Levees Not War
Infrastructure. Environment. Peace.

Posts Tagged ‘coastal restoration’

Louisiana Flood Protection Agency Sues Big Oil to Repair Wetlands

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

louisiana-coast
Historic case is compared to 1990s litigation against Big Tobacco

About 100 oil and gas companies must pay to repair the Louisiana wetlands damaged by a century of oil exploration and extraction, according to a lawsuit filed July 24 in civil district court in Orleans Parish by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority–East. The Authority (SLFPA-E) was established by the Louisiana legislature in 2006 after Hurricane Katrina to ensure the integrity of the state’s flood risk management systems.

John M. Barry, vice president of SLFPA-E (and the widely respected author of the award-winning Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America [1998]), said:

“With this lawsuit, the Authority is carrying out its mandate to help protect southern Louisiana by strengthening our first line of defense against catastrophic flooding. That first defensive perimeter is of course the buffer of land and marsh that cuts down hurricane storm surge before it reaches the levees. . . . The industry recognizes that it is responsible for a significant part of the problem. We want energy companies to fix the part of the problem they caused—and which they promised to address. We want them to do what they said they’d do.”

map-canals-lawsuit-2jpg-7d45582bb7eb802c

The suit has been denounced by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who said in a statement that the Authority has “overstepped its authority.” The governor asserted, “We’re not going to allow a single levee board that has been hijacked by a group of trial lawyers to determine flood protection, coastal restoration and economic repercussions for the entire state of Louisiana.”

The state’s attorney general, Buddy Caldwell, however, has authorized SLFPA-E to proceed in filing its suit.

An attorney for the Authority, Gladstone N. Jones III, has successfully brought suit against Big Oil firms in the past. He told Clancy Dubos of Gambit that the suit has the potential to be bigger than the ongoing BP litigation, and, according to The New York Times, Jones said the plaintiffs are seeking damages equal to “many billions of dollars. Many, many billions of dollars.” Dubos writes, “The case ultimately could seek environmental recovery for all oil and gas activity along Louisiana’s coast. If that happens, this case will be to Big Oil what the Tobacco Litigation was to that industry: a game-changer.” (See Further Reading below.)

The lawsuit asserts that the Authority is obligated by law to restore Louisiana’s coastal land areas, and charges that oil, gas, and pipeline companies that have cut at least 10,000 miles of oil and gas canals and pipelines have damaged the state’s environmental buffer zones that formerly protected the state from storm surge and flooding. As experienced in recent hurricanes, Southeastern Louisiana has been rendered vulnerable to frequent and often catastrophic flooding.

Every year Louisiana loses 25 square miles of land—50 acres every day.

1980–2007

Click the map or here to go to a Lens article about the lawsuit and a slide show of the proliferation of 230,000 oil and gas wells in Louisiana between 1901 and 2007.

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Wetlands protect human settlements from hurricane storm surges, which can rise as high as 25 feet. Every 2.5 to 4 miles of wetlands reduce hurricane storm surges by about a foot; measured another way, each mile of marsh reduces storm surges by 3 to 9 inches. Metro New Orleans, home to about 1.5 million, is now protected by a buffer no more than about 20 miles of wetlands.

The suit summarizes the environmental significance of coastal wetlands and the consequences of oil exploration (quoting from Gambit and from SLFPA-E’s press release):

•  “Coastal lands are the natural protective buffer without which the levees that protect the cities and towns of southern Louisiana are left exposed to unabated destructive forces. This protective buffer took 6,000 years to form. Yet . . . it has been brought to the brink of destruction over the course of a single human lifetime. Hundreds of thousands of acres of the coastal lands that once offered protection to south Louisiana are now gone as a result of oil and gas industry activities. . . .

•  “For nearly a century, the oil and gas industry has continuously and relentlessly traversed, dredged, drilled and extracted in coastal Louisiana. It reaps enormous financial gain by exploiting the resources found there, sharing some of that bounty with the many residents whom it employs. Yet it also ravages Louisiana’s coastal landscape. An extensive network of oil and gas access and pipeline canals slashes the coastline at every angle, functioning as a mercilessly efficient, continuously expanding system of ecological destruction. This canal network injects corrosive saltwater into interior coastal lands, killing vegetation and carrying away mountains of soil. What remains of these coastal lands is so seriously diseased that if nothing is done, it will slip into the Gulf of Mexico by the end of this century, if not sooner. . . .

•  “Oil and gas activities continue to transform what was once a stable ecosystem of naturally occurring bayous, small canals, and ditches into an extensive—and expanding—network of large and deep canals that continues to widen due to Defendants’ ongoing failure to maintain this network or restore the ecosystem to its natural state. That canal network continues to introduce increasingly larger volumes of damaging saltwater, at increasingly greater velocity, ever deeper into Louisiana’s coastal landscape and interior wetlands. The increasing intrusion of saltwater stresses the vegetation that holds wetlands together, weakening—and ultimately killing—that vegetation. Thus weakened, the remaining soil is washed away even by minor storms. The canal network thus comprises a highly effective system of coastal landscape degradation. The product of this network is an ecosystem so seriously diseased that its complete demise is inevitable if no action is taken.” [LNW’s emphasis]

Mark Schleifstein of the Times-Picayune reports, “A study conducted by the late University of New Orleans geologist Shea Penland in 1996 for the U.S. Geological Survey and the Gas Research Institute concluded that about 36 percent of the wetland loss in southeastern Louisiana between 1932 and 1990 was the result of the direct and indirect effects of actions taken by the oil and gas industry.” By a conservative estimate, since 1932 Louisiana has lost more than 1,900 square miles of coastal lands, equivalent to the state of Delaware, and if the present rate continues, some 700 more square miles of coastal Louisiana are expected to be lost in coming decades.

 

Barataria Bay

 

John Barry told The Lens’s environmental writer Bob Marshall, “No one denies—not even the oil industry—that the canals they dredged helped cause this problem. . . . Now, people will say there are other causes, and we’re not denying that. The levees on the river, obviously, are a major cause. But the federal government built those levees, and they’ve been spending billions of dollars on better flood protection and coastal restoration projects in this area. What we’re saying to the oil companies is, ‘It’s time for you to step up now for the damage you did.’ ”

The Flood Protection Authority’s lawsuit is grounded in long-established legal principles and in state and federal law, such as the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, the federal Clean Water Act of 1972, and the state Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972.

Barry explained to the Times-Picayune that the suit is founded upon three principal legal arguments:

  • Most of the damaging oil, gas and pipeline activities were conducted under federal and state permits that “explicitly require the operators to maintain and restore the canals they dredged,” Barry said. He said the oil and gas industry dredged more than 10,000 miles of canals through the state’s wetlands, which provided pathways for salt water from the Gulf of Mexico to kill fresh and brackish water marshes.
  • The federal Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 prohibits actions that impair the effectiveness of flood protection levees. “Clearly, increasing storm surge makes a levee less effective,” Barry said.
  • A tenet of civil law called “servitude of drainage” prohibits someone taking actions on property that they own or control that sends more water onto someone else’s property. Again, Barry said, the oil and gas projects clearly focus increased storm surge onto the levee system.

The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority–East is being represented in its litigation by the law firms Jones, Swanson, Huddell, and Garrison, LLC, of New Orleans; Fishman Haygood Phelps Walmsley Willis & Swanson, LLP, of New Orleans; and Veron, Bice, Palermo & Wilson, LLC, of Lake Charles, La.

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Further Reading

Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority–East press release

Mark Schleifstein (Times-Picayune), “Historic lawsuit seeks billions in damages from oil, gas, pipeline industries for wetlands losses” (includes PDF of lawsuit + video of John Barry)

Clancy Dubos (Gambit), “Historic lawsuit coming against Big Oil

Bob Marshall (The Lens), “Science to be key factor in lawsuit against oil and gas companies for coastal loss

Mark Schleifstein (Times-Picayune), “East Bank levee authority to file lawsuit Wednesday aimed at getting oil, gas, pipeline firms to restore wetlands and ridges

John Schwartz (New York Times), “Louisiana Agency Sues Dozens of Energy Companies for Damage to Wetlands

National Public Radio, “La. Flood Board Sues Oil Industry Over Wetlands

U.S. Geological Survey, “Wetland Subsidence, Fault Reactivation, and Hydrocarbon Production in the U.S. Gulf Coast Region

Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, “Louisiana’s Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast

Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority homepage

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Top photo of oil/gas pipeline canals cutting through Louisiana wetlands, 2010, from Getty Images via Bloomberg; graphic by Dan Swenson for the Times-Picayune; map of oil and gas wells south of New Orleans from The Lens; photograph of Barataria Bay, Louisiana (2011) by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

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Conservatives, Please Help Conserve Louisiana’s Coast

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

What is a conservative after all but one who conserves, one who is committed to protecting and holding close the things by which we live?” 

Ronald Reagan, 1984

“Louisiana’s voters must find, nominate and elect conservatives (aka, Republicans) who understand there’s no contradiction in being pro-life, pro-gun, pro-fiscal responsibility and pro-environment. Unless that happens soon, I’m afraid we’ll be moving coastal communities within the next decade.” 

Bob Marshall, Times-Picayune

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Put the ‘Conserve’ in Conservative

Our friends at LaCoastPost call our attention to a strong, well-reasoned piece by Bob Marshall (below), Pulitzer Prize–winning environmental and outdoors reporter for the Times-Picayune, imploring the Republicans who control Louisiana’s state capital and congressional delegation in Washington to do some conserving of the lower one-third of the Pelican State before it’s too damn late.

We have noted before that “self-proclaimed ‘conservatives’ are far from the root meaning of conserve, as in conservation, preservation” referred to by President Reagan above. Now Bob Marshall, also a winner of the prestigious John B. Oakes Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism, eloquently elaborates on a point he emphasized at Rising Tide 6 in New Orleans in August (see his remarks at the 11:45 environmental panel “Re-Capping the Well”). We take the liberty of reprinting Mr. Marshall’s column in full because we could not find a sentence that did not bear repeating and acting upon.

Listen up, Baton Rouge and Washington: Stop playing games. Time is running out.

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The Conservative Case for Saving the Coast

By Bob Marshall  |  The Times-Picayune  |  Sunday, October 2, 2011

The water keeps rising, the coast keeps sinking and the nation still ignores us. So, not surprisingly, I keep getting this question: What needs to happen for the country to finally realize Southeast Louisiana is running out of time? There’s no getting around one of the answers:

Louisiana’s voters must find, nominate and elect conservatives (aka, Republicans) who understand there’s no contradiction in being pro-life, pro-gun, pro-fiscal responsibility and pro-environment.

Unless that happens soon, I’m afraid we’ll be moving coastal communities within the next decade.

This is not a partisan attack on the Republican Party. It’s a matter of the record.

Louisiana is a Republican state. Six of our seven House members—including two of the three that represent Southeast Louisiana—are from the GOP, as is one of our two senators. It’s unlikely that will change anytime soon.

Yet that party has blocked initiatives that could help this coast while pushing others that will only speed its death. And Louisiana’s GOP delegation has been loyal foot soldiers in most of those efforts.

For example, earlier this year the House GOP took President Obama’s already meager request for $35.5 million to fund vital coastal restoration projects and whittled it down to $1 million. Only 20 Republicans voted for the whole package—and one of the “no” votes was from a Louisiana GOP member, Rep. John Fleming of Minden.

When that $1 million chump change was tossed our way you might have seen headlines calling the action “A win for the coast” because any future requests can no longer be put in the category of “new starts” by budget cutters.

Please. That’s like calling Waterloo a win for France because Napoleon escaped. That’s because the House was making a clear statement with its vote: In times of tight budgets, saving what’s left of the most productive estuary in the United States, the ecosystem that protects millions of people and billions in economic infrastructure, is not a priority. The fiscal ideologues running the party insist on making deep cuts in anything considered “discretionary” spending, which is obviously where they place the future of Southeast Louisiana.

And if they didn’t think we were a big enough priority for a measly $35 million—the tax bill of a few billionaires—imagine what they’ll say when we ask for the $100 billion a real fix is estimated to cost. It’s certainly not as important to them as the oil industry. While they were putting Louisiana’s coast in jeopardy to save $35 million, they didn’t touch the $45 billion in tax subsidies for oil and gas companies over the next 10 years.

It would be bad enough if the GOP just left us alone, but they’re actually taking steps to make our situation worse.

(more…)

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Rachel Maddow Reporting from Jean Lafitte National Park

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

When Rachel Maddow broadcast from the French Quarter the Friday night before the Super Bowl (how long ago that feels!), she surely did not imagine she would be back a few months later covering the hugest godawful environmental catastrophe this nation has ever seen. Since the Earth Day Blowout Rachel has been to Venice, Louisiana, down in the Birdfoot, as has her NBC comrade Brian Williams, and on Wednesday she broadcast from the west bank of New Orleans, with the city and the river behind her. Tonight (Thursday) she will broadcast from Grand Isle, Louisiana.

Today’s Lesson: Why Louisiana’s Wetlands Are Important

Rachel visited the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve, about 15 miles from the Quarter, and spoke with park official David Muth and Dr. Larry McKinney, research director of the Harte Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M–Corpus Christi, about why coastal wetlands are important: not only for all the life within them but also because every 2.7 square miles reduces hurricane storm surge by about a foot. The swamps are a buffer for New Orleans and other human settlements in coastal Louisiana. But because the state is losing about 25 square miles every year, or 50 acres a day—1,900 square miles have disappeared in the past century—the 15-, 20-, and 25-foot storm surges that come with hurricanes grow more catastrophic every year. Parks official David Muth tells Rachel:

Our biggest concern is that as we enter hurricane season, when we have a storm in the Gulf, even if it doesn’t come ashore, it can push enormous amounts of water up into this estuary. And once that happens, then a lot of that oil has the potential to come much farther inland, even into a fresh water swamp like this than we might otherwise have thought possible.

We wrote a few weeks ago in some detail about how the oil slick threatens the vegetation that holds the wetlands together—the sea grass and cypresses whose roots hold the soil together and put the “land” in wetlands—and how the Oilpocalypse thus threatens the long-term survival of the Crescent City, long after it may wipe out the livelihoods of the shrimpers, oystermen, and fishermen along the Gulf Coast. We are grateful to MSNBC for sending Rachel and her crew, and to NBC for keeping environmental reporter Anne Thompson on the scene, and for sending, again and again, Brian Williams, whose affection for New Orleans and Louisiana is evident and, we hope, contagious. Thanks for keeping the spotlight on.

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BP Oilpocalypse Threatens New Orleans’s Very Existence

Friday, May 14th, 2010

Steve Wereley [of] . . . Purdue University, told NPR the actual spill rate of the BP oil disaster is about 3 million gallons a day—15 times the official guess of BP and the federal government. . . . Eugene Chiang . . . [of] the University of California, Berkeley, calculated the rate of flow to be between 840,000 and four million gallons a day. These estimates mean that the Deepwater Horizon wreckage could have spilled about five times as much oil as the 12-million-gallon Exxon Valdez disaster, with relief only guaranteed by BP in three more months.  Experts: BP Disaster Spilling the Equivalent of Two Exxon Valdezes a Week” | ThinkProgress.org

We have a dream—and it may sound wicked, but its cause is just.

If our wish could come true, the “volcano of oil” unleashed by BP would be driven eastward by ocean currents out of the Gulf of Mexico, loop around the pristine shores of Florida, and sweep up the Atlantic seaboard, hovering offshore just close enough to terrorize and activate the American public and elected officials to finally swear off the national addiction to oil. Let the nation get a taste of what’s sickening Louisiana and the Gulf Coast.

As long as we’re visualizing a targeted spread of two Exxon Valdezes per week’s worth of oil, we’d like to see it hovering like an evil genie from a lamp and dripping, dripping malodorously down on the homes and finely manicured lawns of all politicians who have accepted campaign contributions from the oil industry for their votes favoring lax regulations, expanded drilling rights, and low or no royalty revenues for Louisiana.

Fellow Americans who benefit from Gulf Coast oil, it’s time to push Congress and governors to begin developing of alternative energy sources, electric cars, and massive investment in public transportation. (The U.S. is already deep in debt for oil-driven wars, so let’s shift gears and spend instead on immediate national security + new jobs.)

Everyone (almost) is already worried about the Big Spill’s damage to the livelihood of Gulf Coast fishermen and related businesses and the threat to birds, fish, oysters, shellfish, and other coastal fauna. Dead dolphins and sea turtles are pathetic and sickening. But also stomach-turning, terrifying—and possibly fatal to New Orleans—is the fact that the BP “oilpocalypse” is killing the sea grass and other vegetation in the already imperiled, already dwindling Louisiana wetlands that serve as a buffer against hurricanes’ storm surge.

Here’s how it works: Every 2.5 to 4 miles of wetlands reduce hurricane storm surges by about a foot; measured another way, each mile of marsh reduces storm surges by 3 to 9 inches. To protect against the awesome 25- to 30-foot storm surges brought by massive cyclones like Katrina and the Category 5 Hurricane Camille in 1969, for safety southern Louisiana would want (in addition to the barrier islands that have all but washed away) about 50 to 75 miles of wetlands between the Gulf of Mexico and the city of New Orleans. But metro New Orleans, home to about 1.5 million, is now protected by a buffer no more than about 20 miles of wetlands.

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“Break the Addiction” : A New Ad from Greenpeace

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

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“Something Called ‘Volcano Monitoring’ ”

Friday, April 16th, 2010

[cross-posted at Daily Kos]

“[The Democrats’ stimulus] legislation is larded with wasteful spending. It includes . . . $140 million for something called ‘volcano monitoring.’ Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, D.C.” —Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisiana, Feb. 24, 2009

Remember Bobby Jindal’s celebrated response to President Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress in February 2009? It included some, uh, noteworthy moments, not the least of which was his sneer at such “wasteful spending” as “something called ‘volcano monitoring.’” Some speechwriter was probably pleased with that line, but this was a contemptuous display of ignorance on the level of Rudy Giuliani’s ridiculing “community organizer—what’s that?” (6:08) at the 2008 Republican National Convention, and just as deserving of a reality-based comeuppance. The $140 million for the U.S. Geological Survey was partly intended to provide warnings of impending volcanic eruptions in the U.S. and around the world where American military bases are located. The Americans at Ramstein Air Base in Germany probably appreciate that monitoring equipment right about now.

With international air traffic to Europe disrupted for a second straight day following a massive volcano eruption in Iceland (some 17,000 flights were canceled Friday), we have to use the occasion to poke this over-ambitious governor in the eye and say: “Now do you get it?” Jindal the boy genius used to be respected for his intelligence (Rhodes Scholar) and precocious grasp of complex policy, but those days are over. He is not serving his state or the nation—and not his own career, either—by his know-nothing, anti-science statements and decisions. (See our earlier posts “Mr. Jindal, Tear Down This Ambition” and “From Rising Star to Black Hole.”)

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U.S. Employment Grows by Highest Rate in Three Years

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

Bloomberg reports recovery from worst recession since 1930s is “broadening and becoming more entrenched”

Some good news on the employment front: The U.S. Labor Department reported Friday that while the unemployment rate held at 9.7 percent, the national economy added 162,000 jobs in March. This figure includes the government’s hiring of 48,000 temporary workers for the Census, and private employers’ adding 123,000 jobs, the most since May 2007. Republicans and conservative “news outlets” are pushing the line that all the increase is due only to the temporary hiring of Census workers, but in fact the trend has been growing for several months—March’s is the third gain in the past five months—as shown in the graphic above and as detailed here by Bloomberg News.

This is all good but it’s not good enough. Too many millions are still unemployed and underemployed. We supported and still support the stimulus (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) of 2009 but we want at least another stimulus bill that big with more job-creation. We have also advocated a Civilian Conservation Corps–like jobs program to restore the coast of southern Louisiana and other fragile, flood-prone environments (Sacramento and environs, for example, could also use some help). America’s infrastructure is in serious disrepair—the American Society of Civil Engineers gives the U.S.A. a D grade and estimates a five-year investment of $.2.2 trillion is needed to get the nation back in shape. There’s some jobs waiting to be filled. What we need is political will, incessant pressure on Congress and the White House. You know how to get it done: Roll up sleeves, pick up phone . . .

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Mitch Landrieu for Mayor of New Orleans

Friday, February 5th, 2010

Mitch Is the Man

New Orleanians, the best way to make the Saints lucky on Sunday in the Super Bowl is by casting your ballot early and often (encore, repetez!) for Mitchell J. Landrieu as mayor of the great City of New Orleans. This is also the best way to boost the city’s fortunes for four years (at least). We are indeed fortunate to have a candidate so thoroughly qualified, politically able, well liked, and, yes, ethical. Let’s make it a Super Weekend, a one-two punch, Saturday and Sunday. Who dat say dey gonna beat Mitch?

Among many admirable qualities in this New Orleans native (he grew up in Broadmoor, graduated from Jesuit, and earned his law degree at Loyola), one that particularly impresses us is the fact that as lieutenant governor he was an early and vigorous supporter of the America’s Wetland Conservation Corps: he pushed America’s Wetland to affiliate with AmeriCorps to combine AW’s conservation agenda with the youth public service program to make Louisiana a better, greener place. Mitch gets it, and it’s working. The AWCC is administered by the Louisiana Serve Commission in the office of the lieutenant governor. Our regular readers know that we have been pushing for a new Civilian (or Coastal) Conservation Corps for the urgent job of restoring the Louisiana coastline to serve as a critical buffer from hurricane storm surges. Levees are not enough. Read more about AWCC here, and our plan for a new CCC here (at LaCoastPost).

In addition to the highly coveted endorsement of this blog, Landrieu has been endorsed by the Times-PicayuneGambit Weekly, the Louisiana WeeklyNew Orleans CityBusiness, the New Orleans firefighters, and the Alliance for Good Government.

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