WASHINGTON, DC, May 21, 2010 -- Five local and national conservation groups praised U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu's (D-LA) proposal to include aggressive measures in legislation that would accelerate restoration of Louisiana's coastal wetlands, a vital natural hurricane barrier that is becoming increasingly drenched in oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
"The historic and massive degradation and loss of Louisiana's protective coastal wetlands will magnify both the ecological and economic damage from the spill," said a joint statement by Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, Environmental Defense Fund, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, National Audubon Society and National Wildlife Federation. "Sen. Landrieu rightly recognizes that it is a moral, environmental, and economic imperative to restore these protective wetlands as quickly as possible. Legislation that hastens restoration efforts will help the entire coastal system recover from this massive pollution disaster and make it more resilient to future threats."
Sen. Landrieu's proposal would immediately fund $19 million in construction funding for restoration requested in the President's FY11 budget, expedite funding to address coastal impacts from energy production currently held up in Minerals Management Service, and ensure that the Army Corps of Engineers uses sediment dredged from navigation waterways to recreate wetlands.
"This sediment, which is currently being wasted, can be used to create marsh that acts as a speed bump for hurricanes, and stop oil from infiltrating more places," the groups said, pointing to the critical need for stronger restoration efforts in the region. "Taking these preventative actions now will make the area less vulnerable to future disasters."
Two major influences are driving coastal Louisiana's wetlands further under water. First, since 1927, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has managed the Mississippi River to facilitate flood control and navigation. Extensive levees prevent the river's sediments from building up critical protective wetlands. Additionally, thousands of miles of canals -- dredged to support oil and gas pipelines and the movement of workers and equipment -- crisscross the wetlands allowing saltwater to permeate and degrade essential freshwater marsh and cypress forests.
"These two factors have contributed to the collapse of Louisiana's coastal ecosystem by disrupting Mother Nature's time-tested processes for building new land," said the groups, citing a loss of 2,300 square miles of marsh and cypress swamp forests -- an area larger than the state of Delaware.
"Long-term sustainability of the Mississippi navigation and flood control systems, the energy industry and Gulf fisheries is not feasible without coastal wetlands restoration," the groups said. "Accelerating coastal wetlands restoration will also create thousands of new jobs in a region that is facing major economic challenges."
Landrieu has also proposed to accelerate revenue sharing that is currently governed by the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006 from oil and gas leases, calling for revenue sharing to start immediately as opposed to waiting until 2017.
"Oil and gas revenue sharing sooner rather than later is the right thing in Louisiana - where there is a tremendous amount of oil and gas activity - as long as the revenues go to ecosystem restoration and aren't diverted for other purposes," the groups concluded. "The point is to make sure the region isn't vulnerable to future oil disasters as they are today."
The State of Louisiana passed a constitutional amendment in 2006 that dedicates revenues shared from oil and gas leases to ecosystem restoration, flood protection, and a capped amount for impacted infrastructure.
The groups have pledged to work with Sen. Landrieu and others to ensure that the final legislation achieves the shared goal of coastal restoration.