on their permits to companies releasing more pollutants.

Vitter said Obama’s re-election likely makes him “emboldened” enough to push such environmental policies. “I just think it’s important for the American people to know,” Vitter said Tuesday in a phone interview, noting that Obama has previously backed cap-and-trade policies that died in Congress.

…While such “cap-and-trade” or “carbon tax” proposals are designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the country, critics like Vitter have argued they would dramatically increase gas and utility costs for Americans, including the most financially needy.

If there is one group of people in which David Vitter has shown the least interest, it’s the financially needy. This includes, for starters, the folks who would be most likely to benefit from universal health care, a la the Affordable Care Act that Vitter fought against bitterly; those who live close to the property line of Louisiana petrochemical plants and in need of Environmental Justice; the folks who depend on food stamps…and the poor residents of south Louisiana who are increasingly vulnerable to rising sea level.

David Vitter’s concern for and adamant objection to Americans paying a little more for energy is seriously misplaced. Objective resource economists promote an energy tax as the most effective way of enhancing conservation, reducing dependence on foreign energy, raising revenues in the fairest way possible. I would add, helping to save the coast.

Our junior senator is very much indebted to the energy industry (and probably the Brothers Koch) and I’ve never heard him mention the need for Americans to sacrifice just a little to offset a hotter, stormier, wetter and dryer planet.

David Vitter is old enough and smart enough to know that “Cap and Trade” was a pragmatic GOP concept that was highly successful in reducing Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) and acid precipitation during the Nixon Administration.

Finally, why don’t the reporters who interview Vitter so rarely challenge his views, as based on his voting record>

APOLOGY:

Yesterday I derided Bobby Jindal and Marco Rubio for having both signed on to a specific fundamentalist theological position that flies in the face of verifiable science. The issue is the age of the Earth, as measured in 365 day years, the time that it takes for the blue marble to circle the sun. In this case Mother Earth is 4.54 billion years old, +/- 30 million.

Today Daniel Engber effectively reminded critics of scientific ignorance (like me) in Slate.com that President Obama is on record within the last four years of having pandered on the very same issue to a fundamentalist audience of  true believers in a young Earth. So much for the president’s scientific purity. As Engber says, “Willful ignorance of science is a bipartisan value.”

NOVEMBER TWENTIETH

Marco Muscles

Attention presidential aspirants: quit pandering to theological nonsense

Like it or not, the presidential campaign for 2016 has begun* and GOP candidates are already jockeying for position at the gate. Two of the most prominent candidates to roll up their pants and plunge their toes into the presidential waters represent coastal states, Louisiana’s Governor Bobby Jindal and Florida’s junior Senator Marcos Rubio.

I would stipulate (1) that neither guy is a geezer; (2) that each qualifies as a minority; (3) that each represents a first generation immigrant; (4) that each is exceptionally ambitious…in Jindal’s case, ruthless; and 5) each has a good memory for sound bites rattled off rapid fire, giving the impression of making them sound articulate. On the other hand I challenge the conclusion by the media that both Jindal and Rubio are highly intelligent. They would both flunk an IQ test, based on a basic grasp of high school science.

Bobby Bicepsbased on a broad grasp of high school science.

Each year Florida and Louisiana compete for the higher level of hurricane activity. All other things being equal, tropical storm landfall is far likelier along the Florida peninsula than the Louisiana coast, purely on the basis of shoreline length. In that sense annual risk of Florida vs Louisiana is analogous to the storm risk of Plaquemines, compared to Lafourche or Terrebonne Parishes.

I know far more about Bobby Jindal’s (18th century) views about science than I care to, whereas I knew nothing about Marco Rubio’s views on the subject…until yesterday. That’s when I read an important article by Nick Wing in HuffingtonPost that quotes Rubio as declaring that he is not a scientist and therfore totally unqualified to comment on, of all things, the age of Mother Earth.

The real significance of Rubio’s flippant disavowal about basic science was expressed in an article by Phil Plait, a practicing scientist, that was posted in Slate.com yesterday. Plait effectively articulated the profound level of ignorance being expressed, not just by Rubio but by every one of the names vetted during the interminable 2012 GOP primary season, save one…outlier Jon Huntsman. Plait’s article should shame the mainstream media for aiding and abetting ignorance on the part of candidates for the most powerful job on Earth. But it won’t.

I was raised hearing that to ask a mature woman her age is the epitome of social snafus. My own dear Mother used to tell curious but impolite young folks who asked  her to divulge her age that she was “As old as my tongue and a little bit older than my teeth!”

Senator Rubio has denied having even a clue as to the age of Mother Earth. As Plait points out, this happens to be one of the best-documented numbers in science, 4.54 billion years.

Before Rubio’s comment, Bobby Jindal was already known as a young Earth Creationist.** The Louisiana press rarely if ever mentions the inconvenient truth that Young Earth Creationism puts the age of Earth at under 10,000 years i.e., contemporary with the age of the coast that Jindal claims to care about saving.

*It actually began before the GOP primaries were over.

**I assume that neither Rubio nor Jindal is as technically ignorant as implied by their stands on Dear Mommy Earth’s age, which leaves only a pathetic, pandering attempt on their parts to assuage the vindictive religious right of Tony Perkins, Ralph Reed, etc..

NOVEMBER NINETEENTH

This took real guts.

Dolphin killings in northern gulf

An AP story in HuffingtonPostGreen describes the grisly killing of a number of bottle-nosed dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in the coastal waters of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Here’s a quote from the director of the Institute for Marine mammal Studies (IMMS) in Gulfport.

(Moby)* Solangi said he doesn’t know why anyone would want to kill the dolphins. “They already are under a lot of stress from the oil spill, the dead zone,” he said. However, in the past fishermen and charter boat captains have been convicted of harming dolphins they thought were taking bait or fish.

The cowardly, despicable act of shooting in cold blood and then mutilating the most intelligent creature with which we share our coastal habitat defies rational explanation. Intelligence is obviously not an appropriate descriptor of whoever has been committing these crimes against nature.

According to Wikipedia, Misanthropy is the general hatred, mistrust or disdain of the human species or human nature…The word’s origin is from Greek words (misos, “hatred”) and (anthr?pos, “man, human”). By analogy I would thus call these perps ‘Miscetates,’ those who hate marine mammals and their kin…misos “hatred” and cetacea “whales.”

Perhaps BP oil has had a toxic effect on the brains of some humans who spend a little too much time soaking up oil fumes and whisky on the water.

Homo sapiens, not Tursiops truncates, came up with the second amendment. We should truly be proud.

*I didn’t make this name up.

NOVEMBER EIGHTEENTH

Coastal reparations for BP; who’s calling the shots?

Surreal photo of fireboats trying to extinguish the blaze on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig south of Venice after an explosion April 21, 2010. (Photo by Michael DeMocker, The Times-Picayune archive)

Just after posting today’s scuttlebutt I noted a comment by Don Boesch (scroll down) who must have read my mind in terms of my questions about who’s allocating the expenditure of coastal ‘reparations.’ I feel slightly less cynical now than when I wrote my piece, given the large number of folks, both in and out of state, who really care about spending money wisely.
A staff editorial in today’s The Times-Picayune indicates the limits of BP’s liability and the maximum coastal remuneration/reparation that we could reasonably expect.

First, the criminal penalty for the Macondo Deepwater horizon blowout in 2010 was just settled to the tune of $4 billion, of which $1.2 has already been earmarked as follows:

…Louisiana appears to be in line for $1.2 billion of the settlement to restore barrier islands and build a freshwater diversion to capture sediment from the Mississippi River for replenishing coastal wetlands.

That amount is a small slice of the state’s $50 billion, 50-year restoration plan for coastal Louisiana, but it could jump-start important projects. The Obama administration must get the money to Louisiana quickly and with as little bureaucratic interference as possible. The state has worked diligently to craft a plan for rebuilding our eroding coast and is poised to put this money to good use.

The larger pot of money still awaiting determination is the government-imposed civil penalty under the Clean Water Act. This is expected to range between $5 and $21 billion, of which 80%, or from $4 to $17 billion, would be spent on restoration under the Restore Act.

Here are some quotes from the editorial:

BP said in a news release Thursday that it will “vigorously defend itself against remaining civil claims.” The government should be just as vigorous in its pursuit of the civil case, as Attorney General Eric Holder promised Thursday.

…BP is trying to avoid being found “grossly negligent” under the Clean Water Act — and limit its liability to as little as $5 billion. A finding of gross negligence could increase the fines to $21 billion or more, based on the release of 4.1 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

I have a few questions having to do with the formal allocation by the state to spend both the $1.2 billion of criminal fines and the $4 to $17 billion of civil fines.

1) Does anyone know where the formal commitment was made to allocate the $1.2 billion for: (A) a barrier shoreline nourishment project; and (B) a specific sediment diversion project in the lower river? Are these two projects specifically listed in the Louisiana Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast.

2) Has a similar tentative allocation of the civil fines against BP already been made and tied to specific projects in the Master Plan?

3) Was this allocation an agenda item at the last meeting of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA)?

4) What would it take to force the state to make public the official transcripts of each CPRA meeting, for example, by providing printed copies to the State Library where interested folks like myself could read the fine print?

5): Is the notorious lack of transparency re coastal policy on the part of the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities (GOCA) something that Attorney General Buddy Caldwell could and should investigate? It seems to me that at the very least one of his assistant attorney’s general should be appointed as an adjunct member of the CPRA?

Thank you and I will listen for the answers with baited breath.

NOVEMBER SEVENTEENTH

NOAA graphic

Global warming records have been broken every consecutive month…for 27.67 years!

Yesterday Josh Voorhies reported in Slate.com that no citizen of the Earth under 28 years of age has ever lived through a cooler-than-average month! Here’s the quote that tells it all:

The average temperature across land and ocean surfaces during October was 14.63°C (58.23°F). This is 0.63°C (1.13°F) above the 20th century average and ties with 2008 as the fifth warmest October on record. The record warmest October occurred in 2003 and the record coldest October occurred in 1912. This is the 332nd consecutive month with an above-average temperature. The last below-average month was February 1985. The last October with a below-average temperature was 1976.

How would you spend $1.2 billion for the coast? How’s about a sand berm project 4.6 times larger than before?

Mark Schleifstein reported November 16 in Nola.com that the state will finally get some real coastal money from Macondo criminal penalties negotiated between BP and the Justice Department. Unless I missed it, no timeline is shown for when the check will arrive or to whom it will be written.

A complementary unsigned piece in The Advocate says that state officials are happy with the fine. No plan for spending priorities was mentioned.

This piece on the personal side of the settlement by John Rudolf in HuffPost quotes my friend and colleague Oliver Houck from the Tulane Law School. He said that the two company officials still awaiting trial on 22 manslaughter charges (11 victims x 2 defendants) were hung out to dry by BP and the Justice Department.

River delta changing

A November 13 article by Amy Wold in The Advocate described a wrap-up symposium on restoring the Mississippi River Delta that was held at LSU on November 9-10. I’m glad that The Advocate was invited to attend but disappointed that I wasn’t.

According to the article, Paul Kemp, Vice President of the National Audubon Society for Louisiana, was one of the principal presenters. Dr. Kemp, along with Clint Willson at LSU and others, has been studying changes in the delta for years, including changes related to eustatic sea level rise.

These experts have long been correctly predicting that as the delta sinks relative to sea level, increased shoaling of the navigation channel will be a serious issue and that sediments from the lower river will be breaking through the levee system upriver from Head of Passes. This information is critical both to commerce and to building new land with hurricane buffering for southeast Louisiana.

State retirement systems underwater…just like coast

Richard Thompson reported on November 16 in The Times-Picayune that the state’s four retirement systems are $18.5 billion dollars in the red, having sufficient funds to pay only 56% of their obligations to us retirees. This problem became serious about the time that Bobby Jindal took over as CEO of the state. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

NOVEMBER SIXTEENTH

Government action unlikely on climate change?

Obama's dilemma: I understand climate change but what can I do? Graphic from The New Yorker

The November 19 issue of The New Yorker includes a sardonic and particularly timely opinion column by David Remnick that really brings home the urgency of climate change and the need for immediate government sction. Remnick asserts that, whereas reelecting President Obama was absolutely necessary from the standpoint of U.S. leadership on climate change, it was frighteningly insufficient. This column is a must-read.

On a slightly more hopeful note, on November 9 HuffPost Green published a short piece by Alana Horowitz, who described the results of a new Rasmussen poll** on opinions about climate change taken the day before the election. The results showed that 68% of Americans now think that climate change is real and a serious problem (up 8 points from a July poll taken by the Washington Post). Of the 68% of the 1,000 respondents, 41% think that climate change is human-caused.

I wonder how long it will take Steve Scalise, Bobby Jindal and other state officials to realize that attitudes on climate change have been turned dramatically since October 29, when a 14 foot wall of seawater slammed into lower Manhattan.

A complementary post also in HuffPostGreen by Andrew Freeman shows that, despite an unusually cool October, 2012 is shaping up to be the hottest year on record in the U.S. Here’s a quote:

Even with a cooler October, 2012 is still on track to be the warmest year on record in the U.S., propelled by a widespread March heat wave, the warmest spring on record, and the third-hottest summer on record. The month of July, for example, set the record for the hottest month of any month since weather records began in 1895.

*Rasmussen polls are well known to be somewhat biased in a conservative direction.

NOVEMBER FIFTEENTH

32 year-old study* of the environmental health of Lake Pontchartrain may soon be dusted off!

The New Orleans District Office of the Corps of Engineers just released the Hurricane Isaac Assessment Report, a study of flooding caused by that slow moving rainy storm. The report was prompted by residents of several coastal parishes concerned about increased flooding caused by the levee improvements for greater New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. That $10 billion project is known as the Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System…HSDRRS.

The corps is hosting a series of public meetings to describe the report and Heather Nolan reported in Nola.com on the outcome of the first meeting, which was held last evening in Slidell. Apparently the attendees told Col. Ed Fleming, Corps of Engineers New Orleans District Commander, that they adamantly want hurricane surge protection along the North Shore from Slidell west. They specifically want to revive an old proposal called the barrier plan, which called for the construction of moveable gates across Chef Menteur and the Rigolets to block hurricane surges.

During the late 70s and early 80s I participated in a $3 million team study of Lake Pontchartrain funded by the corps specifically to judge the environmental impacts of implementing the barrier plan. Before the study was complete, however, a decision was made at corps headquarters to drop the barrier plan and to increase the elevation of levees around the lake. Here’s the complete reference to the study, which has not been digitized to my knowledge, so no url exists:

Stone, J. H.  (ed.).  1980.  Environmental analysis of Lake Pontchartrain Louisiana, its surrounding wetlands, and selected land uses.  CEL, CWR, LSU, BR, LA 70803.  Prepared for U.S. Army Engineer District, New Orleans.  Contract No. DACW-29-77-0253.  2 vols.

The New Orleans District office summarily cut our funding and left us soft money researchers holding the bag, so to speak, Both Jim Stone and I eventually became victimized by that decision. He left LSU in 1982 and I left in 1984. Later victims of the termination of the Pontchartrain study were Walter and Jean Sikora, who helped me run the study of the lake bottom (macro benthos) and who co-authored the shell dredging report, an excellent piece of work that created a political stir and won us no friends at the Ol’ War Skule.

At that time the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries was getting a quarter a bushel for shells dredged from the coast and no one was supposed to blow the whistle. We didn’t listen to such threats to our constitutionally protected academic free speech however.

The Louisiana Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast calls for a $75 million modeling study of possible hydrodynamic effects of the barriers, including the entire region over which impacts could be expected, including the Pearl River Basin.

The corps of engineers has always been in love with the barrier plan. I assume that someone in the district office has been asked to search the store rooms and dust off our old study reports, which should be interesting to read after all these years.

 

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  5. Don Boesch says:

    Regarding the $2.4 billion committed to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation under the BP criminal plea, the agreement states that “NFWF will use approximately half of the payments to create or restore barrier islands off the coast of Louisiana and/or to implement river diversion projects on the Mississippi and/or Atchafalaya Rivers for the purpose of creating, preserving and restoring coastal habitat.” It further states that “NFWF will consult with State resource managers, as well as federal resource managers that have the statutory authority for coordination or cooperation with private entities regarding management or protection for coastal habitat, to identify the highest priority projects, and to maximize the environmental benefits of such projects. In identifying projects, NFWF shall consider the State’s Coastal Master Plan, as well as the Louisiana Coastal Area Mississippi River Hydrodynamic and Delta Management Study.” BP has to provide NFWF $100M within 60 days of the judge’s acceptance of the plea, another $300M within 1 year, another $300M within 2 years, another $300 M within 3 years, another $500M within 4 years, and the remainder within 5 years. See http://www.justice.gov/iso/opa/resources/43320121115143613990027.pdf

    See Washington Post story on the selection of NFWF for this purpose http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/bp-settlement-a-boon-to-conservation-group/2012/11/16/ddcb2790-302b-11e2-a30e-5ca76eeec857_story.html

  6. Jim Wilkins says:

    Len, This is very timely. Last week I dusted off the old shell dredging report on which I was the field and lab research manager for Walt and Jean. It brought back good memories as well as bitter feelings about how the study was marginalized and downplayed because of the politics. I remember when I was working for Coastal Management in 1983 and the whole staff was called into Sec. Hull’s office so he could berate us for even suggesting shell dredging was harming the lake. I remember him saying the only thing hurting the lake was fishermen “taking a dump” off the side of their boats. I don’t think anyone could say the condition of the lake didn’t improve dramatically when the dredging was stopped and the fishermen are probably still doing what they always have.

  7. Kelly Haggar says:

    “Did NEPA Drown New Orleans? The Levees, the Blame Game, and the Hazards of Hindsight” by Kysar, Douglas A. and McGarity, Thomas O., (2006). Faculty Scholarship Series. Paper 379, available at http://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/fss_papers/379; originally DUKE LAW JOURNAL Vol. 56:179 (2006).

    SOW used to have the 1977 opinion, Save Our Wetlands, Inc. v. Rush, No. 75-3710, slip op. (E.D. La. 1977), at:

    http://www.saveourwetlands.org/77-schwartz.htm

    but that link is broken. However, the full text of the 1977 ruling is still at:

    http://kaffirs.blogspot.com/2005/09/would-proposed-barrier-have-saved-new.html.

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