Archive for Federal Policy


Gulf Restoration Groups Ready to Put Billions to Work to Bring Back Gulf

July 2, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in BP Oil Disaster, Clean Water Act, Federal Policy, Media Resources, Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA), RESTORE Act

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:

Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, schatzele@nwf.org
Jacques Hebert, National Audubon Society, 504.264.6849, jhebert@audubon.org
Elizabeth Van Cleve, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543, evancleve@edf.org
Rachel Guillory, Ocean Conservancy, 504.208.5816, rguillory@oceanconservancy.org
Andrew Blejwas, The Nature Conservancy, 617.785.7047, ablejwas@tnc.org
Jimmy Frederick, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, 225.317.2046, jimmy.frederick@crcl.org
John Lopez, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, 504.421.7348, johnlopez@pobox.com

Gulf Restoration Groups Ready to Put Billions to Work to Bring Back Gulf

Region’s economy and well-being are based on strong, resilient ecosystem

(New Orleans, LA – July 2, 2015) National and local organizations working on Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi River Delta restoration – Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society, Ocean Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation – released the following statement in response to today’s announcement of an agreement in principle between the Gulf states, federal government and BP for its role in the largest U.S. offshore oil disaster in history. Although the settlement will not be finalized for several weeks, the agreement will dedicate billions of dollars to restore damage caused by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

“In sharp contrast to the decades-long litigation following the Exxon Valdez spill, federal and state leaders have wasted no time in closing this case. Their swift work means meaningful restoration efforts are imminent. Their leadership, at this moment, is invaluable. 

While we await key details, one thing is clear: As soon as the settlement is final, it will be time to put that money to work. 

We need our leaders to make sure that every dime of this settlement is used as it is intended: to address oil spill impacts and repair long-standing ecosystem damage. We cannot afford to wait any longer. The Gulf ecosystem is the backbone of the local economy and our primary defense from storms during hurricane season. 

This settlement, which promises to be the largest environmental settlement in American history, is an unprecedented opportunity to accelerate and expand the response to the devastating harm caused by the spill, and to build lasting resilience into the essential ecosystems of the Gulf.

We are especially encouraged that the settlement will put special emphasis on restoring health to the Mississippi River Delta and its coastal wetlands. We also urge leaders in NOAA and other agencies to leverage resources from this settlement to restore marine resources.”

A recent infographic depicts ongoing impacts of the Gulf oil disaster five years later. And over the past year alone, new scientific research has surfaced:

  • A 2014 study found evidence of a 1,250-square-mile area of oil contamination on the ocean floor around the Macondo wellhead in deep Gulf sediments.
  • A previous NOAA study found a large number of dead dolphins in heavily oiled places, including Barataria Bay, La.
  • Recent studies estimate an unprecedented number of birds (upwards of 1 million) died as a result of being exposed to BP oil.
  • A 2014 study found concentrations of PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon) – which can cause harmful effects in many birds, fish and wildlife – in Barataria and Terrebonne marshes, which may persist for decades.
  • A 2012 study found that oiled marshes in Barataria Bay eroded at double the rate of non-oiled marshes.

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2015 Louisiana Legislative Session: Coastal Wrap-Up

June 22, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), RESTORE Act, State Legislature

By Cynthia Duet, Deputy Director, Audubon Louisiana

The 2015 session of the Louisiana Legislature has comeState Capitol to a close. Although the last two months have been filled with difficult decisions for lawmakers trying to balance the state budget during this important fiscal session, bills related to coastal restoration projects, programs and funding remained the primary focus of Mississippi River Delta Coalition policy staff.

The Louisiana Legislature demonstrated continued commitment to coastal restoration and protection issues by passing HCR1 –  the resolution that allows for passage of the 2015-2016 Coastal Annual Plan. The plan is the funding report and projections document that shows where, when and how funding will be expended on restoration of the coast for protection of the people, wildlife and industries of Louisiana. The resolution was sponsored by Representative Gordon Dove, Chairman of House Natural Resources Committee, recognized as a long-time coastal supporter from the Terrebonne area. He is now wrapping up his last term in the House.

There were many items monitored this session that either did or would have had an effect on the coastal fund and coastal habitats.  Some of the highlights are noted as follows:

  • House Concurrent Resolution 1 (HCR 1) – already mentioned, the funding vehicle for the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority’s 2015-2016 annual plan for integrated coastal protection and restoration passed with overwhelming support through both state houses. The Coastal Annual Plan funds coastal restoration and hurricane protection for a three-year period through the authorization of $884 million in spending towards new and existing projects. This authorization will fund some of the 19 priority projects for restoring Louisiana’s coast as identified by the Restore the Mississippi River Delta coalition.
  • HB 352 – This bill transferred oversight authority for a state-negotiated agreement allowing coastal landowners to retain their mineral rights into perpetuity if they donate their surface rights to a certified organization for the purposes of implementing a coastal integrated project.  The authority, established by legislation in 2006, was moved to CPRA from DNR, consistent with the current structure of the state’s coastal program. The bill is currently awaiting signature of the governor.
  • HB 288 – This bill sought to prohibit the importation and release of feral hogs and restrict the transportation of feral hogs, except by permit. The spread of feral hogs is linked to transport and release. The bill failed in committee. Feral hogs damage levees, destroy coastal marsh and other wildlife habitat, reduce crops, and prey upon livestock and wildlife.
  • HB 167 – This bill would have allowed nighttime hunting of feral hogs and coyotes year round on private property, including during deer and duck seasons. HB 167 did not pass out of Senate Natural Resources Committee due to concerns that the proposed changes to the law would make enforcement of illegal nighttime hunting incredibly difficult, essentially encouraging poaching. The law as it stands allows a landowner to control feral hogs on their property year round via a permit for nighttime hunting of feral hogs when night hunting is not legal during September through February. Both bills sought to address the exploding feral hog population, however, a more coordinated effort is needed to address this scourge on Louisiana’s landscape. The feral hog population is estimated at more than 500,000 and increasing every year.
  • SB 196 – This Senate Bill proposed a Constitutional Amendment to ask voters to repeal constitutional protections for funds including the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Conservation Fund, Oilfield Site Restoration Fund, Oil Spill Contingency Fund, Artificial Reef Development Fund, and the Atchafalaya Basin Conservation Fund.
  • HB 523 – This proposed constitutional amendment to ask voters to repeal constitutional protection for a number of funds, including the Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund, Barrier Island Stabilization and Preservation Fund, and the Atchafalaya Basin Conservation Fund. As a reminder, all funds constitutionally protected went before the voters to approve that protection at some point.

There were several bills that, due to the state’s budget crisis, were being contemplated early in the session as a way to free up money to balance the $1.6 billion budget hole. The two bills proposing to remove constitutional protection for key funds failed to make it out of legislative committees. Fortunately, these items did not gain traction and the budget issues were handled in other ways, for now. However, there remains a need to stay ever vigilant during future sessions. The discussion about whether funds should be protected under the constitution or be free for lawmakers to apply to other uses will likely continue as the state grapples with expected budget challenges in the coming years.

In summary, as the 2015 fiscal session wrapped up, much concern still remains regarding the state’s budget, and the likelihood remains high that a special session may be called by the new administration at the beginning of 2016 to look for solutions. Amidst the obvious difficulties, coastal protection and restoration projects remain on the course that they have been on for several years, and the funding of projects from RESTORE Act and the GOMESA are closer than ever to becoming a reality to repair our damaged coastline.

For more information on the projects that can save Louisiana’s coast, please visit: http://www.mississippiriverdelta.org/restoration-projects/map/.

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Conservation Groups Commend Congressional Funding of Louisiana Coastal Restoration Projects

May 21, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in Federal Policy, Media Resources

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, schatzele@nwf.org
Jacques Hebert, National Audubon Society, 504.264.6849, jhebert@audubon.org
Elizabeth Van Cleve, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543, evancleve@edf.org

Conservation Groups Commend Congressional Funding of Louisiana Coastal Restoration Projects

Funding will help advance crucial, long-needed Louisiana coastal restoration efforts

(Washington, D.C.—May 21, 2015) Today, the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations included critical funding for the Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) Program in its Fiscal Year 2016 (FY 16) Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill. The legislation comes after a request in the President’s FY 16 budget of $50,000 for LCA General Investigations and $10 million for LCA Beneficial Use of Dredged Materials (BUD Mat) Construction. The U.S. House of Representatives also included these levels of funding it its FY 16 Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill.

National and local conservation groups working together on Mississippi River Delta restoration – Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation and Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana – released the following statement:

“We thank the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations, as well as the U.S. House of Representatives, for recognizing the importance of the Mississippi River Delta and dedicating funding to the Louisiana Coastal Area Program, which will restore this nationally significant ecosystem. We would especially like to thank Senator David Vitter (R-LA), Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Congressman Steve Scalise (R-LA) and Congressman Cedric Richmond (D-LA) for their bipartisan leadership in shepherding this funding through Congress.

“We stand prepared to assist the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the state of Louisiana and the Louisiana congressional delegation to advance LCA projects via all possible funding streams, including FY 16 appropriations. With each passing day, we lose more of the Louisiana coast that is home to millions of Americans, provides billions of dollars of economic activity and is vital wildlife habitat for thousands of species. We can make great strides on a path forward to restoring our rapidly disappearing coastline, but we must dedicate urgently needed resources to restoration projects that will build land now.”

Background:

  • The state of Louisiana has demonstrated a solid commitment to LCA by including many of its projects in the state’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan.
  • Not only will the LCA projects work in concert with a suite of projects to enhance coastal restoration, but the master plan also identifies other funding sources, including state dollars, to implement the entire restoration effort.
  • In fact, several distinct LCA project components are already under construction and slated to be completed, relying on these varied funding streams.
  • Additionally, the state of Louisiana has, by statute, directed its federal RESTORE Act funding allocations to the constitutionally protected Coastal Restoration and Protection Fund to be spent solely on projects in the master plan.
  • Seeing the need to stem the degradation of the Mississippi River Delta system, Congress committed to restore the Louisiana Coastal Area in the Water Resources Development Act of 2007, and this effort remains an urgent national priority today.
  • Although the projects were authorized by Congress in the Water Resources and Development Act of 2007, Fiscal Year 2015 was the first time this program received funding.
  • LCA projects will restore critical wetlands around the delta and protect Louisiana’s coastal infrastructure and natural resources.
  • Louisiana has lost more than one million acres of coastal wetlands since the 1930s, and another 300 thousand acres are at risk over the next 50 years.
  • This loss of vital coastal wetlands has significant implications for the ecology, society and economy of the region and the entire nation that depends on the Mississippi River Delta for shipping, navigation and other industries.

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The Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition is working to protect people, wildlife and jobs by reconnecting the river with its wetlands. As our region faces the crisis of threatening land loss, we offer science-based solutions through a comprehensive approach to restoration. Composed of conservation, policy, science and outreach experts from Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, we are located in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Washington, D.C.; and around the United States. Learn more at www.mississippiriverdelta.org.

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Following the oil spill, new science and research efforts develop in the Gulf of Mexico

May 5, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in 5 Years Later, BP Oil Disaster, Restoration Projects, RESTORE Act, Science

By Estelle Robichaux, Restoration Project Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund

This is the final post in a series about Gulf oil spill early coastal restoration funding and projects. Be sure to check out parts one, two and three.

In addition to environmental restoration projects and programs, four different science programs have been created through oil-spill related funding streams. See the info boxes for details on each program.

Because these programs began developing around the same time and around the same general topics – the Gulf of Mexico, ecosystem restoration and oil and gas production – there is often a lot of confusion about what these programs do and how they are different. We are here to help!

gomri

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How are the areas of focus in each of these science programs different?

There are three broad areas of focus that all of these programs collectively address:

  • Ecosystems & the environment
  • The human element
  • Offshore oil development & the environment

However, there are key distinctions between each program and how they address these broader topics.

Ecosystems & the environment

Based on the statutory language in the RESTORE Act, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) science program covers all marine and estuarine ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico. The Centers of Excellence (CoE) programs are more narrowly focused on coastal and deltaic systems. Both of these programs also include fisheries, with CoE programs being limited to coastal fisheries but also covering coastal wildlife.

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) program broadly addresses protection of environmental resources, while the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) does not have a directive to concentrate on specific ecosystems or species.

GoMRI does, however, have an explicit focus on ecosystem recovery. The CoE programs can emphasize ecosystem restoration and sustainability, and NAS has interpreted language in the settlement agreements to include restoration of the environment and ecosystem services under their program as well.

The NOAA program is supposed to support ecosystem sustainability and restoration “to the maximum extent practicable.” There is a focus on ecosystem management in the current science plan, but this program is not specifically designed around restoration science.

The human element

The BP oil disaster also has had a great impact on human communities. Both the NAS program and GoMRI are investigating human and public health issues that have developed in the wake of the spill. This includes socioeconomic research as well as behavioral, mental and social well-being. CoE programs can address economic and commercial development in the Gulf region, with a focus on sustainable and resilient growth.

Offshore oil development & the environment

Throughout the Gulf Coast and particularly in Louisiana, the oil and gas industry is an important economic driver and employer. But offshore oil and gas production needs to be done responsibly, for both the people and environment of the Gulf.

Safe and sustainable offshore energy development is something on which CoEs can focus. The NAS program is will be addressing oil system safety and GoMRI will be developing technology related to oil spill response and remediation.

GoMRI’s primary focus is on the impacts of oil and dispersants on Gulf ecosystems and organisms as well as the physical and chemical questions surrounding oil and dispersants, such as where did the oil go and how has the oil and dispersants been degrading.

Are all of these programs investing the same kinds of science?diagram

As with the areas of focus, there is a lot of overlap in the types of science activities that these programs are targeting, but there are a few important differences.

The obvious commonality among all four programs is research, which is not surprising as they are all science-focused endeavors.

GoMRI, CoEs and the NAS program also all have some focus on technology and development. This means that some of the science and research that these programs fund will be targeted towards developing new technologies, products or procedures.

The NOAA and NAS programs, as well as CoEs, will invest in monitoring. As discussed in this previous blog post, the BP oil spill highlighted the lack of coordinated, comprehensive monitoring throughout the Gulf region. These programs will fund research into what monitoring does exist throughout the Gulf and explore options and opportunities for implementing monitoring programs.

Even among the distinguishing types of activities these programs will pursue, there are areas of convergence. The NAS program has a mandate to focus on education & training; CoEs on mapping the Gulf of Mexico; and the NOAA program on data collection and fisheries pilot programs. However, training and pilot programs may find overlap with development initiatives. Similarly, data collection and mapping are both important activities strongly related to monitoring. With so many intersections between and among programs, it is essential that these programs communicate with one another.

What’s missing?

With everything these four science programs are doing, it may be hard to believe that anything is lacking. But there are two very important things missing from these collective efforts.

One is formal coordination among programs. Over the last few years, as these programs have begun developing, there has been copious discussion about not duplicating efforts among programs. However, there has been little conversation about devising specific, formal coordination mechanisms to make sure that such duplication does not happen.

Development and implementation of formal coordination mechanisms would also allow programs to take advantage of overlap, by providing points of discussion for complementary or parallel endeavors, particularly those that might span ecosystem boundaries or involve large-scale research or monitoring.

The second missing piece is a means for integrating findings into restoration activities, like those discussed here. Although this will require work beyond the four programs examined here, these science programs should make every effort to ensure that results from their funded research and activities are publicly accessible and readily communicated to decision-makers.

These science programs may not be constructing restoration projects, but the results from their research and other activities may have important implications for restoration efforts now and in the future.

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8th Graders Present Project to Louisiana House on Coastal Restoration

April 30, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in 5 Years Later, Birds, BP Oil Disaster, Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA), Wildlife

By Eden Davis, Outreach Coordinator, Louisiana Wildlife Federation

This was originally posted on the LA Camo Coalition blog.

On April 29, a group of 8th graders from Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Belle Chasse presented to the Louisiana House Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment about the importance of coastal restoration.

Eden blog photo 1

The Committee diligently listened as the 8th graders used Cat Island as a call to action on the urgency for restoring our coast. Cat Island, located in Plaquemines Parish, has all but disappeared, going from a pre-BP 5 acres to  now mere tenths of an acre.

The 8th graders have spearheaded a campaign called the Pelican Cat-astrophe. Their focus is on restoring Cat Island due to the island serving as critical pelican habitat and also as the first line of defense for coastal communities against storm surge. Cat Island has historically been one of the greatest nesting locations for the Louisiana state bird, the brown pelican. Until 2009, the brown pelican was on the endangered species list.

Eden blog photo 2

Cat Island.

These students are quite persuasive; after presenting to the Plaquemines Parish Council, the Council approved 1.2 million in spending to restore Cat Island. After the 8th graders spoke, Chip Kline from the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, confirmed the state's plans to restore Cat Island.  Kline said that the exact amount of funding is contingent on what damage to Cat Island the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) determines is the fault of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Go the Pelican Cat-astrophe website, here!

 

 

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Improving implementation of the new Federal Flood Risk Management Standard

April 28, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Community Resiliency, Federal Policy

By Shannon Cunniff, Deputy Director, Water Program, Environmental Defense Fund

This is part two of a two-part series about the new Federal Flood Risk Management Standard.

Flood waters in LaPlace, La. after Hurricane Isaac passed through the area. FEMA News Photo

Flood waters in LaPlace, La. after Hurricane Isaac passed through the area. FEMA News Photo

Hurricane Katrina and Super Storm Sandy clearly illustrated the significant effects storms and flooding can have on the nation’s economy and security. So it’s not surprising that the President tapped the National Security Council to lead an interagency team to develop additional means to reduce the impact and cost of floods to the nation.

To develop the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard, the Council built upon work done by the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force and its Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Strategy, that recommended the federal government create a national flood risk standard for federally-funded projects beyond the Sandy-affected region.

In developing the Standard, the National Security Council should have used more transparency. For example, it doesn’t appear the Council consulted with Louisiana’s community leaders and others affected by Hurricane Katrina. That’s hard to understand, given the impacts that storm had on the region.

In addition to gaining understanding of the different and separate conditions around the nation, outreach also might have resulted in greater understanding among stakeholders of the intent behind the executive order and engendered less anxiety about its impact from those outside of Washington. To that end, such outreach very likely would have resulted in less confusion and consternation about the order, yielding a better result.

Implementing the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard

There are two steps to full implementation of the Standard. The first started with development and issuance of its draft Implementing Guidelines. The Administration has provided an extended opportunity for public comment on these overarching guidelines, which is currently scheduled to close on May 6, 2015. The second step will be development of detailed guidelines by each affected federal agency that reflect their authorities and programs.

Until the implementing agencies develop their guidelines, specific concerns about what the standard will mean can’t be fully answered. This causes increased anxiety among stakeholders.

Making sure implementation works for Louisiana

In the current public comment period, there are three significant ways to ensure application of the executive order works for Louisiana and other states that have real concerns about the outcomes:

First, commenters can identify clarifications needed in the final overarching Implementing Guidelines so that they set clear direction and sideboards, yet retain flexibility. These parameters will then guide each federal agency in developing its own implementing guidelines

Second, commenters can seek desired improvement in the public dialogue on flood risk management by suggesting that these final Implementing Guidelines direct federal agencies to engage in meaningful dialogue before and as they develop their own program-specific guidelines.

Lastly, commenters can identify issues and questions that each federal agency should carefully consider when drafting their program-specific guidelines.

While the White House could have done a better job engaging other regions of the U.S. prior to establishing its Federal Flood Risk Management Standard, let’s embrace opportunities to engage in meaningful dialogue to establish flexible policies that encourage and enable communities to improve their resiliency. To send comments on the draft Implementing Guidelines, click here and then search for the notice in docket ID FEMA-2015-0006.

If you missed it, check out part one of this series: The new Federal Flood Risk Management Standard.

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The new Federal Flood Risk Management Standard

April 27, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Community Resiliency, Federal Policy

By Shannon Cunniff, Deputy Director, Water Program, Environmental Defense Fund

This is part one of a two-part series about the new Federal Flood Risk Management Standard. Check back tomorrow for part two.

The view from aerial tour of Hurricane Sandy damage of New Jersey's barrier beaches, Nov. 18, 2012.

The view from aerial tour of Hurricane Sandy damage of New Jersey's barrier beaches, Nov. 18, 2012.

There has been a lot of misinformation circulating about the new Federal Flood Risk Management Standard established in Executive Order (EO) 13690. In this two-part series, we will shed light on the new standard as well as ways for stakeholders to get involved in the process and make their voices heard.

Louisiana and its citizens are no strangers to flooding and flood risk. Were it not for the devastation caused by the 1927 Mississippi River floods, Congress might not have created a new major flood control program for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. So it’s not hyperbole to say Louisiana’s history is steeped in floods.

Louisiana’s broad deltaic floodplains, storied bayous and New Orleans’ own tenacity and resilience to floods define this region. Louisiana knows how to live with water and the threat of flood. Through its Coastal Master Plan, the state is demonstrating to the nation its leadership in flood risk reduction and how creative cross-jurisdictional planning can ensure a vibrant future despite rising seas.

Why have a flood risk standard for federal investments?

However, Louisiana isn’t alone in experiencing flood damages. Between 1980 and 2013, the United States suffered more than $260 billion in flood-related damages. Accounting for inflation, the dollar losses due to U.S. tropical storms and floods have tripled over the past 50 years.

During this period, the federal government has assumed an increasing proportion of the financial responsibility associated with flooding and coastal storms. Federally funded infrastructure – including buildings, roads, ports, industrial facilities and military installations – have suffered flood damages stemming from higher flood levels, higher sea levels and more severe storms. A goal for the new Federal Flood Risk Management Standard is to establish a higher level to which federal actions must be resilient.

This risk management standard represents an important step in coming to terms with more intense storms and sea level rise. The nation and its communities, as well as federal agencies, need to join together to cope with what sea level rise means for our coastal areas, populations, infrastructure and economies.

It’s taken us decades, even centuries, to achieve current levels of development. Now we need to start positioning ourselves to adjust to changing conditions. We need to start building differently and gradually shifting our important assets out of harm’s way.

Leaders in reducing risks

More than 350 communities across the nation, including some in Louisiana, have already implemented standards that account for increased future flood risk, to ensure investments today still provide benefits in a riskier future.

While the federal government is catching up with these communities, it’s been a leader and advocate for floodplain management since 1977, when the federal floodplain management executive order was last updated. Since then, federal agencies have been assessing – usually during their development of an environmental assessment or environmental impact analysis – and minimizing the effects of proposed actions occupying or modifying the floodplain.

The new federal flood risk management standard

The Federal Flood Risk Management Standard supplements the long-standing federal floodplain management Executive Order 11988 approach, by increasing the size of the floodplain and setting a higher level for designing means to lessen flood risks. When evaluating projects, federal agencies must consider:

  • The impacts of their proposed action on adding to others’ flood risk.
  • Ways to reduce impacts of flooding to structures they fund.

Federal agencies still must avoid the direct or indirect support of floodplain development whenever there is a practicable alternative. Practicality is the pivotal word with much turning on the purpose and need for the action. As the last 37 years demonstrate, federal agencies implementing Executive Order 11988 have been prudent in determining practicality.

Federally funded actions have and will continue in Louisiana’s broad, flat floodplains. They will do so in a manner that ensures federal investments lessen the risk of damaging floods, reduces the cost of flood damages to life and property and, should there be a severe event, rebound quickly to serve their intended purpose.

How we go about developing policies and practices to protect federal investments, lives and property from storms, floods and sea level rise is important. While the new Federal Flood Risk Management Standard is a good thing, there are two areas worth examining around the executive order: process and substance. In tomorrow's post, we will be examining both of these areas and ideas for improvement.

Check back tomorrow for part two: Improving implementation of the new Federal Flood Risk Management Standard.

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The Science of the Spill

April 14, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in 5 Years Later, BP Oil Disaster, Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA), Science

By Alisha Renfro, Coastal Scientist, National Wildlife Federation

The blow out of the Macondo well claimed 11 lives and began the largest marine oil spill in U.S. history. It took 87 days to finally cap the well and by then at least 134 million gallons of crude oil had been expelled into the Gulf of Mexico.

With the source of the oil nearly a mile below the surface of the water and at four times the size of the Exxon Valdez, the BP oil disaster presented many new challenges. The experience and response methods used in previous oil spills was often found to be impossible to apply or ineffective. As a result, scientists began scrambling to measure how much oil was leaking from the well, tracking and predicting where it would go and trying to understand what this spill would mean for the people, wildlife and habitat of the Gulf.

While large amounts of scientific data have been collected and published in peer-reviewed journals in the five years since the oil spill, more scientific research is still ongoing. The science related to the spill has been largely funded through a few different sources, including:

The NSF has scientific funding available to address pressing research needs during unanticipated events, like the BP oil spill. The availability and flexibility of this funding source allowed scientists receiving this grant to quickly mobilize and collect important data that may have otherwise been missed in the confusion in the days after the spill when oil was still gushing out of the wellhead.

In May-2010, BP dedicated $500 million over 10 years to independent scientific research to investigate the oil spill impacts on the Gulf of Mexico and Gulf coast states. This initiative funded research projects and research consortia that range from the deep Gulf to the shoreline. Hundreds of peer-reviewed publications have resulted from this initiative and a searchable list of this research can be found here.

NRDA TrusteesThe Oil Pollution Act of 1990 authorizes natural resource trustees – specific federal agencies, affected states and the party responsible, in this case BP – to evaluate the impacts of this oil spill on the natural resources of the region and to implement projects that restore or replace those resources. While the NRDA process related the BP oil spill is touted as the most transparent in its history, the many findings of the ongoing assessment are not available to the public.

The unprecedented size and complexity of the BP oil spill demands well-funded, intensive and wide-ranging scientific study. This research, particularly through NRDA, is crucial for the path forward  towards restoration that will bolster and restore the health of the Gulf ecosystem and the people and wildlife that depend on it.

You can read more of my blog posts here:

Five years later, scientists gather to assess ongoing impact of BP oil spill

New study examines ecological and coastal restoration benefits of oyster reefs

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A visit to the Caminada Headland Beach & Dune Restoration project

April 7, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in 5 Years Later, BP Oil Disaster, Clean Water Act, Restoration Projects, Science

By Estelle Robichaux, Restoration Project Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund

The BP oil spill has had devastating impacts on Gulf Coast ecosystems and communities, but coastal Louisiana’s land loss crisis began decades before the disaster. The Clean Water Act fines and other money paid through settlements relating to the spill offer an unprecedented opportunity to restore Gulf Coast habitats and natural resources.

Many of the early restoration projects funded in Louisiana are focused on barrier islands because of the important role they play in the coastal ecosystem and the severe impacts they experienced during the spill. Louisiana’s barrier islands were heavily oiled because they act as a “first line of defense” against disturbance, such as storm surge or, in this case, oil. In fact, Louisiana’s coastal islands continue to experience re-oiling even today.

Caminada Headland Beach & Dune Restoration

One very important barrier island restoration project currently underway is the Caminada Headland Beach & Dune restoration, which is part of our coalition’s priority project, Belle Pass to Caminada Pass Barrier Island Restoration. The Caminada Headland forms the western edge of the Barataria Basin barrier system and has experienced some of the highest rates of shoreline retreat and land loss along the Louisiana coast.

Caminada map_LB

Photo: Google Earth

I recently had the opportunity to see the first constructed phase of the Caminada restoration project on a field trip hosted by our partner, Restore or Retreat, and the Greater Lafourche Port Commission. It was inspiring to see restoration at work! There were birds and crabs on the shoreline, small plants naturally re-vegetating and the different project components working together – breakwaters protecting the shore and the sand fence having created a substantial dune. More projects like this are exactly what coastal Louisiana needs.

Why is the Caminada Headland important?

The Caminada Headland is a significant feature along Louisiana’s coastline because it provides critical habitat for important neotropical migratory birds and threatened or endangered species, such as the piping plover and Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. It is also a buffer from storm surge and waves for valuable public and private infrastructure, including Port Fourchon and Highway 1, which provides the only evacuation route for coastal communities such as Grand Isle, La.

Piping plover. Photo: Erik Johnson

Piping plover. Photo: Erik Johnson

Port Fourchon. Photo: Estelle Robichaux

Port Fourchon. Photo: Estelle Robichaux

Port Fourchon is an important nexus in our national energy infrastructure system. Approximately 18 percent of the nation’s oil supply is transported through the port, and it is the land base for the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP). The LOOP is connected to refineries across the country, which collectively make up half of the oil refining capacity in the U.S., and handles about 15 percent of our foreign oil imports. The activity, infrastructure and continuing growth of the port is truly impressive!

What makes this restoration project unique?

The first phase of the Caminada Headland restoration project created and enhanced more than 300 acres of beach and dune habitat. This project used a mix of sediment pumped from the Mississippi River and high-quality, beach-compatible sand from Ship Shoal, a large marine sand deposit just offshore of Isles Dernieres. Most of the other nearby sand sources have been exhausted, so this was the first time that sediment from Ship Shoal has been used for restoration.

Caminada pre-post construction 2

Photo: Gulf Coast Air Photo

The planning and design of the Caminada project was funded using the Coastal Impact Assistance Program and Louisiana state surplus funds, but they only had enough money (~$70 million) to restore a portion of the island. The success of this first phase, however, was leveraged when more funding became available, via the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, to complete restoration of Caminada’s beach and dune habitat.

Construction on the first phase of the beach and dune habitat restoration is complete and soon the entire project area will be planted with native vegetation. The second phase of construction for the Caminada Headland restoration project – which at 489 acres, is the largest restoration project ever undertaken by Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority – should begin within the next month. Design for restoration of the Caminada Headland back barrier marsh is also currently underway.

Check out my previous post in this series, Exploring Early Coastal Restoration Funding and Projects

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Exploring Early Coastal Restoration Funding and Projects

April 3, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in 5 Years Later, BP Oil Disaster, Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA)
Lake Hermitage Marsh Creation project

Lake Hermitage Marsh Creation project

By Estelle Robichaux, Restoration Project Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund

Five years after the BP oil disaster, Gulf Coast communities are still recovering, environmental restoration is still needed, and we will not know the full impacts of the spill for possibly decades to come.

Comprehensive ecosystem restoration of the Gulf cannot begin in earnest until BP accepts responsibility and pays its civil Clean Water Act fines, which could amount to nearly $14 billion. These fines will be used for Gulf Coast restoration, thanks to the 2012 federal RESTORE Act.

Since the spill, however, some funds have been made available for initial restoration projects and research program development. Over a series of blog posts, we will explore some of these funding streams and the restoration efforts they support.

Restoration funding through NFWF

The National Fish & Wildlife Federation (NFWF), a congressionally chartered non-profit organization, was founded as a conservation grant-maker and clearinghouse. In 2013, NFWF established its Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund to administer funds resulting from settlement agreements reached with Transocean and BP in the wake of the 2010 oil disaster.

The terms of these agreements state that Louisiana will receive half of these funds, which total $2.544 billion, over the course of five years for environmental restoration. Specifically, this money is dedicated to barrier island restoration and river diversion projects.

Since NFWF began granting money to the five Gulf states in late 2013, more than $221.1 million has been awarded to Louisiana for seven restoration projects and programs, all of which support our coalition's priority projects, including:

Caminada Headland Beach & Dune Restoration

Construction on a second phase of the Caminada Headland Beach & Dune restoration project should be underway this April! The engineering, design and permitting of this project, which is part of the Belle Pass to Caminada Pass Barrier Island & Headland Restoration, has been funded and completed.

East Timbalier Island Restoration

The East Timbalier Island restoration project, part of the Timbalier Islands Barrier Island Restoration, has received funding for engineering, design and permitting. The final design and permitting of this project, which has to be completed before it can be constructed, is expected to wrap up in late 2017.

River Diversions

Engineering, permitting and stakeholder engagement for the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion has been funded and is underway. Initial planning studies for other river diversions are also being funded, such as the Mid-Breton, Lower Breton and Lower Barataria Sediment Diversions. Planning decisions are currently being made about the Increase Atchafalaya Flow to Terrebonne project and it may be into engineering and design as early as next year.

CPRA’s Adaptive Management Program

Components of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority’s Adaptive Management program are also being funded by NFWF, including the Barrier Island Comprehensive Monitoring program, the development and initial implementation of SWAMP (System-Wide Assessment and Monitoring Program) and operation of the small-scale physical model.

Restoration funding through NRDA

The Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) is the scientific and legal process to assess and quantify injuries to natural resources and services following environmental disasters, such as oil spills. The full NRDA process for the Gulf oil disaster may take up to a decade, so in 2011, the NRDA Trustee Council and BP agreed to implement and pay for, respectively, an early restoration program.

BP committed to providing up to $1 billion for early restoration and, so far, the Trustee Council has allocated more than $698.2 million to Gulf restoration projects. More than half of this money has gone to Louisiana for four groups of projects, funding more than $301.7 million in environmental restoration projects.

These restoration projects also support our coalition’s priority projects and include:

Lake Hermitage Marsh Creation

The construction of more than 100 acres of marsh was recently completed as part of the Lake Hermitage Marsh Creation project.

Louisiana Outer Coast Restoration Project

This project includes restoration of four barrier islands, including

  • Caillou Lake Headlands, the first component of the Isles Dernieres Barrier Island Restoration, which will restore 1,272 acres.
  • Shell Island West and Chenier Ronquille, which are part of the Barataria Pass to Sandy Point Barrier Island Restoration, together include the restoration of over 1,120 acres; and
  • North Breton Island, which will restore more than 350 acres of vital bird habitat.

Although construction on these barrier islands has not started yet, at least two of these projects will be out for construction bid within the next couple of months and under construction soon after.

What’s Next?

Although some legal and political issues have limited the pace at which comprehensive Gulf restoration has been able to be initiated, these currently funded projects are important and concrete steps towards restoration of the Mississippi River Delta. Look for our next post, which will delve into the details of one of these projects that is already under construction!

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