By any measure, the dimensions of Louisiana’s effort to fight back against coastal erosion are going to be vastly enhanced over the next decade or so by the BP court settlement.
That means not only more active projects but bigger ones, engineering the diversions of Mississippi River water and sediments to rebuild land along the state’s eroding coastline.
The money isn’t in hand yet, noted Chip Kline, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s top aide on coastal issues, but it will be once a final settlement is signed for the costs and fines of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and consequent oil spill that ravaged the Gulf of Mexico.
The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority expects $500 million a year for the next 15 years through the proposed settlement with BP to be finalized in the coming months, and an additional $140 million a year through the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act, which was passed in 2006 and goes into effect in 2017.
The latter is one place where we hope Louisiana leaders, particularly the GOP-led delegation in Congress, are able to keep in law a signature achievement of former U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. She was a prime author of GOMESA. It is vital that the current delegation fights against the inevitable feeding frenzy that “free” money from the Gulf of Mexico’s oil fields can cause in Congress. There has been talk, including in a budget proposal from President Barack Obama, to divert that money from the Gulf states to national conservation efforts.
Ironically, the president and Landrieu were often at odds on energy issues, even as Landrieu lost her seat in a 2014 campaign of GOP opposition to Obama. If the GOMESA funds are frittered away on numerous national projects, one of Obama’s biggest achievements will be lost. We hope the president wakes up to that fact because GOMESA funding is still needed despite the magnitude of the BP funding.
The BP settlement is at once an enormous benefit for coastal restoration and an invitation for politicians at national or state levels to use the cash for something else more politically attractive.
Diversions of Mississippi River water and sediments — the way the Louisiana delta was formed in past ages — have been since the 1920s identified as the way to rebuild significant amounts of coastal marshes, Kline told the Press Club of Baton Rouge.
“It is important that the river be a restoration tool as well as a transportation tool,” Kline said.
The diversion projects are major feats of science, engineering and construction. The 2012 coastal master plan adopted by the state envisions spending $50 billion over 50 years for coastal protection and restoration. It is the latter projects that not only require large-scale diversions of river water but continued management of the water flow over years.
That makes the battle over preserving GOMESA even more vital for those with a long-term commitment to Louisiana’s coastline.