Archive for Federal Policy

Ten Years after Katrina, What the BP Settlement Means for Louisiana Restoration

July 16, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in 19 Priority Projects, 5 Years Later, BP Oil Disaster, Community Resiliency, Diversions, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricanes, K10, Restoration Projects, RESTORE Act, Science

By Steve Cochran, Director, Mississippi River Delta Restoration Program, Environmental Defense Fund

Ten years ago, just after Hurricane Katrina, I was asked to talk to Environmental Defense Fund’s board about the place where I grew up, the New Orleans area that had been hit so hard.

I remember two things about that discussion. One was my voice breaking unexpectedly (and embarrassingly) as we talked through pictures of the Katrina aftermath and came across places I intimately knew.

As an adult, I had developed a love/hate relationship with my home – loving the beauty, the people, the community and the culture, but frustrated by what I saw as the general tolerance of mediocrity and corrupt politics that limited its possibilities. That frustration had pushed the love down, and I had moved away. But there it was again. Sometimes you don’t know how much you care.

The second thing I remember was saying that the Katrina response was a deep test of our governments – local, state and national. As we know now, in that moment, it was a test they failed. But fast forward to July 2, 2015, the day a global settlement was announced in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill case. It was a day when governments rose to the occasion. The result was literally the largest environmental settlement in U.S. history.

The BP Settlement and Louisiana Coastal Restoration

Under the agreement, Louisiana will receive more than a third of the money – $6.8 billion of the $18.7 billion, and $5.8 billion of that is specifically targeted to restoration. The overall restoration total for Louisiana will likely be just under $8 billion, including early restoration dollars and criminal settlements.

These are significant resources at a critical time. Land loss across the coast of Louisiana, exacerbated by the spill, continues at a fearful rate. But we are making progress against that loss, and with the solid state commitment that now exists, and effective plans in place, these resources will allow us to battle back in earnest, with a clear-eyed view toward success.

In particular, the state plans to re-engage the enormous power of the Mississippi River and its sediment through a series of sediment diversions – using the natural land-building capacity of the river by reconnecting it to the delta it originally built. This science-based, innovative approach is the critical piece in our ability to provide solutions at a scale that can match the challenges in the Mississippi River Delta – now the largest restoration effort under way in the world.

Rebuilding Our Coast to Protect Our Communities

About a month after the spill, I was allowed to sit in on a tribal council of the indigenous United Houma Nation. As the oil continued to pour into the Gulf of Mexico, which it would do for another two months, I listened and watched as a man described, through a quiet voice and uncontrolled tears, how he had always looked to the waters of the Gulf and drawn confidence, knowing he could always provide for his family by accepting its gifts. But now all he could feel was fundamental fear.

Money can’t replace that kind of loss any more than it can bring back the 11 loved ones who lost their lives in the accident.

But we must do what we can – and in that context, the BP settlement is a tremendous step forward, because we can restore the Mississippi River Delta, so it can protect this area in the future.

Details matter, of course, and details remain to be decided as the Agreement in Principle is turned into a consent decree. We need to remain involved and vigilant. But it does seem clear that this agreement combines avoiding years of litigation with levels of funding that can truly make a difference.

With these resources, we can go to work to make sure that the largest environmental settlement in our nation’s history also becomes the most meaningful settlement in a place that, well, I love.



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Deepwater Horizon Settlement – Some Answers, New Questions

July 8, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in BP Oil Disaster, Clean Water Act, Federal Policy, Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA), RESTORE Act

This information was originally posted on the Environmental Law Institute's website. 
By ELI Gulf Team

On July 2, 2015, a monumental announcement was made: an agreement in principle has been reached to settle all federal and state claims against BP arising from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill for $18.732 billion (see BP’s press release here). This amount includes:



While we are still waiting on the exact details of the settlement, we do know some of the terms. We will focus on the natural resource damages and Clean Water Act civil penalties (specifically the RESTORE Act) here, considering:

1. What do we know?
2. What were the potential damages or penalties?
3. What information is still missing?

Note that this agreement is by no means final: the details still need to be hammered out and, once they are, they will be set out in a consent decree, which will be open for public comment before it goes to the court for final approval.

Natural Resource Damages (NRD)

As a refresher, a Natural Resource Damage Assessment is a process focused on restoring natural resources injured by an oil spill. The goal is to restore the resources to the condition they would have been in had the oil spill not occurred (called “baseline”). This process is led by government representatives called “trustees.” The parties responsible for the spill pay for, among other things, the costs of restoration.

1. What do we know?

BP has agreed to pay $7.1 billion in natural resource damages. This is in addition to the $1 billion already committed for early restoration. The $8.1 billion total is divided as follows:



Louisiana will receive the bulk of the funding (over 60%). Notably, over $1 billion will go to open ocean projects, which have not received a substantial amount of funding under early restoration.

A few additional notes:

  • The money will be paid out over 15 years
  • Interest will accrue on the unpaid balance; this interest is payable the year after the last NRD payment, but the Gulf states and federal government may request payment of the accrued interest after 10 years to address unknown natural resource damages
  • An additional $232 million will be made available for unknown natural resource damages the year after the $7.1 billion is paid
  • An additional $350 million will be paid for costs related to assessing the natural resource damages

2. What were the potential damages?

Natural resource damages were in the process of being assessed when the agreement was announced. Evaluation of damages is complicated, and we will know more about the quantification of damages after more information is released (much of it was confidential due to the potential for litigation).

3. What information is still missing?

There is still information we do not know, including:

  • The terms under which the interest can be accessed early
  • The terms under which the additional $232 million can be accessed
  • What types of restoration projects will be chosen
  • The timeline for the restoration plan(s) and implementing projects

As for participation opportunities, in addition to commenting on the terms of the consent decree, there will be opportunities for the public to comment on the restoration plan(s) and projects. We will post these opportunities on our Public Participation Bulletin Board as they arise.


As a refresher, the RESTORE Act diverts 80% of Clean Water Act civil and administrative penalties collected as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to the Gulf for restoration and recovery. The funds go to five different “pots” (learn more here).

1. What do we know?

BP has agreed to pay $5.5 billion in Clean Water Act civil penalties, which means that $4.4 billion (80% of $5.5 billion) will flow through RESTORE. The graph below shows how this $4.4 billion will be allocated:



Among the states, Louisiana is slated to receive the most RESTORE Act funding (18% of the RESTORE funds). Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi will receive around 14% of the RESTORE funds, with Texas receiving 10%.

A few additional notes:

  • The money will be paid out over 15 years
  • Interest will accrue on the balance, payable the year the last RESTORE Act payment is made
  • Adding the $4.4 billion to the $800 million already flowing through RESTORE (from the Transocean settlement), a total of $5.2 billion has now been obligated to RESTORE

2. What were the potential penalties?

BP’s Clean Water Act civil penalties were the subject of ongoing litigation (see our post on the trial here). The court had not released a decision on the penalty amount before the settlement announcement. At the time of the announcement, BP faced a $13.7 billion maximum penalty.

3. What information is still missing?

At this time, we don’t know how the states will spend their share of the funding and what their priorities will be (though Louisiana is expected to fund projects from its Coastal Master Plan). We also don’t know what types of projects the RESTORE Council will prioritize for funding.

As for participation opportunities, in addition to commenting on the consent decree, there will be state-specific and Gulf-wide participation opportunities. We will track these on our Public Participation Bulletin Board.

New Questions

Once the details of the agreement are fleshed out, there will be answers to many of our remaining questions. A number of questions will nonetheless persist – particularly on which projects will be chosen and how they will be implemented. It is therefore essential that the public remain involved and participate as the restoration processes move forward. While the agreement represents a monumental step forward, it is just the start of a long recovery road ahead.

For more information on the Environmental Law Institute's Ocean Program, click here.

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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



Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781,
Jacques Hebert, National Audubon Society, 504.264.6849,
Elizabeth Van Cleve, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543,
Rachel Guillory, Ocean Conservancy, 504.208.5816,
Andrew Blejwas, The Nature Conservancy, 617.785.7047,
Jimmy Frederick, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, 225.317.2046,
John Lopez, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, 504.421.7348,

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:

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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


Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781,
Jacques Hebert, National Audubon Society, 504.264.6849,
Elizabeth Van Cleve, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543,

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.”


  • 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.


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

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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!















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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