This week on the Coastal News Roundup, WWNO’s Travis Lux talks with columnist Bob Marshall from Nola.com | The Times-Picayune. They reviewed some of the big environmental news of 2018 -- and look ahead toward the likely stories of 2019.
The transcript below has been edited for clarity.
Q: 2018 was another big year for the environment - locally and nationally. The state continued to implement coastal restoration projects, even if it didn’t get as much money as it wanted. There were protests in the swamp and battles in the courtroom over the Bayou Bridge pipeline. Then, toward the end of the year, there was what felt like a firehose of dire reports and studies about the scale of climate change ahead -- and how unprepared we are for those changes. What were some of the big stories or themes of 2018 for you?
I think the climate change story, specifically emissions controls - and how that is linked to Louisiana’s battle to save its coast. Really, it’s bottom third. That was a shot across the bow. It shouldn’t really have surprised anyone because the 2017 edition of the Coastal Master Plan, which is the state’s official plan on what we can and can’t do, said if we get all the money and build all projects on time, by 2067 we’re still going to lose at least 1,200 square miles. Maybe 2,800 square miles. And the reason is emissions.
Q: At the national level this year we saw the Trump administration propose lots of regulatory rollbacks and encourage the continued development of offshore drilling. What might some of these policy changes look like on the ground in Louisiana?
Let me go back on the climate change and sea level rise issue. Right now coastal Louisiana’s biggest problem is - and has been for the last 30 years - subsidence. We’re sinking. Sea level rise really won’t hit us in a recognizable way for another decade or so, but it’s coming.
Same thing for this. The energy industry that’s being expanded by the Trump administration isn’t going to be taking place here. If it happens it’s going to be in Alaska, off the Atlantic coast, maybe the Florida coast. The impact economically for Louisiana won’t be good, actually, because the price of oil will drop as the supply continues to grow. It’s happening right now.
If they have a lot more freedom to pump for oil here, then Louisiana will get more excise taxes. And we use those excise taxes, some of them, for coastal restoration. It’s really a lose-lose in some ways, because fossil fuels also contribute to global warming emissions and sea level rise.
Q: The state continued restoration and protection efforts this year. Of course, it’s always struggled to find funding for the $50 billion Master Plan, which is the big plan to rebuild the coast that includes restoration and protection projects. Do you have any predictions for those types of projects or Master Plan funding for this year?
If in the next eight years we don’t find some way to have a regular, dependable funding source, then that plan will have to be scaled back dramatically. In the meantime, the state has been really open to fresh ideas on how to use this money more efficiently. To try to use some up front, and look for mitigation partners and different types of environmental investments and bonds.
One of the great ironies here is that Louisiana is not known as a progressive state in any of these areas - investment, the environment - but we’ve got the nation, maybe the world’s, most advanced climate science-based adaptation plan. We’re pushing ahead with that science, but also with these innovative ideas on how to finance these projects.
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Support for the Coastal Desk comes from the Walton Family Foundation, the Greater New Orleans Foundation and the Foundation for Louisiana.