Monday, August 17, 2015

Today's must read

Len Bahr responds to yet another Panglossian op-ed on coastal restoration published in the Advocate last week.
The Advocate published a guest column on the need to act before it’s too late, by Steve Cochran, with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Kimberly Reyher with the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana (CRCL). This column is rife with slogans but bereft of substance.

The authors advocate what has already been more or less agreed to – memorializing the tenth anniversary of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita by investing Louisiana’s ~$6 Billion coastal windfall from fines against BP to implement coastal restoration projects listed in the state’s Coastal Master Plan. What a novel idea.

This vapid opinion piece dodges or glosses over three ‘M’ factors, each a potential deal breaker in terms of successful coastal restoration: money, mud, and muscle (political willpower). Restoration will never be achieved without resolving each issue.
Bahr also points to this letter published by the New York Times today by Oliver Houck.  Houck notes that even the best case scenario for Louisiana is pretty grim at this point. 
There is no hope of restoring the coastal Louisiana we once knew. Sea rise is accelerating, the substrate is collapsing, and the oil and gas industry has torn the surface to shreds. Some 50 miles of marshes that protected New Orleans are largely gone. The Mississippi no longer carries sediment loads sufficient to offset these losses. We can maintain a few salients like New Orleans and create several deltas. That’s the best-case scenario.
The worst case scenario is, well, worse than that.  More crucial, though, is Bahr's explanation as to why even the best case outcome is unlikely.  Because no one who decides how we're going to approach this problem will ever do so honestly.
The column extols the scientific foundation for the latest master plan but it abstains from criticizing the blatant willful ignorance of officials who deny the overwhelming technical evidence for anthropogenic climate change – a process to which our delta is particularly vulnerable. Bragging about coastal science used in the Master Plan ignores the fact that state officials deny the fundamental conclusions of that science. America’s Delta began to form during interglacial global warming at the close of the Pleistocene Epoch ~8,000 years ago, two millennia before Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden to live among dinosaurs in the Creationist universe taught by many Louisiana science teachers – thanks to Governor Jindal and our legislators.
Most notably the "willful ignorance of officials" in Louisiana manifests in their continued protection of the oil and gas industry at all costs. This, despite that industry's clear culpability in greatly exacerbating the erosion process.  John Barry recently explained this (again) in the New York Times.
But oil has long dominated Louisiana politics, and neither the state nor the federal government demanded that the industry comply. Two years ago, the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority East, a levee board created after Katrina by reformers and responsible for most of metro New Orleans, did: It sued 97 companies for increasing storm surge against the board’s levees. This board’s members have included the chairman of a National Academy of Sciences panel on coastal risk reduction, a past president of the American Society of Civil Engineers, practicing engineers and flood experts. (I served on the board for six years.) They hoped their lawsuit would precipitate a statewide settlement funding the master plan through either additional litigation or taxes on the industry.

Two parishes neighboring New Orleans did file suits, but the city’s mayor, Mitchell J. Landrieu, has not — although he has said the industry should “clean up its own mess” and a victory could fund the living-with-water approach. Meanwhile most of the state’s political and business establishment reacted in astonishment and outrage. The Republican governor, Bobby Jindal, tried to gut the board — for example, replacing a nationally recognized flood expert who was chief engineer for 1,600 miles of California’s federal levees with a lobbyist who is the treasurer of Mr. Jindal’s wife’s foundation.
Note Mayor Landrieu's signature strategy of playing both sides of the fence; talking tough about oil needing to "clean up its mess" while taking no steps to actually make that happen.  One wonders if either he or Jindal even thinks such a thing is worth the effort.  From a purely pragmatic point of view, it's probably better for the state's political leaders to resign themselves to the fact that the Gulf is going to swallow the land one way or the other. Why wouldn't they do what they can to help maximize oil profits in the meantime? 

Sort of like Cohran and Reyher's column, Bobby Jindal and Mitch Landrieu would rather brag about unfunded master plans and pose heroically for the cameras. But none of that is ever going to save what's left of our coast. Maybe that isn't the point, though.

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