Speed the reconstruction of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands by tapping offshore oil revenue and dedicating a significant share of any penalties levied against BP, a group of influential national and local environmental groups urged Navy Secretary and Gulf Coast oil spill recovery leader Ray Mabus in a letter published today in advertisements in The Times-Picayune, the Advocate of Baton Rouge, Washington-based Roll Call magazine, and the online publication Politico.
“We applaud the President for giving you the restoration mandate and ask you to move with the urgency our battered coast demands,” said the advertisement, sponsored by America’s Wetland Foundation and published in cooperation with the National Wildlife Federation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, Environmental Defense Fund, the Nature Conservancy, National Audubon Society and Ducks Unlimited.
“Americans care,” said the ad. “They know the world is watching and that history is recording this moment of opportunity or lost promise.”
Restoring the Mississippi River’s southernmost delta, a wetland area rich in natural resources, “is the single most important way to make this region whole again,” said Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “The survival of this region’s productive fisheries, its abundant wildlife habitat and its hardworking coastal communities hinges on healthy, regenerative wetlands along Louisiana’s coast.”
The advertisement urges Mabus, a former governor of Mississippi, to support six steps aimed at speeding Louisiana’s coastal restoration efforts:
* Accelerating the payment of a greater share of federal revenue from Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas leases to Louisiana and other Gulf states. The existing revenue-sharing law would provide about $200 million a year to Louisiana in 2017.
* Arranging immediate financing for new freshwater and sediment diversion and barrier island reconstruction projects already authorized by Congress.
* Establishing a dedicated long-term funding stream sufficient for Louisiana’s long-term coastal restoration plan. The ad does not say where that money would come from.
* Ensuring a significant percentage of penalty payments resulting from the BP oil spill are dedicated to coastal restoration “as reparations for the contamination of thousands of acres of coastal marsh that cannot be cleaned up.”
* Cutting red tape to speed payment of existing federal appropriations for restoration projects, including more than $1 billion owed coastal states under the federal Coastal Impact Assistance Program.
* Creating a federal-state authority to oversee coastal restoration efforts that has the ability to act quickly enough to stave off further wetlands loss.
The organizations backing the ad all have been major players in Louisiana’s coastal restoration efforts. America’s WETLAND Foundation was created with state backing in 2002 to raise awareness nationally about the state’s wetlands problems.
Officials with the Environmental Defense Fund have been directly involved in writing and implementing the state’s coastal restoration master plan, and have sat on the Governor’s Advisory Commission for Coastal Protection, Restoration and Conservation.
In addition to their support for restoration efforts nationwide, the National Wildlife Federation, Audubon, Nature Conservancy and Ducks Unlimited all own coastal refuge land or have underwritten expensive restoration projects along the coast.
The Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, which represents a wide variety of state environmental groups and businesses, also has been instrumental in shaping the state’s restoration plans.
Obama named Mabus as oil spill restoration chief in mid-June, and Mabus has said his marching orders include looking at long-term ways of restoring the coast.
“The secretary continues to work to develop a long-range plan for restoration of the Gulf Coast economically and environmentally,” said his spokeswoman, Navy Capt. Beci Brenton. “He continues to meet with stakeholders to insure that the genesis of the plan actually comes from the people and organizations that understand the issues of the Gulf the best.”
“Secretary Mabus’ commitment that recovery plans should come from within the region itself is welcomed,” said R. King Milling, chairman of America’s Wetland Foundation. “Louisiana has a master plan for coastal restoration and protection unanimously approved by the Legislature, as well as congressional authorizations, that sit idly without funding. Acting on these plans, especially those that reconnect the river to the wetlands, is what is needed now.”
Brenton said Mabus expects to present his plan to the president in 60 to 90 days, but it’s unclear how long it would take to get the approval of Congress necessary to adopt most of the measures proposed in the ad.