February 2016 Newsletter

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards asked President Barack Obama to withdraw his budget proposal redirecting anticipated federal offshore oil revenues away from Louisiana and other states bordering the Gulf of Mexico. In 2006, through the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA), Congress dedicated Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) revenues to be shared among Gulf states, but President Obama’s budget for the fiscal year 2017 diverts those revenues to the rest of the nation.

In a letter to the president on Feb. 12, 2016, Gov. Edwards said the budget proposal will deprive Louisiana of its only consistent source of federal funds for its coastal program, an estimated $176 million per year.

The Gulf of Mexico Energy and Security Act of 2006 [GOMESA] was supposed to be the foundation of that program–finally providing a reliable, recurring revenue stream to support Louisiana’s coastal restoration and protection work. In 2006, Louisiana’s citizens voted overwhelmingly to constitutionally dedicate the revenues received through GOMESA for its coastal protection and restoration program.

America’s WETLAND Foundation (AWF) said in a statement that attempting to repeal the sharing of Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) revenues with the coastal oil-and-gas producing states in the U.S. through the budgetary process is counter to the best interest of the nation.

“Losing anticipated funding is devastating to our efforts here in Louisiana to fund restoration and to salvage the very coastline that hosts energy development for the benefit of the entire nation,” AWF Senior Advisor Sidney Coffee said. “As Louisiana continues to lose coastal wetlands at the most dramatic rate on the planet, the fate of one of America’s most essential estuarine areas cannot be a bargaining chip for energy policy politics.”

On Monday, Feb. 15, 2016 New Orleans’ WWL radio host Garland Robinette interviewed AWF Managing Director Val Marmillion on the “Think Tank” to discuss President Obama’s new federal budget eliminating OCS revenue sharing among Gulf states. The budget proposal would prevent Louisiana from getting a greater share of offshore oil and gas revenue starting in 2017 as guaranteed through the passage of GOMESA in 2006. In a segment of the “Think Tank” that included Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards and Congressman Garret Graves, Marmillion discussed the necessity of preserving GOMESA funds for their intended purpose. Amid Louisiana’s budgetary crisis, removing the GOMESA revenue stream would leave a void in funds accounted for in Louisiana coastal restoration plan. Doing so would be a huge blow to the future of Louisiana’s coast.

In 2011, AWF sounded the alarm about rising property insurance rates and the threats to culture and economies along the Gulf Coast from storms, subsidence, and rising sea levels as it held 11 Blue Ribbon Resilient Community leadership forums from Brownsville, Texas, to Florida. From startling research citing critical infrastructure at risk to anecdotal information gathered during the meetings, the future was hinged on our ability to adapt to a disappearing landscape.

The statement issued Feb. 11, 2016, said in part:

Property insurance is a necessity, not a luxury, and in places like Houma and other Louisiana coastal communities, its citizens provide the workforce and physical support for the energy and fisheries and transportation the rest of the United States depends upon. The option to pick up and leave is not viable for the residents of Houma or the companies that employ them, a historic seafood industry, or the country that counts on them for their services and skills.

The notion of an Adaptation Fund surfaced during the Houma resiliency forum and should perhaps be again examined today. Much like the California FAIR Plan for residents unable to obtain insurance in high-risk fire zones, a plan could be customized for high-risk coastal areas to aid in adapting residences and businesses and for those unable to obtain insurance. The FAIR Plan provides insurance as a last resort and should be used only after a diligent effort to buy coverage in the voluntary market has been made. In the meantime, for many in the lower portions of Terrebonne Parish, it is becoming just too expensive to stay.

On February 5, 2016, prior the release of the President Obama’s 2017 budget, AWF issued a statement in support of Senator Bill Cassidy’s introduction of an amendment to a Senate energy bill that would lift the cap on revenues in the present GOMESA from $500 million to $999 million for the Gulf offshore energy producing states. Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Alabama would share in an additional $1.87 billion between 2027 and 2031.

Since its inception, AWF has strongly advocated for offshore revenue sharing and has worked hard to help pass state legislation that dedicates those revenues to coastal restoration and protection.

At this year’s SSPEED Center conference: “Avoiding Disasters: How to Reduce Impacts from the Next Big Storm,” top experts in the field will discuss advanced hurricane modeling and structural solutions for coastal resiliency as well as the role of nonstructural approaches in mitigating severe storm risk in the Houston-Galveston region. Keynote speakers include international guest Bas Jonkman from TU Delft, of Delft, Netherlands, Rice University Professor and sea level rise expert John Anderson, Former President of the Shell Oil Company, John Hofmesiter, and Global Managing Director for Public Policy, Lynn Scarlett.

The first day of the conference will focus on the development and simulation of synthetic storm events, as well as economic and structural damage models and cost-benefit analyses. The conference will also address emerging thinking on nonstructural alternatives through the lenses of establishing a functional ecological services exchange for the Upper Texas Coast. The final session of the conference will focus on a pragmatic action plan for next steps in moving forward on an ecological services exchange for the Upper Texas Coast.

The final strips of marsh grass begin to take root along the GIWW shoreline.
Phase One of the project stabilizes the Gulf-facing side of the GIWW where embankments are continuously lost to tidal surge, threatening freshwater marshes with saltwater intrusion and taking with it private lands bordering the canal.

The project is a clear path for private investment that makes good business sense, protecting environmental, community and economic assets at an affordable cost. In past years, the private landowner has had to rebuild the embankment numerous times due to continuous erosion caused by tidal surge and other forces.

Both traditional and innovative technology were used in the form of low cost bucket dredges and the vegetated, recycled plastic matrix material called Vegetated EcoShield™, produced from recycled, post-consumer plastic, which protects shorelines and stabilizes banks while promoting vegetative growth. By providing a protective medium for vegetation to establish, grow and spread, it enhances the natural processes of the system by creating vegetative shorelines and important coastal habitats.

“The first phase of the project is in the ground before a freeze and now nature can do its job,” Val Marmillion, AWF managing director, said, noting that planting in the fall allows the stalks of Roseau Cane to take root. “The plants are sprouting and the matrix is holding to the berm and protecting it.” In April, AWF will replace any plants lost to the winter and will add some additional Roseau if sparse, adding grasses to the top embankments. “If observations prove good in April, we are on our way to completing Phase One of the project with a record time performance and for a fraction of the price usually associated with wetland recovery,” Marmillion said.

The entire project involves a four-mile section of the GIWW shoreline, with Phase Two to begin in 2016 on the north-facing side. When complete, the restoration effort will help protect energy assets, secure seafood and recreational waterways and, at the same time, provide habitat for wildlife and waterfowl, while increasing protection from storm surge for nearby communities.

The project is supported with private funding through the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), CITGO, Shell, ConocoPhillips, Chevron and Community Coffee, in partnership with Ducks Unlimited, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the State of Louisiana, the Gulf Intracoastal Canal Association and private landowners.

The America’s WETLAND Foundation (AWF) was once again showcased at the New Orleans Saints Charity Spotlight Game between the New Orleans Saints and the Jacksonville Jaguars on Dec. 27 in the Mercedes Benz Superdome.

The Saints honored the Foundation for its efforts to bring all interests to the table to find solutions to Louisiana’s coastal land loss and to raise a regional voice to the nation and the world about the ecological and economic value of the state’s endangered coast. The game marked the third year in a row the Saints have featured AWF at the Charity Spotlight Game.

“In the time it took the Saints to beat the Jaguars, Louisiana lost wetlands equal to four times the size of the very football field on which they played,” Val Marmillion, managing director of AWF, said. “The Saints are helping us spread the message that we can turn the tide in securing our coast’s vital assets,” Marmillion said.

BATON ROUGE – Louisiana’s degrading coastal environment is making the state more vulnerable to hurricane damage, and in 50 years, a Katrina-type storm could cause more than $133 billion in damage, according to a report commissioned by the state and presented Dec. 17 to the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA).

The two-year study conducted by the LSU Economics and Policy Research Group and the RAND Corporation quantified economic impacts of ongoing and future land loss in Louisiana, demonstrating a need and justification for Coastal Master Plan project expenditures that can save billions during future storm events.

“Every dollar we spend today on coastal restoration and protection will save us many, many more dollars in the future,” CPRA Board Chairman Chip Kline said. “But beyond being cost-feasible, we’re talking about saving lives, families, homes, business and our way of life. This study by LSU and RAND is important in making our case to Congress and the nation that it is better for many reasons to spend now rather than later.”

The report examines potential economic implications of Louisiana’s land loss through a spatial analysis that layers future land loss and storm surge scenarios from the 2012 Coastal Master Plan onto today’s economy. The researchers’ approach examined both fixed assets and flows of economic activity occurring within the coastal zone as well as their cascading effects throughout the state and the nation.