Even $50 billion won’t bring back all of Louisiana’s lost wetlands

There’s good news and bad news when it comes to the effort to restore the massive amount of coastal wetlands — some 1,800 square miles, or one-and-a-half times the size of Rhode Island — that Louisiana has lost over the last 85 years, roughly around the same time period that Big Oil has been doing its business in the state. Aside from the loss of so much biodiversity in a state that once valued its rich marine wildlife, Louisiana’s wetlands devastation has also badly weakened the state’s natural protection against tropical storms, as well as against rising oceans.

That’s why wetlands restoration has finally become a priority for state officials. One side effect of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon catastrophe has been that Louisiana is receiving a massive payment — at least $6.8 billion — in settlements and fines from BP that can be applied to environmental projects, including restoration. In addition, with the election of a Democratic governor, John Bel Edwards, in 2015, the state now has a governor who supports a plan to sue dozens of oil and gas companies to pay for wetlands damage caused by energy exploration — an effort that could also reap billions of dollars. With help from these monies and federal aid, Louisiana is hopeful that it can spend as much as $50 billion in the upcoming years, in order to bring back hundreds of square miles of these critical marshlands.

So what’s the bad news? It seems that even the massive sum of $50 billion won’t be enough — not enough to bring back all of the wetlands that have been destroyed in the fossil fuel era, and not enough when one considers the additional pressure of rising oceans from climate change. That was spelled out by a top state official who recently updated lawmakers on Louisiana’s coastal master plan:

BATON ROUGE — Bren Haase, chief of planning and research, painted a bleak future for Louisiana’s coast during the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority board meeting Wednesday should no counter-actions be taken by the legislative and executive branches. He presented a draft of the 2017 coastal master plan that calls for $50 billion worth of projects aimed at flood risk reduction and minimizing land loss.

The draft underscored Louisiana’s erosion loses from 1932 to 2010: 1,800 square miles of land. “As much as we would like to have the coast that we had in 1932, there’s no question we can’t get there,” Haase said. “We’re never going to be able to restore it to that level.”

The draft includes scenarios for flood damage and land loss based on high, medium and low estimates using different levels for environmental drivers. For example, the medium scenario is based on less than historic precipitation, a sea level rise of slightly more than 2 feet and a 12.5 percent increase in average storm intensity, among other factors.

Haase said the low scenario for sea level rise, almost 1 1/2 feet, is similar to the high estimate in the 2012 master plan. Under the 2017 medium scenario, the state could lose 2,254 square miles of land over the next 50 years without action.

The draft shows that with restoration projects outlined in the master plan, 802 square miles of land would be built or maintained under the medium scenario. Haase said the plan was developed using a $50 billion ceiling. He said $150 billion is preferred but is likely unrealistic in the state’s precarious fiscal situation.

One thing is very clear from Haase’s presentation: Taking no action at all — which would leave a healthy chunk of southern Louisiana under water — is not an option. That said, it’s hard to know whether Louisiana will have either the fiscal wherewithal or the legislative gumption to see this plan through. There’s no doubt that help on the national level, as well as globally, to fight global warming will be critical. We may never get back to where we were a century ago. But we must hold on to what we have left.

Read more about Louisiana’s plan for saving its wetlands from NOLA.com: http://www.nola.com/environment/index.ssf/2017/01/louisiana_will_never_be_able_t.html

Learn more about the need for worldwide action on fossil fuels in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America: http://shop.benbellabooks.com/crude-justice

© Stuart H. Smith, LLC 2017 – All Rights Reserved

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