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‘Without a coast, there is no city’: Landrieu calls for deal with energy companies on coastal restoration

Posted on: June 10th, 2016 by restoreit

The Advocate. Click for story.

In a speech to environmental scientists that described the rapid erosion of the state’s marshes as a threat to the city’s continued existence, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu called Friday for a negotiated settlement — backed by threats of higher taxes or lawsuits — with the oil and gas industry to pay for nearly a century of damage to coastal wetlands.

“I’ll give you the short version of the speech,” Landrieu said as he began. “Without a coast, there is no city.”

In his remarks at the State of the Coast conference in New Orleans, Landrieu both criticized the environmental damage he said the energy industry has wrought and hailed its importance to the state’s economy.

In doing so, he called for an end to the “uneasy bargain” he said has governed the state’s relationship with oil and gas companies since the 1930s — a deference to the industry that he said has contributed to the erosion of about 1,900 square miles of coastal wetlands through policies that are “penny-wise and pound-foolish.”

“I don’t believe we should or we must abandon the industry that has provided us with so much opportunity. We can drill, but we must restore,” Landrieu said.

He endorsed an effort by the state to bring oil and gas companies to the negotiating table, a process tied to coastal damage suits filed by individual parishes. That effort is aimed at working out a deal with the companies to cover the cost of the damage caused by drilling and dredging in coastal areas.

The effort, however, has been rejected by industry groups, which responded to Landrieu on Friday by arguing they already are doing their share for coastal restoration.

“A sincere discussion about addressing Louisiana’s coast doesn’t single out the state’s largest industry,” the Grow Louisiana Coalition, an industry group, said in a news release. “We are working on the coast, not talking about it. As we continue to move forward in that work, federal authorities, including and especially the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as well as the commercial and scientific interests who operate in coastal parishes and the parishes themselves, must play a significant role whenever we talk about big issues, including funding.”

Landrieu also floated another idea that could lead to a similar result: imposing higher taxes on oil and gas companies, with that money funneled toward coastal restoration efforts, in exchange for releasing them from liability for past damage. That proposal echoes a failed plan backed by Republican Gov. David Treen in the early 1980s.

“We can come to a negotiated agreement with the industry. We can come up with a way to fairly tax the industry and put that money to the coast. Or we can engage in a standoff and litigation,” Landrieu said.

Louisiana has been grappling with how to fund coastal restoration efforts, a matter made more urgent as estimates of the cost of its plan have ballooned from $50 billion to $100 billion. Some of that additional money will come from an increased share of federal revenue from drilling activities the state is set to receive. The state also will use money from a legal settlement stemming from the BP oil spill.

Landrieu acknowledged that the industry is not alone in its culpability for coastal erosion. Building of levees along the Mississippi River, subsidence and sea-level rise also have taken a toll.

In calling for a “new covenant” with the industry, Landrieu also suggested a shift to restoration and alternative energy could lead to an economic boom for both energy companies and the state as a whole.

Likening the massive restoration efforts envisioned by the state’s coastal master plan to the Depression-era Works Progress Administration, he said, “I believe there is a great opportunity that can be born from this tragedy we’re now suffering under.”

The Grow Louisiana Coalition, however, pointed to local environmental projects that companies already are engaged in, such as building an artificial reef in Lake Pontchartrain near West End, as well as the money they pay to the federal government to lease drilling sites in the Gulf of Mexico — which will be shared with the state starting next year — as signs the industry “is already doing its part to fund coastal restoration.”

Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.

Posted in coastal restoration, Legislative Updates, News | Comments Off on ‘Without a coast, there is no city’: Landrieu calls for deal with energy companies on coastal restoration

Gov. Edwards, AG Landry in uneasy alliance to find coastal settlement as football field of land disappears every hour

Posted on: June 1st, 2016 by restoreit

Clean Water Land & Coast is dedicated to keeping you up to date in the fight to save our coast. Here is an article from The Advocate about the ongoing struggle between Gov. Edwards and Attorney General Landry on Louisiana coastal restoration efforts and settlements in Southern LA and its Parishes. Read the story below.

The Advocate. Click here for story.

Gov. John Bel Edwards and Attorney General Jeff Landry are engaged in an uneasy alliance to try to achieve a major and long-lasting goal: a settlement with oil and gas companies to help restore Louisiana’s eroding coast.

Billions of dollars are at stake — as well as the coastline.

Landry and the governor’s executive counsel, Matthew Block, have held private meetings with coastal parish officials and, at Landry’s request, asked them to not take legal action for 60 days while the attorney general and Edwards try to establish a unified front between themselves and among the parishes. The voluntary 60-day cooling period ends on June 13.

Three parishes — Cameron, Jefferson and Plaquemines — have filed lawsuits accusing oil and gas companies of destroying coastal marsh and wetlands through their drilling activities. Other parishes also are weighing whether to file their own lawsuits, legal sources said. Additional lawsuits could be the stick that brings oil and gas companies to the negotiating table.

Whether the governor and attorney general can forge a working relationship to produce a negotiated resolution on the coastal lawsuits remains an open question. Landry has been aggressively challenging Edwards’ authority on other issues during his first few months as attorney general, including asking the Legislature for his own budget authority, over the governor’s objection.

Some insiders believe that Landry wants a greater say over his spending to have the leeway to hire his own attorneys in the coastal lawsuits.

Political insiders believe that Landry, a Republican, is carving out a distinct role to position himself to run against Edwards, a Democrat, in the 2019 governor’s race, something he has denied. Some of the trial lawyers believe that Landry, who has been close to oil and gas industry officials, is doing their bidding.

A spokeswoman for Landry said he did not have time for an interview.

Block, a trial lawyer from Thibodaux who is now the governor’s executive counsel, said his office and Landry’s are working together harmoniously,

“I don’t believe anyone who attended the meetings would say there was big tension between the attorney general and the governor on this case,” Block said.

Nonetheless, each side has moved to gain the upper hand in the lawsuits, in a sign of the mistrust between them.

Landry convened individual meetings with coastal parish leaders April 12 and 13 at his office in the State Capitol, but he did include Block in each gathering. Landry’s spokeswoman, Ruth Wisher, did not respond to requests for a list of the parishes that attended.

“The intent is to try to bring all of this together and reach some sort of global resolution,” Chris Roberts, an at-large councilman in Jefferson Parish, said in an interview. Roberts missed the meeting because of traffic congestion but was briefed afterward on what happened.

In March, Landry filed a lawsuit to intervene in the lawsuits already filed against the oil and gas industry by Cameron, Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes.

Edwards countered three weeks later by having his secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, the state agency empowered to enforce coastal regulations, also intervene in the lawsuits to ensure he was not left out.

Edwards made the next move by meeting on May 13 with two dozen oil and gas industry lobbyists and attorneys, where he pitched the idea of a settlement.

According to several people present, Edwards told them that restoring the coast would cost about $100 billion over the next 50 years and that oil industry documents showed companies caused at least 30 percent of the damage. The governor also said he does not plan to heed a demand by industry officials by seeking money from the federal government for the construction of the levees that have curtailed sediment-rich flooding from the Mississippi River, flooding that fed the wetlands.

The goal of any settlement discussions, Edwards administration officials believe, is to devise a process that would determine how much damage individual companies caused and to craft a formula to determine how much each one would pay and exactly how that money would be allocated to rebuild wetlands that have disappeared.

Two senior aides to the attorney general attended that meeting in a further sign of cooperation between Landry and Edwards. Also attending was Taylor Townsend, a Natchitoches-based trial attorney and former state House member who is now the governor’s outside counsel on the coastal lawsuits.

The governor has gotten a chilly response, at least publicly, to his effort to generate settlement talks.

“It is evident that the state is seeking to move us into an area of discussion that is impossible,” Don Briggs, the long-time president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, and Chris Johns, the president of the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, which represents the major oil companies, wrote in a letter to Edwards afterward.

Briggs followed that up with an opinion piece Thursday that further stated his antipathy to any settlement discussions.

“Simply put, these lawsuits targeting the state’s number one source of private sector jobs and revenue are based on the misguided premise that some producers violated the terms of their state-issued coastal use permits many years ago, and those activities caused coastal erosion,” he wrote. “In spite of all the rhetoric from a handful of trial lawyers and radical environmental activists making these claims, these lawsuits are completely unnecessary.”

Understanding exactly what will happen next is difficult to divine.

“It seems that there is a chess game going on,” said Mark Davis, the director of the Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy at Tulane. “That suggests to me that something might be afoot. It might provide much-needed dollars for coastal restoration.”

Amid the legal and political sparring, a football field of land disappears every hour, researchers say, adding up to 20 to 25 square miles per year.

The effort to try to resolve the coastal lawsuits through negotiation marks a sharp turnabout from the approach under Gov. Bobby Jindal. He got the Legislature to approve a measure that would kill a similar but different lawsuit filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority – East. A state court overturned the law, but a federal court dismissed the lawsuit, although the agency has appealed that ruling.

Nonetheless, the effort to hold the oil and gas companies liable remains very much alive because of the lawsuits filed by the three parishes.

Don Carmouche, a Baton Rouge-based trial attorney, brought the lawsuits in Cameron, Plaquemines and Jefferson along with Phil Cossich, a major trial attorney based in Belle Chasse. Both men attended the meetings with the attorney general and Block that involved those three parishes.

“All of the entities involved — the governor and the attorney general — believe that it’s time to restore the coast,” Carmouche said in an interview. “It’s washing away. Everyone says the major oil companies have some responsibility. They continue to deny their responsibility. Now is the time to do it.”

Not all coastal leaders, however, agree with this view.

Gordon Dove, the president of Terrebonne Parish, said he left the meeting with Landry and Block unmoved in his view that the federal government through its construction of the Mississippi River levees — not the oil companies — is to blame for the coastal loss. He doesn’t see Terrebonne joining with the others to file a lawsuit and noted that the industry is a major employer in his parish.

“They’re going after the oil industry because it has a deep pocket,” Dove said, but he added, “Maybe something can come together where the oil companies will donate money for coastal erosion.”

Benny Rousselle, a Plaquemines Parish council member, came to a different conclusion than Dove after meeting with Landry and Block on April 12.

Two days later, Rousselle pushed the council to reverse a previous decision and to move forward with its lawsuit against the oil and gas companies. The council approved this on a 6-1 vote.

“If discussions are going to be happening related to our parish, we should have a voice at the table,” Rousselle said in an interview, adding that the Carmouche and Cossich law firms have a deeper knowledge of the case than anyone working for the attorney general or the governor.

Carmouche said the firms are not working on a contingency fee basis. A judge would determine how much they receive after determining the amount his clients would get, he said.

St. Bernard Parish is prepared to file its own suit, with its council having voted to hire the Carmouche and Cossich law firms.

Guy McInnis, the parish president, said he and other parish officials are waiting to see where things stand once the cooling off period ends next month.

“We cannot let the state or other parishes have a settlement in their favor and have St. Bernard on the sidelines and not enjoying the benefits of the settlement,” McInnis said.

Jeff Adelson, of The New Orleans Advocate, contributed to this article. Follow Tyler Bridges on Twitter, @TegBridges. For more coverage of government and politics, follow our Politics Blog athttp://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.

Posted in coastal restoration, LA Coastal Parish News, Legislative Updates | Comments Off on Gov. Edwards, AG Landry in uneasy alliance to find coastal settlement as football field of land disappears every hour

Odd couple Gov. John Bel Edwards, Attorney General Jeff Landry team up to achieve critical coastal restoration

Posted on: May 31st, 2016 by restoreit

Odd couple Gov. John Bel Edwards, Attorney General Jeff Landry team up to achieve critical coastal restoration

In an effort to keep Louisiana’s fight for coastal restoration progress in the southern parishes of the state on the top of everyone’s mind, we have provided another story from The Advocate for you. Read more below about the ongoing works of Gov. Edwards and AG Landry in helping to clean our coast and reach a settlement.

The Advocate. Click here for story.

 

Gov. John Bel Edwards and Attorney General Jeff Landry are engaged in an uneasy alliance to try to achieve a major and long-lasting goal: a settlement with oil and gas companies to help restore Louisiana’s eroding coast.

Billions of dollars are at stake — as well as the coastline.

Landry and the governor’s executive counsel, Matthew Block, have held private meetings with coastal parish officials and, at Landry’s request, asked them to not take legal action for 60 days while the attorney general and Edwards try to establish a unified front between themselves and among the parishes. The voluntary 60-day cooling period ends on June 13.

Three parishes — Cameron, Jefferson and Plaquemines — have filed lawsuits accusing oil and gas companies of destroying coastal marsh and wetlands through their drilling activities. Other parishes also are weighing whether to file their own lawsuits, legal sources said. Additional lawsuits could be the stick that brings oil and gas companies to the negotiating table.

Whether the governor and attorney general can forge a working relationship to produce a negotiated resolution on the coastal lawsuits remains an open question. Landry has been aggressively challenging Edwards’ authority on other issues during his first few months as attorney general, including asking the Legislature for his own budget authority, over the governor’s objection.

Some insiders believe that Landry wants a greater say over his spending to have the leeway to hire his own attorneys in the coastal lawsuits.

Political insiders believe that Landry, a Republican, is carving out a distinct role to position himself to run against Edwards, a Democrat, in the 2019 governor’s race, something he has denied. Some of the trial lawyers believe that Landry, who has been close to oil and gas industry officials, is doing their bidding.

A spokeswoman for Landry said he did not have time for an interview.

Block, a trial lawyer from Thibodaux who is now the governor’s executive counsel, said his office and Landry’s are working together harmoniously,

“I don’t believe anyone who attended the meetings would say there was big tension between the attorney general and the governor on this case,” Block said.

Nonetheless, each side has moved to gain the upper hand in the lawsuits, in a sign of the mistrust between them.

Landry convened individual meetings with coastal parish leaders April 12 and 13 at his office in the State Capitol, but he did include Block in each gathering. Landry’s spokeswoman, Ruth Wisher, did not respond to requests for a list of the parishes that attended.

“The intent is to try to bring all of this together and reach some sort of global resolution,” Chris Roberts, an at-large councilman in Jefferson Parish, said in an interview. Roberts missed the meeting because of traffic congestion but was briefed afterward on what happened.

In March, Landry filed a lawsuit to intervene in the lawsuits already filed against the oil and gas industry by Cameron, Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes.

Edwards countered three weeks later by having his secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, the state agency empowered to enforce coastal regulations, also intervene in the lawsuits to ensure he was not left out.

Edwards made the next move by meeting on May 13 with two dozen oil and gas industry lobbyists and attorneys, where he pitched the idea of a settlement.

According to several people present, Edwards told them that restoring the coast would cost about $100 billion over the next 50 years and that oil industry documents showed companies caused at least 30 percent of the damage. The governor also said he does not plan to heed a demand by industry officials by seeking money from the federal government for the construction of the levees that have curtailed sediment-rich flooding from the Mississippi River, flooding that fed the wetlands.

The goal of any settlement discussions, Edwards administration officials believe, is to devise a process that would determine how much damage individual companies caused and to craft a formula to determine how much each one would pay and exactly how that money would be allocated to rebuild wetlands that have disappeared.

Two senior aides to the attorney general attended that meeting in a further sign of cooperation between Landry and Edwards. Also attending was Taylor Townsend, a Natchitoches-based trial attorney and former state House member who is now the governor’s outside counsel on the coastal lawsuits.

The governor has gotten a chilly response, at least publicly, to his effort to generate settlement talks.

“It is evident that the state is seeking to move us into an area of discussion that is impossible,” Don Briggs, the long-time president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, and Chris Johns, the president of the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, which represents the major oil companies, wrote in a letter to Edwards afterward.

Briggs followed that up with an opinion piece Thursday that further stated his antipathy to any settlement discussions.

“Simply put, these lawsuits targeting the state’s number one source of private sector jobs and revenue are based on the misguided premise that some producers violated the terms of their state-issued coastal use permits many years ago, and those activities caused coastal erosion,” he wrote. “In spite of all the rhetoric from a handful of trial lawyers and radical environmental activists making these claims, these lawsuits are completely unnecessary.”

Understanding exactly what will happen next is difficult to divine.

“It seems that there is a chess game going on,” said Mark Davis, the director of the Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy at Tulane. “That suggests to me that something might be afoot. It might provide much-needed dollars for coastal restoration.”

Amid the legal and political sparring, a football field of land disappears every hour, researchers say, adding up to 20 to 25 square miles per year.

The effort to try to resolve the coastal lawsuits through negotiation marks a sharp turnabout from the approach under Gov. Bobby Jindal. He got the Legislature to approve a measure that would kill a similar but different lawsuit filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority – East. A state court overturned the law, but a federal court dismissed the lawsuit, although the agency has appealed that ruling.

Nonetheless, the effort to hold the oil and gas companies liable remains very much alive because of the lawsuits filed by the three parishes.

Don Carmouche, a Baton Rouge-based trial attorney, brought the lawsuits in Cameron, Plaquemines and Jefferson along with Phil Cossich, a major trial attorney based in Belle Chasse. Both men attended the meetings with the attorney general and Block that involved those three parishes.

“All of the entities involved — the governor and the attorney general — believe that it’s time to restore the coast,” Carmouche said in an interview. “It’s washing away. Everyone says the major oil companies have some responsibility. They continue to deny their responsibility. Now is the time to do it.”

Not all coastal leaders, however, agree with this view.

Gordon Dove, the president of Terrebonne Parish, said he left the meeting with Landry and Block unmoved in his view that the federal government through its construction of the Mississippi River levees — not the oil companies — is to blame for the coastal loss. He doesn’t see Terrebonne joining with the others to file a lawsuit and noted that the industry is a major employer in his parish.

“They’re going after the oil industry because it has a deep pocket,” Dove said, but he added, “Maybe something can come together where the oil companies will donate money for coastal erosion.”

Benny Rousselle, a Plaquemines Parish council member, came to a different conclusion than Dove after meeting with Landry and Block on April 12.

Two days later, Rousselle pushed the council to reverse a previous decision and to move forward with its lawsuit against the oil and gas companies. The council approved this on a 6-1 vote.

“If discussions are going to be happening related to our parish, we should have a voice at the table,” Rousselle said in an interview, adding that the Carmouche and Cossich law firms have a deeper knowledge of the case than anyone working for the attorney general or the governor.

Carmouche said the firms are not working on a contingency fee basis. A judge would determine how much they receive after determining the amount his clients would get, he said.

St. Bernard Parish is prepared to file its own suit, with its council having voted to hire the Carmouche and Cossich law firms.

Guy McInnis, the parish president, said he and other parish officials are waiting to see where things stand once the cooling off period ends next month.

“We cannot let the state or other parishes have a settlement in their favor and have St. Bernard on the sidelines and not enjoying the benefits of the settlement,” McInnis said.

Jeff Adelson, of The New Orleans Advocate, contributed to this article. Follow Tyler Bridges on Twitter, @TegBridges. For more coverage of government and politics, follow our Politics Blog athttp://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.

Posted in coastal restoration, LA Coastal Parish News | Comments Off on Odd couple Gov. John Bel Edwards, Attorney General Jeff Landry team up to achieve critical coastal restoration

Gov. Edwards instructs administration to intervene in parish coastal suits against oil and gas companies

Posted on: May 27th, 2016 by restoreit

Gov. Edwards Instructs Administration to Intervene in Parish Coastal Suits Against Oil and Gas Companies

The Advocate. Click here for story
 
Gov. John Bel Edwards is intervening in a slew of lawsuits filed by three parishes alleging that oil and gas companies have violated their permits and damaged coastal properties over a period of decades — a move that further establishes the state as a major player in the ongoing litigation.

The Edwards administration’s announcement Thursday that it would get involved in the cases comes just weeks after Attorney General Jeff Landry filed similar motions.

While Edwards and Landry have traditionally been seen as on opposite sides when it comes to the oil and gas industry in Louisiana, Thursday’s announcement appears to suggest a new effort on the part of both officials to bring some kind of final resolution to the issue.

What that new cooperation means for the cases filed by Jefferson, Plaquemines and Cameron parishes — or larger efforts to hold the energy industry accountable for coastal erosion caused by nearly a century of drilling and dredging — remains unclear. But it could signal a more unified effort to handle coastal issues and could open the door to a global settlement with the oil and gas companies, something Edwards previously has indicated he would be seeking early in his term.

Edwards said Thursday he had instructed the Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the energy industry, to file a petition involving state government in the cases because they represent a concern that goes beyond the boundaries of the parishes that filed the suits.

“What we know is that the parishes filed lawsuits not just in their name but in the name of Louisiana,” he said. “Our one shot to make sure this is done right and our interests are adequately served by these lawsuits is in intervening.

“I don’t believe we have a choice other than to intervene.”

The suits were filed in recent years by parishes acting on their own behalf, under state laws that allow them to sue for damage in coastal areas. The decision by Edwards and Landry to intervene could potentially move those cases into the state’s hands, putting state officials in charge of how the cases proceed and how any money that is recovered is spent.

“This intervention would ensure that the interests of the state of Louisiana are fully protected and that any money recovered in these suits will be spent on coastal restoration,” Edwards said.

While the state’s involvement — which Edwards said Thursday would bring “all coastal stakeholders to the table” — could cut the parishes that filed the suits and the private attorneys pursuing the cases out of the loop, it also could presage a more concerted effort to bring the industry as a whole to the negotiating table.

Before his inauguration, Edwards said he was hoping to begin negotiating with companies in hopes of reaching a settlement along the state’s entire coast.

“One of the things I said over and over during the campaign is that I, as governor, will convene a meeting of the oil and gas company executives, and we’re going to have a discussion,” Edwards said at the time. “If they don’t want litigation, then they ought to voluntarily step up and do some meaningful restoration, and if they are amenable to that, we can do some wonderful things.”

But, he added, litigation would always be an option if negotiations did not work.

“I firmly believe that if there isn’t at least some implicit understanding that litigation follows an unsuccessful negotiation, there is not going to be a successful negotiation,” he said.

Edwards and Landry are unlikely allies in a suit against oil and gas companies.

While in the Legislature, Edwards was a reliable defender of both the parish lawsuits and a more expansive case by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East that targeted dozens of oil and gas companies for contributing to erosion through drilling and dredging in coastal marshes.

The energy industry sided with Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter in last year’s gubernatorial election, but there’s apparently been something of a thaw in Edwards’ relationship with oil and gas since his inauguration, as evidenced by two fundraisers industry associations have held for him this year.

Landry, by contrast, has been an ally of the energy industry who, as a congressman, criticized President Barack Obama for instituting a moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico following the BP oil spill.

But in a statement released Thursday, he said he “welcomed the administration’s intervention” and referred to a need to balance the economic benefits provided by the energy industry with an “ongoing coastal crisis that threatens our very existence.”

Staff writer Elizabeth Crisp contributed to this report. Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.

Posted in coastal restoration, Oil Lawsuits, Political News | Comments Off on Gov. Edwards instructs administration to intervene in parish coastal suits against oil and gas companies

Rapid erosion of Louisiana coast only expected to accelerate

Posted on: May 26th, 2016 by restoreit

Rapid Erosion of Louisiana Coast Expected to Accelerate

The Advocate. Click here for story

This story is condensed from a broad multimedia presentation produced by the nonprofit newsrooms of The Lens and ProPublica. The full version is available athttp://projects.propublica.org/louisiana/

Online, you can track land loss from satellite and aerial images dating back, in some cases, to the 1930s and see the vast network of levees, oil and gas canals and other energy infrastructure.

Beyond the loss of actual land, the presentation looks at the cultural loss that Louisiana is suffering as our coast disappears. Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Bob Marshall focuses on distinct areas of the coast that are edging toward oblivion and open water, complete with interactive maps and audio presentations.

Louisiana is drowning, quickly.

In just 80 years, 2,000 square miles of its coastal landscape have become open water, wiping places off maps, bringing the Gulf of Mexico to the back door of New Orleans and posing a lethal threat to an energy and shipping corridor vital to the nation’s economy.

And it’s going to get worse, even quicker.

Scientists now say one of the greatest environmental and economic disasters in the nation’s history is rushing toward a catastrophic conclusion, unabated and largely unnoticed.

At the rates that the sea is rising and land is sinking, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists say that by 2100, the Gulf of Mexico could rise by as much as 4.3 feet across this landscape, which has an average elevation of about 3 feet. If that happens, everything unprotected by levees — most of southeast Louisiana — would be under water.

This land being lost is home to half of the country’s oil refineries, a matrix of pipelines that serve 90 percent of the nation’s offshore energy production and 30 percent of its total oil and gas supply. It is a port vital to 31 states. And for 2 million people, it’s simply home.

The crisis has been speeding along for decades, but at first, even those who work or play in the marshes didn’t appreciate the gradual changes. In an ecosystem covering thousands of square miles, a wider bayou here or a piece of eroded land there seemed insignificant.

Now residents are trying to deal with the shock of losing places they had known all their lives — fishing camps, cypress swamps, beachfronts, cattle pastures and backyards.

Fishing guide Ryan Lambert is one of them. When he started fishing out of Buras 34 years ago, he had to travel 6 miles to reach the Gulf of Mexico.

“Now it’s all open water,” Lambert said. “You can stand on the dock and see the Gulf.”

Two years ago, NOAA removed 31 bays and other features from the Buras charts. Some had been named by French explorers in the 1700s.

The people who knew this land when it was rich with wildlife and dotted with Spanish- and French-speaking villages are getting old. They say their grandchildren don’t understand what has been lost.

“I see what was,” said Lloyd “Wimpy” Serigne, who grew up in the fishing and trapping village of Delacroix, 20 miles southeast of New Orleans. “People today — like my nephew, he’s pretty young — he sees what is.”

If this trend is not reversed, a wetlands ecosystem that took nature 7,000 years to build will be destroyed in a human lifetime.

The story of how that happened is a tale of levees, oil wells and canals leading to destruction on a scale almost too big to comprehend — and perhaps too late to rebuild.

Engineering the river

For communities along its banks, the Mississippi River has always been an indispensable asset and the gravest of threats. The river connected their economies to the world, but its spring floods periodically breached locally built levees, washing away years of profits and scores of lives. Some towns were so dependent on the river, they simply got used to rebuilding.

That all changed with the Great Flood of 1927, when the Mississippi broke through levees in 145 places, flooding the midsection of the country from Illinois to New Orleans. Some 27,000 square miles went under as much as 30 feet of water, destroying 130,000 homes, leaving 600,000 people homeless and killing 500.

Congress passed the Flood Control Act of 1928, which ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to prevent such a flood from ever happening again. By the mid-1930s, the Corps had done its job, putting the river in a straitjacket of levees.

But the project that made the river safe for the communities along the river would eventually squeeze the life out of the river’s delta. The mud walls along the river sealed it off from the landscape sustained by its sediment.

If that were all we had done to the delta, scientists have said, the wetlands that existed in the 1930s could largely be intact today. The natural pace of sinking — scientists call it subsidence — would have been millimeters per year.

But we didn’t stop there. Just as those levees were built, a nascent oil and gas industry discovered plentiful reserves below. Oil companies dredged canals off natural waterways to transport rigs and crews. The canals averaged 13 to 16 feet deep and 140 to 150 feet wide — far larger than natural, twisting waterways.

Eventually, 50,000 wells were permitted in the coastal zone. Conservative estimates say 10,000 miles of canals were dredged to service them.

Such drilling and dredging happened so extensively in an area near Lafitte, it became known as the Texaco Canals.

“Once the oil companies come in and started dredging all the canals, everything just started falling apart,” said Joseph Bourgeois, 84, who grew up and still lives in the area.

From 1930 to 1990, as much as 16 percent of the wetlands was turned to open water as those canals were dredged. But as the U.S. Department of the Interior and many others have reported, the indirect damages far exceeded that:

Saltwater crept in, killing plants and trees whose roots held the soils together.

Shorelines crumbled without fresh sediment and dead plants, increasing the size of existing water bodies.

“Spoil levees” buried wetlands. When companies dredged canals, they dumped the removed soil alongside. The weight of the spoil on the soft, moist delta caused the adjacent marshes to sink.

All of this disrupted the delta’s natural circulatory system and led to the drowning of vast areas. Research has shown that land has sunk and wetlands have disappeared the most in the areas where canals were concentrated.

As the water expanded, people lived and worked on narrower and narrower slivers of land.

“There’s places where I had cattle pens, and built those pens … with a tractor that weighed 5,000 or 6,000 pounds,” said Earl Armstrong, a cattle rancher who grew up on the river 9 miles south of the nearest road. “Right now, we run through there with airboats.”

A U.S. Department of Interior report says oil and gas canals are ultimately responsible for 30 to 59 percent of coastal land loss.

More damage was done when drilling moved offshore in the late 1930s because companies needed pipelines to get oil and gas onshore. So they dug wider, deeper waterways to accommodate both the pipelines and the large ships that served the platforms.

Congress authorized the Corps of Engineers to dredge about 550 miles of navigation channels through the wetlands. The Department of Interior has estimated that those canals, averaging 12 to 15 feet deep and 150 to 500 feet wide, resulted in the loss of an additional 576 square miles of coastal land.

By 2000, coastal roads that had flooded only during major hurricanes were going underwater when high tides coincided with strong southerly winds. Islands and beaches that had been landmarks for lifetimes were gone, lakes had turned into bays, and bays had eaten through their borders to join the Gulf.

“It happened so fast, I could actually see the difference day to day, month to month,” said Lambert, the fishing guide in Buras.

Maps illustrating what the state will look like in 2100 under current projections show the bottom of Louisiana’s “boot” outline largely gone, replaced by a coast running practically straight east to west, starting just south of Baton Rouge.

Plan to rebuild, but no money

Similar predictions had been made for years, but it took Hurricane Katrina to finally galvanize the state Legislature, which pushed through a far-reaching coastal restoration plan in 2007.

The 50-year, $50 billion Master Plan for the Coast includes projects to build levees, pump sediment into sinking areas and build massive diversions on the river to reconnect it with the dying delta.

The state’s computer projections show that by 2060 — if projects are completed on schedule — more land could be built annually than is lost to the Gulf.

But there are three large caveats: The state is still searching for the full $50 billion; if sea-level rise is as bad as the worst-case scenario, the projects may not do the job; and building sediment diversions on the river, a key part of the land-building strategy, has never been done before.

Some of the money will come from an increased share of offshore oil and gas royalties, but many coastal advocates say the industry should pay a larger share.

Kyle Graham, executive director of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, said recently that the industry understands its liability for the crumbling coast and is discussing some kind of settlement.

“It’s very difficult to see a future in which that (such an agreement) isn’t there,” he said.

Graham has said current funding sources could keep the restoration plan on schedule only through 2019. He was blunt when talking about what would happen if more money doesn’t come through: There will be a smaller coast.

“There are various sizes of a sustainable coastal Louisiana,” he said. “And that could depend on how much our people are willing to put up for that.”

A vanishing culture

Trying to keep pace with the vanishing pieces of southeast Louisiana today is like chasing the sunset; it’s a race that never ends.

Signs of the impending death of this delta are there for any visitor to see.

Pelicans circle in confusion over nesting islands that have washed away since spring.

Pilings that held weekend camps surrounded by thick marshes a decade ago stand in open water — mute testimony to a vanishing culture.

Shrimpers push their wing nets in lagoons that were land five years ago.

The bare trunks of long-dead oaks rise from the marsh, tombstones marking the sinking of sediment-starved ridges.

“If you’re a young person, you think this is what it’s supposed to look like,” Lambert said. “Then when you’re old enough to know, it’s too late.”

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Louisiana Coastal Cleanup

Posted on: October 30th, 2015 by restoreit

Louisiana Coastal Cleanup

The Importance of the Louisiana Coast

The Louisiana wetlands are a unique ecosystem that is home to many valuable plants and animals, In addition to being a wildlife haven and tourist destination, the Louisiana coast is also valuable for protecting inner land from natural disasters.

The BP Oil Spill

The BP oil spill of 2010 was perhaps the most well-known and tragic oil spills to-date. In 2014, BP announced that their active coastal cleanup has come to an end. This cleanup began in 2010 after millions of barrels of oil were spilled into Louisiana’s coastal waters. Because of the natural movement of the coastal waters, oil and oil byproducts were being brought to shore daily for years. These contaminants were introduced to local plants and animals, causing further coastal erosion and threatening already endangered species. Although BP is scheduled to monitor the Louisiana coast where oil has been previously found and removed, their daily coastline patrol and cleanup has ended.

 

beach cleanup louisiana coastal cleanup efforts

Additional Coastal Pollutants

In addition to oil byproducts, human proximity has caused further pollution. Cigarette butts, plastic bottles, aluminum cans, glass, straws, cups, plastic utensils, and other miscellaneous garbage has further polluted our coast. Each year, millions of pounds of human waste are collected from the coast.

 

louisiana coastal cleanup

International Programs, National Agencies, and Louisiana Coastal Cleanup Groups

International groups such as the Ocean Conservancy and the International Coastal Cleanup offer many opportunities to clean up coasts all over the world. National organizations like the U.S. Coast Guard also share responsibility for tidying up coastal land. In addition to these national and international agencies, many states also have their own cleanup programs in place to preserve local coastlines. Organizations like California Coastal Commission and Alabama Coastal Cleanup work to promote clean beaches and coastal cleanup volunteer programs within their state.

Cleaning the Louisiana Coast

Since pollution and debris arrive on Louisiana shores every day, constant cleaning methods are necessary to preserve the beauty and wildlife found here. Since this land is so crucial to our existing food supply and recreational uses, everyone should do their part to contribute to the vitality of the coastal land we share and rely so heavily upon. Louisiana residents should enforce that big oil companies and other industrial companies should lead Louisiana coastal cleanup efforts and accept responsibility for the coastal pollution that they cause. Alternatively, anyone living in a coastal state should take time to assist in the various local volunteer programs dedicated to beautification of the coast. When everyone works towards the same objective, such as Louisiana coastal cleanup, many amazing things can happen!

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Louisiana Environmental Law

Posted on: October 15th, 2015 by restoreit

Louisiana Environmental Law

Environmental Law encompasses all of the effects human activity directly or indirectly cause as a result of altering our environment. These laws are set in place to help protect the environment and the health of associated wildlife and residents. These laws not only seek to eliminate pollution, but also to establish an expectation for preservation of natural resources. Critically, the laws establish also seek to administer responsibility for environmental costs.

Get involved with the restoration and preservation of our Louisiana Coastline by staying informed about Louisiana Environmental Laws. 
louisiana resource regulation laws

History

Environmental law is a relatively new concept, beginning with the national Environmental Protection Act in 1970. The movement to push environmental law is a relatively new concept for the United States. The first environmental law, the Rivers and Harbors Act, was passed in 1899. This law made any entity dumping waste, or filling and dredging canals obtain a permit. After 1899, not much headway was made in the environmental legislature realm until the late 20th century. Some believe modern environmental regulation began with the Santa Barbara Oil Spill in 1969 and others believe it began with the national Environmental Protection Act in 1970.

Federal & State Levels

Environmental legislature can be passed on both the state and federal levels. Because of all of the diacritic wildlife, water transport, and valuable natural resources the state of Louisiana has to offer, it is important to maintain active, encompassing Louisiana environmental laws. In a state full of industrialization and fragile ecosystems, Louisiana environmental law may be one of the most effective solutions for regulating policy and creating standards for environmental practices. The federal laws set in place for environment regulation and control are often broad and arguable- having location-specific laws will help ensure Louisiana will have a cleaner future.

Local Louisiana Regulations

Many Louisiana Environmental Laws have already been passed. Below is a list of active legislature regarding environmental protection in Louisiana.

Louisiana Environmental Quality Act (LEQA)
The Louisiana Environmental Quality Act is perhaps one of the most important regulations passed by the state. The LEQA acknowledges the fact that a safe environment for Louisiana residents is a critical concern. This law regulates maintenance, sanitization, waste management, and the enforcement of such policy. This law also clearly states guidelines for controlling inactive or abandoned hazardous waste sites, nuclear energy, and radiation.

Louisiana Coastal Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Act
One of the more recent acts passed by the state, the Louisiana Coastal Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Act aims to encourage responsible use of coastal resources in conjunction with the beautification, maintenance, and enhancement of our renewable resources. This act was created to minimize or eliminate adverse environmental effects and to sustainably develop the wetlands to help protect the coast against natural disasters.

louisiana environmental laws wildlife

Other notable Louisiana environmental laws include:

Louisiana Code of Environmental Regulations
• Louisiana Administrative Procedure Act
• Louisiana Natural Resources and Energy Act
• Louisiana Oil Spill Prevention and Response Act
• Louisiana Natural Resource Rules

Posted in coastal restoration, Legislative Updates | Comments Off on Louisiana Environmental Law

Coastal Restoration in Louisiana

Posted on: September 30th, 2015 by restoreit

Coastal Restoration in Louisiana

Reasons to Restore the Coast in Louisiana

The Louisiana coastline is one of the most fragile ecosystems in the world. The recent influx of rapid change on the coast means more land is being lost every day. The coastline of Louisiana acts as a buffer against natural disasters and without restoration, a larger portion of land and homes will be left vulnerable and exposed to nature’s unpredictable behavior. Causes of coastal erosion include oil drilling and canal dredging, natural disasters, increasing local sinking, increasing salt-water penetration, and global sea level rise. also contribute to the erosion of the Louisiana coast. Mitigating the damage that human intervention and drilling has caused over the past few decades is the top priority of coastal restoration in Louisiana.

mississippi river in Louisiana

National Life Support

Louisiana is the largest fish producer in North America. More than 1 billion pounds of fish are caught every year. Recreational value of the coast is over 1 billion dollars. Louisiana coastline is home to 5 million waterfowl and 70 threatened or endangered species. The coastline is much more than just a piece of land eroding. The coast has a direct impact on so many aspects of life, reaching way beyond the boundaries of the Louisiana state lines. It is a home for wildlife, national source of food, travel, jobs, tourism, and much more.

2012 Coastal Master Plan

The 2012 Coastal Master Plan was passed unanimously by the Senate the same year it was introduced. The master plan used scientific analysis and smaller-scale test projects to conclude its complete phasing process for coastal restoration in Louisiana. Includes several different types of projects. Hydrologic restoration, sediment diversion, marsh creation, barrier island restoration, shoreline protection, ridge restoration, oyster barrier reefs, bank stabilization, and structural protection.

Coastal Land Building

Rebuilding the coastline will support local wildlife like saltwater fish species, freshwater fish species, crawfish, alligator, oysters, muskrat, spoonbill, and other wildlife that directly or indirectly relies on the coastal vegetation and environment to survive.

Hydrologic Restorations

Hydrologic restorations will help to reverse the changes that oil drilling, building levees, new construction, and dredging canals have caused. Interfering with the natural path and tides of the coastal waters has caused ecosystem disruption that needs to be addressed before the situation becomes unrepairable.

Sediment Diversion

Reconnecting the river to its former estuaries using a sediment diversion and channel realignment method is another piece of coastal restoration. This process involved diversion channels for sediment to be built, allowing for basins to receive the sediment caught by the channels. With current sediment diversion processes, the greater the sand load is, the shorter the transporting distance has to be.

oyster barrier reef in louisianaOyster Barrier Reefs

Oyster barrier reefs have been one of the most affected pieces of the coast. Oyster larvae attach themselves to hard surfaces, usually other oysters. Without plentiful oyster reefs, oysters are no longer able to sustain their aquatic population. Oyster barrier reefs have proven to be a less disruptive solution of coastal restoration than concrete or steel bulkheads. The natural filtrations oysters contribute to controlling algae populations, which helps fish survive. Financially speaking, a higher oyster population means economic growth in the Louisiana fishing market.

Rebuilding Louisiana’s Coastline

Coastal restoration in Louisiana is being implemented in many different forms, as explained above. Restoration is important in order to reverse and slow the Louisiana land loss that increases every minute of every day. Combined restoration efforts will promote a better economy, home and land protection, and improve wildlife conditions and populations. Strategic restoration using multiple methods is the optimal choice for total restoration, since recreation by using dredged materials cannot be done effectively for large areas of land.

Tags: coastal restoration, Louisiana
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