State rebuilt 5.1 square miles of coast with $500M in fines since BP Deepwater Horizon

The wetland area in the photo was created as part of the Lake Hermitage Phase 2 marsh creation project in Plaquemines Parish, paid for with $14.2 million of Natural Resource Damage Assessment money from BP in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon accident and oil spill.

Sizable majorities of likely voters in Louisiana believe in climate change, say weather is becoming more extreme and that it will affect future generations, according to a new survey.

The poll, conducted by pollsters Greg Rigamer of BDPC, LLC and Bernie Pinsonat, was done on behalf of Restore the Mississippi River Delta ahead of fall elections where voters will choose the state’s governor and Legislature. Restore the Mississippi River Delta pointed to the poll’s findings that nearly all of those surveyed support coastal restoration projects, and said candidates should make coastal land loss a top priority.

The survey of 1,006 likely voters in Louisiana also found 71% believe in climate change, and 80% said more extreme weather will affect future generations.

About 74% believe weather events, from flooding to hurricanes, are becoming more extreme; 68% believe extreme weather events are becoming more frequent; and 57% said extreme weather is currently having a greater impact on their lives. Eighty percent believe extreme weather will have a greater impact on future generations in Louisiana.

The survey shows wide support for coastal restoration projects, including for sediment diversions. It found virtually unanimous support for protecting coastal restoration and hurricane protection funding, prioritizing coastal land loss and identifying more funding for coastal restoration. 

About 77% of respondents said they think coastal land loss will likely impact them in 10 years, and almost all as Louisiana should work to maintain as much coastal land as possible, even if restoring the coast to its previous footprint is impossible. Eighty-six percent said they would be less likely to support officials that removed funds from the coastal trust fund without paying it back. 

Slightly smaller majorities would be willing to pay taxes to fund coastal restoration projects. Sixty percent said they would support paying a local tax for coastal projects and 63% said they would pay a state tax. 

The survey also found that 82 percent of respondents supported using sediment diversions to build and maintain coastal wetlands over time. In just St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes, where there has been opposition to the diversions from some fishermen and elected officials, 68 percent of respondents supported diversions, compared to 23 percent who opposed them.

“I do a lot of surveys and i just don’t have any other issues that poll this strong," Rigamer said about voter support for coastal projects. 

"I think it’s safe to say that voters are in widespread agreement that addressing coastal land loss must be a top priority for any candidate who seeks elected office," Steve Cochran, campaign director for Restore the Mississippi River Delta, added. 

Pinsonat said the 71% of respondents who said they believe in climate change was higher than he would have expected, but he pointed to similarly high numbers for questions about weather becoming more extreme.

“The thing that’s very clear is that people directly see the impacts associated with it,” Cochran said, pointing to flooding throughout the state in recent years. 

What is less clear is how Louisiana will deal with a national debate about emissions, he added.

The poll surveyed 1,006 likely Louisiana voters from July 23 through July 29 by telephone, including 38% to cell phones. The survey has a margin of error of 3 percentage points at a 95% confidence level. 

Restore the Mississippi River Delta is a coalition of the national Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation and National Audubon Society, and the Louisiana-based Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation. Founded in 2008 and underwritten by grants from the Walton Family Foundation, the coalition has been supporting the state's coastal restoration program, including its plans to build the Mid-Barataria and Mid-Breton Sediment Diversions through both information campaigns and underwriting research projects.

Democrats and independents questioned for the poll were far more likely to say they believe in climate change than Republicans. While 89% of Democrats and 76% of independents surveyed said they believe in climate change, only 44% of Republicans agreed. People living in the New Orleans area, at 88%, were most likely to believe in climate change, while the non-coastal Acadian region were least likely, at 58%. About a quarter of those surveyed said they do not believe in climate change, while 5% said they don’t know.

Multiple scientific studies show 97% or more of active climate scientists agree that climate change is being caused by human activities, according to the National Aeronautics and Space administration. 

Previous polling has showed mixed results for Louisianans' opinions on climate change. An LSU poll from 2013 found 67% of Louisiana residents believed climate change is happening, while roughly half said they believed human activity is the cause. Another poll conducted last year on behalf of NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune found 52% of people either did not believe in climate change or did not believe it contributed to Louisiana's land loss. 

The survey released Wednesday did not probe respondents on whether they believe in the science that shows humans are causing climate change. Cochran said the addition of that question could bring the numbers down slightly. However, he said he thinks the politicization of the term in recent years mean most people don’t make a distinction. 

Email Sam Karlin at skarlin@theadvocate.com