Coastal Concerns: Gulf Coast Lawmakers Say Federal Barriers Are Slowing Recovery Years after Hurricanes Battered the Region

By Marmillion, Valsin; Segner, Michael | State Legislatures, May 2010 | Go to article overview

Coastal Concerns: Gulf Coast Lawmakers Say Federal Barriers Are Slowing Recovery Years after Hurricanes Battered the Region


Marmillion, Valsin, Segner, Michael, State Legislatures


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Years after the devastating effects and lessons of hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike n the Gulf Coast, states in the region re finding recovery from disaster can be as daunting as the disaster itself.

Leaders from the coastal energy producing states of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas have organized as America's Energy Coast and released a troubling report, "A Region at Risk," challenging the federal government to eliminate barriers to sustaining the region's natural resources.

Louisiana Senate President Joel Chaisson believes states have been patient, compromising and accommodating in the face of federal failure to follow through on promises or to coordinate agency responses to crisis situations efficiently.

"We have been signaling the serious consequences to the nation if deterioration of coastal areas in our state goes unattended," says Chaisson. "We have also been dutiful in creating comprehensive sustainability plans, establishing a trust fund by vote of our people to ensure proper handling of federal dollars. We have been streamlining our processes to meet congressional guidelines--only to find the maze of federal regulations, competing agency missions, inconsistent laws and outdated policies hamstring our efforts to fix serious problems."

HOLDUP IN WASHINGTON

Congress passed the Coastal Impact Assistance Program (CIAP) in 2005 after decades of attempts by coastal energy-producing states to acquire funding to address coastal sustainability issues. A simple formula was designed for states to receive a small share of revenues from federal oil and gas leases off their shores. The funds were to be used to restore coastal landscapes, conserve natural environments and protect communities vital to energy production.

Coastal advocates and leaders across the region hailed the legislation. Few anticipated, however, that a fund intended to be an efficient, direct process for disbursements to the states would become a grant program administered by an agency mired in excessive delays, changes in the process, unnecessary burdens and administrative expenses for the states it was designed to support.

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Congress directed the federal Minerals Management Service of the U.S. Department of Interior to distribute $250 million a year among six energy-producing coastal states to deal with the environmental effects of offshore oil and gas production. However, of the $1 billion available to Alabama, Alaska, California, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, less than $100 million has ever been disbursed.

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"The program could be an extremely useful tool for states to rebuild and protect our coastal ecosystems," says Texas Senator Mike Jackson. "The inefficiencies at the federal level are only putting us further behind the curve in our attempts to rebuild and protect our coastal communities and ecosystems."

Nowhere are the effects of conflicting federal policies toward large-scale coastal restoration more evident than in Louisiana. The state is losing the equivalent of a football field of coastal wetland an hour--land that has national economic and ecological significance in addition to its role as hurricane protection for millions of coastal residents.

"The slow process of doling out money from CIAP and changing the rules along the way have been a disappointment to those of us for whom coastal erosion is not just a concept, but an immediate issue in our backyards," says Louisiana House Speaker Jim Tucker.

"We never imagined a fund established with an efficient process for disbursements to the states would be undermined," says Jody Henneke, deputy land commissioner of Texas. "What was to be a direct funding source all of a sudden became a grants program administered by an agency that created a moving target of guidelines and counter-guidelines. …

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