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January 2013 Coastal Scuttlebutt

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JANUARY FOURTEENTH

Global warming: science and wishful thinking

Seth Borenstein wrote an article for AP published in NOLA.com on January 11 about the release of a government-funded study that was commissioned by The “National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee” (NCADAC). Two hundred forty scientists were recruited to review and report on the implications of climate change on Americans. This extensive draft report is now out for public review until April 12.

This report assesses climate change impacts on Americans in 13 regions of the country. In contrast, in today’s NOLA.com Bob Marshall discussed the implications of global warming on a specific site in Louisiana…the land bridge that, at least on maps, separates Lake Borne from Lake Pontchartrain. Marshall based his essay on observations from a recent meeting of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority–East (SELFPA-E) in which the members heard a technical report by a professional consulting company on what could be done to bolster this vital and sinking piece of landscape, how effective it would be and what it would cost.

In his inimitably sardonic style, Marshall described the contrast between the reception of the sobering report by members of the authority, who took it very seriously, vs what our science-denying elected officials would have reacted, had they bothered to attend.

Maps have a way of reassuring us and the isthmus of land that forms the boundary between Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Borne is so familiar on maps that its gradual disappearance as it sinks below mean sea level (MSL) seems almost inconceivable. Unfortunately, losing the land bridge is not only conceivable, it’s imminent during the remainder of the century.

JANUARY THIRTEENTH

Flag of Panama

Panama Canal expansion lists a lot of ports but not New Orleans

Today’s The Washington Post features a front-page story by William Booth on the expansion of the Panama Canal and how it’s driving competition among port cities on the Pacific, Atlantic and gulf coasts. To be competitive a port city must have a sustainable 50 ft draft channel necessary to handle the new generation of container ships. The following cities were discussed: Baltimore, Miami, New York, Norfolk,

JANUARY TWELTH

If California can balance its budget why can’t we?

Jim Wilson/The New York Times. In announcing California's new budget, Gov. Jerry Brown compared the current numbers with the deficits that were projected in 2011.

Here are two headlines from today’s NOLA.com linked to articles by Jeff Adelson, each related to Bobby Jindal’s philosophy on balancing the out of whack FY 2014 state budget. Both reports involve the ongoing fiscal crisis that will be addressed beginning on April 8 during the upcoming legislative circus at the State Capitol.

1) Jindal tax plan could eliminate taxes on oil and gas extraction

2) Eliminating Louisiana’s income tax could mean higher sales tax, fewer exemptions

The former revenue stream is still the primary source of funding for the state’s coastal protection and restoration program. In other words, even band-aid scale projects will be off the table unless we experience a series of coastal catastrophes and depend on multi-billion dollar environmental fines, as in the BP blowout. The already preposterous $13 billion Morganza-to-the-Gulf project that the governor strongly endorses will never be completed.

Making up for the FY 2014 shortfall would involve imposing a new 7% state sales tax on everyone, a regressive ‘solution’ that falls disproportionately on the backs of the poor. In EBR we already pay an 8% sales tax, so we’d be looking at a whopping 15% cumulative sales tax.

In addition, we will have ignored the need to increase the budget in order to pay for coastal restoration, to invest in our infrastructure and our universities…and to provide mental health care for our overstressed population.

In terms of the victims of mental illness, Bobby Jindal wants more aggressive screening for unstable folks, not to help them become productive citizens but so that they won’t become the armed executioners of school children and moviegoers. Here’s the headline in today’s NOLA.com linked to an accompanying story, again by busy reporter Jeff Adelson: Jindal gun safety proposal would allow state to report ‘severely mentally ill’ residents to national database.

Like all ‘starve the beast’ anti government advocates the governor continues to insist that any change in tax policy must be revenue-neutral, In other words we won’t have gotten anywhere in terms of advancing healthcare and higher ed. The governor’s minions who call themselves public servants will agree this Spring to cut the taxes on business and industry and in the process make life even harder for our poor, who will continue to take the hit when they buy milk and medicine.

On January 10, Adam Nagourney described in The NY Times how California Governor Jerry Brown successfully balanced his massively overspent state budget during his tenure, which is about the same amount of time that Jindal’s had…AND without a totally compliant state legislature.  Are you paying attention Bobby Jindal?

JANUARY ELEVENTH

Satellite image from NOAA 2011

Seeing the coast ain’t easy

On Monday January 7th my sister Beth Fox, her husband Maurice J. Fox III, my soul mate Guille Novelo and I drove from New Orleans to Grand Isle, just for fun. I hadn’t been down there since August 21, 2005, so our day trip was exactly seven years and a week after Hurricane Katrina. Guille was the novice in the group, having never seen our coast first hand.

So saying, the four of us spent a total of 16 people hours in a rental car, driving blindly behind levees, with me attempting unsuccessfully to describe from ground level landscape deterioration that can only be appreciated from a floatplane at 1,000 feet.

By sheer coincidence, the day after returning to my LaCoastPost recliner and laptop I stumbled on an E-mail sent by my Canadian colleague Dr. Bill Nuttle, coastal engineer and an expert on our coast, who forwarded this link to an excellent November 2012 article by Caitlyn Kelly with the NOAA climate office. The article describes the dynamics of the landscape (actually waterscape) surrounding Port Fourchon, the same area that we had been very close to without actually seeing.

After reading Ms. Kelly’s article I realized that our little group could have passed a ‘gooder’ time on that gloomy day in January, while not increasing our carbon footprint. We could have learned a lot more in half the time by discussing this article in comfortable surroundings, e.g., at La Boulangerie on Magazine Street in uptown New Orleans, while munching quiche and sipping café’ au lait.

JANUARY TENTH

Louisiana state climatologist averse to the phrase climate change

Barry Keim, Louisiana state climatologist

My coastal colleague Dr. Barry Keim at LSU is the official Louisiana state climatologist, who is frequently interviewed about weather-related issues on WRKF-FM, Baton Rouge’s NPR affiliate station. Today, during a local news break on NPR’s Morning Edition, Dr. Keim described what is beginning to feel like forty days and nights of flooding in south Louisiana.

After spending 38 Januaries in Baton Rouge, this event feels very strange to me; the radio interviewer, Ashley Westerman, just characterized the current weather as crazy; and the radio programming was just interrupted by a tornado warning and flash flood watch for East Baton Rouge and Ascension Parishes. Nevertheless, Keim spoke in a matter-of-fact weatherman style, with no attempt to put this event into the historical context of similar episodes in previous years.

I’m struck that during today’s brief interview, and in past weather-related stories, Keim consistently describes unusual meteorological events that are possibly or even probably related to climate change, or global warming, without ever using those phrases.

In the absence of any evidence to the contrary I’m forced to conclude that Keim’s studious avoidance of the phrases climate change and global warming is tied to the political sensitivity of those phrases in our ultra-red state. After all, Richard Keim is a state employee and Governor Jindal signs his pay check. On the other hand, I’m a state taxpayer and I don’t believe that I’m hearing scientifically credible information from a state official.

All of this is particularly noteworthy, given the fact that the lower 48 states just experienced the hottest year on record by a full degree fahrenheit since the previous record that wasset in 1998. This sobering fact is described in this article by Andrew Freedman in HuffingtonPost.

JANUARY NINTH

Graphic from The Advocate showing the expansion in scale of the new physical model of the river.

Physical model of the lower river

Amy Wold reported yesterday in The Advocate on a $12 million physical model of the entire lower Mississippi River delta that will soon be constructed at LSU. This facility will replace an existing but outmoded physical model that is overseen by Clint Willson, professor of civil engineering.

IMHO this new model will become an extremely cost-effective tool for testing alternative strategies for managing the lower river, not just because it will allow the rapid testing of competing concepts on a quantitative basis but also because it will provide the opportunity for a broad audience of non-modelers to watch simulated sediments responding to flowing water in a speeded up time frame. The model will be an extremely powerful visual pubic relations tool for uniting elected officials, navigation industry reps and environmental managers on river management policy.

I’m curious about the fact that Wold’s article doesn’t mention The Water Institute of the Gulf (TWIG), which has been gearing up for serious numerical modeling of the hydrodynamics of the lower river. I’m told by some authorities that studies involving both numerical and physical models can be particularly powerful. Thus I hope that such a team interaction will be commonplace in 2014 when the physical model becomes functional and that Drs. Willson from LSU and Chip Groat, Mead Allison and Ehab Meselhe from TWIG will combine their talent on a regular basis.

More on the Maurepas coastal forest acquisition

Today The Advocate carried an article by Bob Anderson on the acquisition of coastal forest land on the north shore of Lake Maurepas. This article complements the description by Mark Schleifstein on the same subject posted yesterday (scroll down).

Steve Scalise coastal comments still in the news

On January 26 NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune published a letter to the editor by yours truly concerning Representative Steve Scalise’s statement that “The value of the coast of Louisiana cannot be underestimated,” a Freudian slip of the tongue?

JANUARY EIGHTH

Graphic from NOLA.com

Kudos to state coastal officials

Most readers of LaCoastPost would probably agree that I’m extremely stingy with compliments to those who oversee coastal protection and restoration in Louisiana. I know from personal experience that the Jindal administration does not encourage opinions on the part of staff that differ with the governor’s views. In other words, the opinions of coastal officials should be taken with a large grain of salt.

After reading Mark Schleifstein’s article in NOLA.com about the state’s purchase of 11,145 acres (17.4 mi2) of coastal forest on the northern shore of Lake Maurepas, I happily make an exception to that pattern today, with kudos to two state officials quoted in the article, Garret Graves, coastal advisor to the governor, and Robert Barham, Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

Here are some quotes from the article:

Louisiana received $6.75 million for its Coastal Forest Conservation Initiative (CFCI), which was used to buy the land…changes since the settlement now direct that money toward restoration projects that are part of the state’s Master Plan for coastal restoration, said Garret Graves, chairman of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, who also acts as the state trustee in negotiations over natural resource issues involving the BP spill.

…Graves said the land purchase proves that use of the supplemental environmental project process is a valuable tool in assuring that Clean Water Act penalty money is properly used on Gulf Coast restoration projects. In this case, the property purchase also preserves a forested area that provides a natural defense against hurricane storm surges, he said.

With the addition, the wildlife management area now covers 114,519 acres (179 mi2), an area equal to the size of the city of Tampa, Fla., and includes close to two-thirds of the shoreline of the lake…

The purchase expands wildlife corridors and provides additional opportunities for public access.

“The state’s coastal wetlands and forests, like those found around Lake Maurepas, are of utmost importance to the ecosystems they support and these vital resources must be protected for generations to come,” said Department of Wildlife & Fisheries Secretary Robert Barham. “Our citizens, and visitors to the state, also now have an even greater expanse of public land available for outdoor recreation within easy driving distance of two major metropolitan areas.”

To reach the end of an article and not disagree with any of the quotes from state officials is a rare and gratifying experience these days. In this case I was reminded that there is widespread agreement on certain coastal concepts, even among folks who share few political views.

Congratulations are due to Graves and Barham on the purchase and your comments about the hydrological and ecological importance of the land in question. By the way, the purchase price was about $600/acre, an excellent investment in the future.

JANUARY SEVENTH

I'm just too smart for my own britches.

Journalistic courage

Yesterday The Advocate published a strong editorial taking Bobby Jindal to task for financial mismanagement of the ship of state. I seem to remember a time when this whiz kid was described as a gifted manager, someone who could scrutinize, analyze, digitize, reorganize and revolutionize complex government systems, to make them both more effective and more efficient.

Such hyperbole seems to have been based on a resume’ that includes a series of government administrative positions, beginning with a brief tenure as secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals at the tender age of 25. Here’s a self serving quote from a governor’s office web site during his first term:

 

During Jindal’s tenure as DHH Secretary, he rescued Louisiana’s Medicaid program from bankruptcy, childhood immunizations increased, Louisiana ranked third best nationally in health care screenings for children, and new and expanded services for elderly and disabled persons were offered.

These promising achievements have unfortunately been reversed over the intervening years since 1999 under Governors Foster, Blanco…and Jindal.

During Jindal’s five years as governor, public health in Louisiana has declined and major budget cutbacks for services for the young and the poor were just announced by Bruce Greenstein, current DHH secretary and Jindal apologist. Most outrageous to me was the recent announcement that all hospice services have been canceled…to save a paltry $1.5 million.

And of course there’s the amazing situation that in the midst of a medical crisis, Jindal refuses to accept a $600 million federal Medicaid assistance package, which Jindal claims will cost us too much three years down the road. Meanwhile, DHH budget and service problems have been backsliding, which the governor has been unable either to prevent or to fix.

This editorial laid the myth to rest that Jindal is a miracle worker who is capable of restoring the health of DHH, let alone Louisiana state government in general. Jindal’s genius reputation is well symbolized by what has happened to DHH, with government cost overruns and declines in public services, especially for the poor.

All of this has strong implications for saving the coast, of course. The proof is in the pudding and Governor Jindal has been putting us all on.

Courageous editorial, staff of The Advocate. Keep up the good work.

JANUARY SIXTH

John Fleming voted against providing Hurricane Sandy disaster relief

Doctor, Subway franchisee and short sighted congressman John Fleming.

NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune is carrying an editorial lambasting the GOP controlled House for stalling on the approval of disaster relief funds for victims of Hurricane Sandy. John Fleming (R-LA) was rightly chastised as the sole member of the Louisiana delegation who voted against the emergency funding package.

Yesterday I derided various other southern house members who opposed paying to restore the damage caused by Sandy, including Steven Palazzo, our neighbor from Biloxi. In writing the post I completely overlooked our home-boy John Fleming, who should not only be embarrassed by his vote but ‘de-elected’ because of it in 2014.

JANUARY FIFTH

Doesn't Congressman Palazzo look sincere?

Coastal congressmen in the south vote against Sandy relief, despite their likely future needs.

Charlie Mahtesian reported yesterday in Politico.com that a group of southern freshmen congressmen, including some from coastal districts that have received disaster relief in the past, voted against emergency funding to help the victims of Sandy. I can’t imagine a better example of congressional dysfunction, driven by short sighted ideology, which has become a trade mark of the Tea Party. These guys are holding the will of national voters hostage to a pure way of thinking reminiscent of the followers of the Church of Scientology.

One of the young members of the House GOP who is representative of this group was described yesterday in TalkingPointsMemo.com. Tom Kludt reported that Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS) voted to deny a $9.7 billion relief package to victims of Hurricane Sandy, presumably to burnish his record as a fiscal hawk bent on reducing the size of government.

I’m sure he promised his constituents, who just happen to live in an extremely vulnerable section of the gulf coast, that ‘Gummint’ is far too big and intrusive these days. This is in striking contrast to his predecessor, Congressman Gene Taylor (D-MS), who genuinely cared about coastal issues and his coastal constituents, who was unashamed to seek coastal earmarks for his district. Taylor was smart enough to realize that the congress has a long memory and that southern renegades who oppose helping their northern counterparts on coastal disaster relief will probably live to see retribution.

Palazzo has only represented Mississippi’s District 4 since 2011 but the voters of his coastal District 4 received $10.5 billion from Hurricane Katrina in September, 2005.

The New York Times published an article on the vote for and against Sandy relief and an impressive accompanying set of graphic images of the geographic breakdown of the vote. I sure wish that some of these clueless coastal clodhoppers could be persuaded to describe their ‘rationale’ for voting against disaster relief on a nationally broadcast TV show, with Rachel Maddow or Lawrence O’Donnell as host.

In the meantime, attaboys, congressmen; let those Yankees freeze in the cold.

JANUARY FOURTH

Scalise casts doubt on coastal value

"The value of Louisiana's coast cannot be underestimated." Rep. Steve Scalise.

Carrie Johnson reported yesterday on NPR’s All Things Considered that Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, has agreed to pay $1.4 billion in civil and criminal payments for their part in the BP blowout. The following quote specifies the allocation of the fine:

Under the terms of the agreement, Transocean will pay $400 million in criminal penalties, most of which will be transferred to the National Academy of Sciences and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The company also agreed to turn over $1 billion in civil penalties, 80 percent of which could go to fund projects in the Gulf states under legislation passed by Congress in 2012 called the RESTORE Act.

Today in NOLA.com Mark Schleifstein quoted responses from elected officials and others to the $1.4 billion fine against Transocean for its role in the BP oil blowout. Many of these folks cited the RESTORE Act that was enacted in 2011, allocating 80% of this money to coastal restoration. I was particularly struck by the following quotes by Congressman Steve Scalise (R-Metairie):

“The signing of the RESTORE Act into law was without a doubt the single most significant action taken in Louisiana’s history to restore our coast.

The value of Louisiana’s coast cannot be underestimated, (my emphasis) and the DOJ must continue to hold BP fully accountable as they continue negotiating civil penalties.”

Two comments:

1)   With all due respect, Steve Scalise is a latecomer to the 20-year old program to restore Louisiana’s coast and as a climate change denier he’s in no position to assert that any law, including the RESTORE Act, is the single most significant coastal restoration action ever taken in Louisiana.

2)   The congressman presumably meant to say that the value of our coast cannot be overestimated. Most of the country underestimates the value of our coast on a regular basis.

JANUARY THIRD

Graphic from NOLA.com

Tax cuts have coastal consequences

Yesterday in NOLA.com Bruce Alpert described how the bill to avert a huge tax increase passed the GOP-dominated House, despite opposition from a whopping 151 of 236 GOP caucus members. Jordan Blum covered the story for The Advocate.

Fiscal impacts of the fiscal cliff bill are more symbolic than substantive, in that the bill was far more modest in scale than hoped; but it set a crucial precedent by defying the line drawn in the sand by the Tea Party folks who oppose raising taxes under any and all circumstances. This bill increases federal tax revenues by $600 billion over ten years, which has outraged the losing side in the vote.

Louisiana now faces a projected $1.2 billion budget overrun, which is clearly a consequence of this anti-tax economic thinking. I’m sometimes criticized** for making arithmetic errors in posts but I work for free. I don’t have a large Division of Administration to point out the obvious arithmetic consequences of refusing to accept any new or renewed tax revenues and the futile results of balancing the state budget solely by cutting back on higher ed and health care.

Two key questions: (1) How much longer will our state continue to be led by anti-tax fanatics? (2) When will our governor and his allies get called on the blatant hypocrisy of seeking $50 billion of tax money for Louisiana’s Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast…while opposing unbudgeted emergency coastal funding for other folks, e.g, $60 billion for Hurricane Sandy.

*This was Landry’s final vote because he was just bumped from the newly redrawn (coastal) district 3.

**by my engineer friend and coastal hydrologist Harley Winer.

 

JANUARY SECOND

Vitter now the top Republican on committee vital to the coast

Sen. David Vitter

Jordan Blum reported in The Advocate today that Louisiana will now have a major voice in legislation with huge coastal implications. Senator David Vitter (R-LA), whose career has been marked by hostility toward government agency regulations, will have a serious voice on the Senate Committee most important to Louisiana; he will be the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Most recently, Vitter opposed EPA’s attempt to reign in industrial CO2 emissions to slow down the impacts of climate change. Previously he opposed the Corps of Engineers, when that agency disallowed coastal forest logging on private land on our subsiding delta.

For these and many other reasons I’ve never been a Vitter fan but today I celebrate the fact that he’ll be replacing Jim Inhofe (R, OK), who has been the most vocal and vehement disbeliever in climate change in all of the U.S. government. Vitter says that he believes in climate change; he’s just not convinced that humans are to blame. That’s the classic hedge of fence sitters who probably know better but who take funds from vested interests.

David Vitter is extremely difficult to read, with (so I’m told) few close friends, Bobby Jindal’s aversion to the press and a poker player’s skill at keeping his strategies and motives well hidden. To his credit, he’s not an idealogue in the Tea Party mold; e.g., he’s not against Louisiana pork in the form of earmarks for coastal projects.

He has recently worked with Mary Landrieu on coastal legislation, like the RESTORE Act. He advocates streamlining Corps policy with respect to public works projects on which coastal protection and restoration depends.

Yesterday Vitter even voted for a tax increase on rich folks (aka job creators), along with the 88 other senators who supported the tax pullback that supposedly averted an economic collapse predicted by some.

I don’t think that any arguments from the science community would be persuasive to David Vitter re the climate issue that is so important to Louisiana. That’s because I suspect that his opinion is driven more by political influence and energy industry funding than by conviction.

Anyhow, congratulations, Senator and I hope you can work productively with committee chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA).

JANUARY FIRST

Bobby Jindal's coastal report card

Rating Bobby Jindal as a coastal governor

Having worked for five governors as the coast continued (and continues) to deteriorate it is my considered opinion that, no matter who is appointed or contracted to implement the $50 billion Louisiana Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast, for better or worse it’s the governor who makes all the difference.

If the governor truly cares about the state of the state, coastal protection and restoration will flourish (within the very real limits of funding). If the governor is distracted by national ambitions and partisan politics the coastal program will spin its fancy wheels without traction.

The governor’s critics are becoming more and more vocal about Jindal’s partisan autocratic style, his vindictiveness and bullying, his failure to listen to his constituents or their interests and his avoidance of the press. In terms of the press, Jim Engster interviewed distinguished political guru Gus Weill, on the last day of 2012 on his show on NPR affiliate WRKF-FM Baton Rouge. Here are a couple of intriguing quotes:

Weill: I think Louisiana has the worst governor in my experience. He’s a man with an agenda that has absolutely nothing to do with Louisiana…The one thing you want is an informed populist. He doesn’t hold press conference in Louisiana. Jim, you’re in the media; when’s the last time the governor had a press conference?

Engster: Depends on your definition but I don’t think he’s ever had a real press conference.

Read this December 26 post by LSU journalism professor Bob Mann, who I’ve known and respected since he worked for former Senator John Breaux and later served as communications director for Governor Kathleen Blanco.

After five full years I unequivocally rate the Jindal administration as a coastal failure, despite the fact that the coastal program that Bobby J. oversees has never been so large and impressive on paper, with over 100 staffers in the office of coastal protection and restoration (OCPR) in addition to let’s say 10 or more in the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities (GOCA).

Informed sources tell me that morale is quite low among this large coastal staff, many of whom are seasoned managers who really care about the coast. So far the highest ranking staffer to quit the administration was Steve Mathies, former executive director of OCPR, who left the post on July 1, 2011.

This premature retirement was described by Amy Wold in The Advocate. I never spoke to Dr. Mathies about his decision but I suspect that he tired of being pressured to go along with imperious top down coastal policy decisions with no chance to voice minority opinions. I suspect that the governor’s $260 million emergency BP sand berms was part of the decision.

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  3. Anonymous says:

    It is absolutely fair/reasonable for FEMA to pay NFIP claims and to provide basic assistance to state and local governments consistent with other Stafford Act disaster actions. But let’s think about the economic justificastion for the rest of the aid for at least ONE MINUTE. Consider the per capita income of the affected counties in NY, NJ, and CT. A lot of the aid package amounts to a subsidy of a disproportionately VERY wealthy part of the country by the rest of the US taxpayers–on top of an extravagant 2008-09 bailout that heavilty subsidized these regional economies.

    In this case it makes economic sense for Congress to say that additional local aid needs to be paid for by the wealthy living in the same state–and the American middle class and their children should not be stuck with this tab–which will also include interest.

    The “economic” argument is understandably different when disaster strikes a relatively poor county–especially one which supports a critical national economic interest.

  4. The only La House member to vote no was Fleming (R-Shreveport), who also has the distinction of being the only La Rep to vote against coastal restoration funding for his own state (in the Committee vote last year on LCA funding supported by the White House). The other GOP House members from La knew better this time, after Scalise and Landry distinguished themselves last year by joining calls for budget offsets to relief funding for the states hit by Hurricane Irene.

  5. Not only does Rep Scalise appear to be a manipulator who will say ANYTHING so long as it furthers his agenda-of-the-moment, we now also know he appears stupid.

  6. As a former State employee in hurricane protection, state wide flood control, and other priority programs Jindal is a total loss.

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