Obama Officials Hear of Coastal Crisis in Louisiana

October 21, 2009 - 5:40 AM
Fishermen, scientists and public officials on Monday urged the Obama administration to deal with south Louisiana's dire problems before the region is lost to the Gulf of Mexico.
New Orleans (AP) - Fishermen, scientists and public officials on Monday urged the Obama administration to deal with south Louisiana's dire problems before the region is lost to the Gulf of Mexico.
 
Several top officials with the Obama administration came to New Orleans for one of several public meetings on ocean policy being held around the nation. President Obama set up a task force in June to develop recommendations on how to save the nation's oceans and balance commercial and environmental interests.
 
But in New Orleans, much of the talk was about onshore problems.
 
"It's not just a wetland, it's not just a swamp. People live out there," said Tracy Kuhns with Louisiana Bayoukeeper, an advocacy group based in Barataria, La. "When you lose all that, you lose our culture."
 
Kuhns said south Louisiana's coastal residents have "watched as our coast has disappeared." She said south Louisiana has been ignored for too long. "We need the dollars that Chesapeake Bay, and the Great Lakes, and everybody else, is getting. We need those dollars down here."
 
Jane Lubchenco, the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the agency that oversees the nation's federal waters, said the Obama administration was eager to grapple with south Louisiana's land loss.
 
She said a special task force would soon get to work to understand the problems facing south Louisiana and the rest of the northern Gulf of Mexico.
 
"The Louisiana coast represents 40 percent of the nation's wetlands, but this precious resource is disappearing into the Gulf of Mexico at a rate of 35 square miles a year," Lubchenco said at a news conference before the meeting.
 
"We're going to have to tackle all of that," she said. "It's important to consider every tool ... So, stay tuned."
 
Lubchenco and Nancy Sutley, the chairwoman of the White House's Council on Environmental Quality, planned to fly over Louisiana's coast Tuesday to study the region's problems and view coastal restoration projects.
 
South Louisiana lies on fragile deltaic land created by the Mississippi River, but it has been eroding at alarming rates due to a host of reasons, chief among them the construction of levees on the river, oil and natural gas drilling and damage from hurricanes. The federal government is considering restoration plans, but so far it has not committed to spending billions of dollars on it.
 
"This is not a parochial problem, this is a national problem," said Anne Milling, the founder of Women of the Storm, an advocacy group created after Hurricane Katrina. "Who do you think warms and fuels the homes of northeast America? It's the oil and gas that traverses our wetlands."
 
"Louisiana is undoubtedly in crisis, but we don't need short-term fixes, we need deliberative thinking about what the next century holds," said Denise Reed, a coastal scientist with the University of New Orleans.
 
Garret Graves, Gov. Bobby Jindal's adviser on coastal issues, urged the Obama administration to speed up coastal restoration and help the state come up with the money to protect the coast.