New Orleans’ Times-Picayune concluded its 3-part Special Report, Last Chance, on the disappearing Louisiana Coast today — a bleak, in-depth look at the hows and whys of the lost wetlands, and what has to happen if there’s any hope of saving this part of the state.
The series included graphics, pdfs, reports, and multimedia, including an interactive look at the formation of the delta area over 6,000 years — and what has happened to it in less than one measly century. (To view the slideshow, click the image below.)
This isn’t just a New Orleans problem; the loss of southeastern Louisiana will cost the entire country billions of dollars, and radically affect numerous industries. Yet just as the problems that were exposed by Katrina were caused (or exacerbated) by every possible level of government and various individual interests, so to have the coastlands been destroyed, as Part Two of the series so clearly demonstrated.
Do you want to lay the blame at the feet of the Oil & Gas industries? You can find ammunition here.
High oil prices of late have spurred a resurgence in coastal exploration as energy companies take a second look at once-marginal reserves. Dredging silted-in canals and excavating new ones to bring in drilling equipment can alter tidal flows and worsen erosion.
The Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Natural Resources grant about 1,500 permits a year for work along the coast, with about 75 percent granted for oil and gas exploration or related activities. Factoring in permit-exempt activities such as federal dredging of waterways, coastal enterprise disturbed a combined 8,773 acres of wetlands, or about 14 square miles, over the past decade.
Are you angry that Louisiana legislators have been speaking from both sides of their mouths, asking for project funding while simultaneously removing regulatory oversight? Plenty of grist for your mill, too.
Louisiana had an image problem. Its message seemed to be: Do as I say, not as I do.
At the same time the state’s congressional delegation begged for money to protect the coast, its members had joined the anti-regulation movement Republicans brought to Washington when they took control of Congress in 1994. And so they supported efforts to soften regulations protecting wetlands from industrial damage and a drive to require financial compensation to property owners facing wetlands restrictions, which inflated the potential cost of restoration projects.
Or perhaps you’ll feel better if you can point to the individual communites who resisted change that would aversely affect them, even though doing nothing ultimately will destroy them anyway?
Real estate developers, with a stake in providing land for industries as well as residential and recreational owners, also had a vested interest in saving the coast — but they wanted the coast-saving diversions to be installed where it wouldn’t hurt their bottom line.
And how about those oyster fishermen?
The diversions were designed to push the saltwater line miles to the south in hopes of saving or rebuilding large swaths of fresh and brackish marsh. Fishers rely on the current location of fresh and saltwater to target fish, shrimp or oysters, and changing the flow of water into a wetland area could change the list of seafood species found there. Some fishers could be forced out of business; others might see a bonanza.
Is Bush-bashing your cuppa? You’ll love this bit, then:
By 2000, state and corps planners had begun to turn Coast 2050 into a detailed 30-year, $14 billion blueprint called the Louisiana Coastal Area Ecosystem Restoration Plan.
After polishing the plan for another two years at Washington’s behest, in 2002 the state and corps officials presented their effort to the Bush administration — and ran into a brick wall.
The administration’s Office of Management and Budget ordered the plan downsized to include only the first 10 years of projects, drastically cutting the price tag to between $1.2 billion and $1.9 billion. The reduction stemmed from unprecedented budget deficits spurred by a wave of tax cuts and the invasion of Iraq. The White House Council on Environmental Quality also weighed in, saying the larger projects weren’t backed by solid science.
Yet all of these problematic hurdles absolutely must be overcome if anything is to be done to reverse the rapidly disappearing wetlands.
But you know it won’t happen, because to do so would require capital that no-one is willing to commit and political will to stand against enormous lobbying pressure. They couldn’t make it happen over the last 3+ decades, so why would they do anything now?
In fact, even if the people and the government suddenly recognize and confront this incredible ecological disaster, the bureaucracy this country now supports hasn’t any hope of implementing such rapid, comprehensive interventions.
This is beyond sad. All the mothers who claimed Baby Louisiana evidently thought that a thousand pieces was a good trade-off. I wonder what Solomon would have done, had he been faced with a motherless baby like this one?