Unless the final version of Louisiana’s 2017 Coastal Master Plan takes a more scientific and less politicized approach than its current draft, legislators must reject it.
The state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority for the past couple of years has formulated the plan, revised every five years, that outlines the state’s agenda for maintaining a sustainable coast. Meetings to solicit comments ended last week, but the public still can weigh in through March 26 by contacting the agency. The end product then heads to several legislative committees and on to both chambers, who during the 2017 regular session must vote up or down the entire package.
Budgeted at $50 billion over 50 years, the preliminary document bases project selection upon an assessment of future environmental changes. Using forecasts of several inputs, experts prepared a range of likely scenarios and released this analysis in October 2015.
Perhaps the most controversial data used were estimates of sea level rise, based upon several studies made since the 2012 report that had postulated scenarios of 50 and 100 centimeter rises by 2100. Unfortunately, the questionable use and quality of science involved often turns these estimates into exercises hardly more accurate than tossing darts while blindfolded. Among other sources, the 2017 draft utilized information from the 2014 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report long on politics and short on science and the 2014 National Climate Assessment replete with overstatements and mischaracterizations. It also cites a 2013 Maryland state report, the conclusions of which are not supported by the data.
Nonetheless, the CPRA drafters of the update came up with a projection of sea level rise (adjusted to Gulf of Mexico waters) essentially identical to the 2012 plan, in a slightly altered range of 31 to 198 cm. Three months later, Gov. John Bel Edwards took office and over the next few months appointed nearly all of the CPRA’s members. Subsequently, it issued the full report now under scrutiny — which presented three scenarios of SLR of 100, 150, and 200 cm, making the highest from 2012 the lowest of 2017 and the 2017 highest double that of 2012.
Note that the forecast range of sea level rise, based on admittedly imperfect science, hardly changed from 2012. Only the politics changed, with installation of an administration friendlier to big government — although Edwards personally doesn’t entirely embrace the notion of significant anthropogenic climate change. The report appears to ignore refutations of climate change studies by the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change or other groups.
From these estimates, the CPRA identifies coastal projects, the costs and benefits of which depend heavily on the scenario chosen. If the agency acts on the basis of dubious conclusions, for decades to come Louisiana could spend inefficiently on expensive but low-yield items while ignoring undertakings that produce more bang for the buck, and consequently do better to protect and restore the coast.
To that end, the CPRA should adjust the scenarios in its final report to something more realistic, like 50, 100, and 150 cm, and revise its project lists accordingly. If not, then the Legislature should reject and return the plan stating this as the reason for disapproval. In addition, the Legislature and its committees will vet the CPRA’s 2018 Annual Plan — also open for public comment through March 26 — that details project progress and new projects commenced over the next three years; this also, unless revised, deserves a veto for its agenda based upon the currently flawed draft Master Plan.
Louisiana can’t afford mistakes on this issue. Policymakers can reduce this possibility by minimizing the impact that politics plays in making decisions concerning this crucial policy area.
Even with the $50 billion worth of coastal restoration projects being proposed, Louisiana st…