In 2017 Governor John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency for Louisiana’s coast, saying, "The Louisiana coast is in a state of crisis that demands immediate and urgent action to avert further damage to one of our most vital resources." More recently in the New York Times, the governor echoed this urgency, saying, “We are literally in a race against time.”
The governor was right, which is why the administration’s latest proposal to send state surplus dollars anywhere but the coast is concerning. Despite the race to save our coast, lawmakers have removed dollars from the constitutionally protected Coastal Trust Fund every year since 2015 to balance the state’s budget. Now with “surplus” dollars to spend — funds that cannot legally be used to balance the budget — the administration has foregone the opportunity to put that money toward the coast. A suite of small local projects will be funded instead, as our coast continues to wash away.
The state talks a lot about the urgency of land loss but has not increased its own funding to coastal programs since the 1990’s. In fact, $12 million has been removed from the Coastal Fund by the Governor and lawmakers to help balance the state’s budget within the past four years. That money is badly needed. Last year, only two percent of the $736 million in anticipated program expenditures came from the State of Louisiana. In difficult budget times, difficult choices must be made. But if the state is distributing “surplus” dollars, some of those should be put back where they came from.
While Louisiana’s coastal program has begun to receive millions of dollars, this funding is primarily from the BP oil spill settlements and restricted to restoration efforts that will repair damage from the worst environmental disaster in our state’s history. This money is only a portion of the funds the state needs to fully implement its $50-billion Coastal Master Plan. Louisiana cannot continue to rely on funding from disasters, whether oil spills or hurricanes, to address the disappearance of its coast.
The state must meet this crisis with the urgency it merits, and that means securing and protecting funding for the state’s coastal program. Reducing this funding only hamstrings the state’s ability to build coastal restoration and protection projects quickly — at a time when we continue to lose a football field of land every hour.
As for the bigger picture, we simply cannot expect the federal government and entities outside Louisiana to help fund our coastal needs if we are not committing our own resources to the crisis.
The governor has addressed the crisis with demands for urgency and expedited project implementation, but this latest proposal shortchanges those demands.
The ball is now in the Legislature’s court, and it is integral that they, and ultimately the Governor, send a strong message to all people watching, from the federal government to those living in communities that are slowly sinking into the Gulf of Mexico. It’s time for the state to back up its words with real dollars.
deputy director, Audubon Louisiana