In a way that is becoming increasingly rare in the United States, many people in South Louisiana remain intimately connected to the land, as members of a unique culture that has remained relatively intact for centuries. What’s long been ignored, however, is that the land they live on is eroding from under them.
Louisiana’s 15,000-mile coastline, with its extensive bays and sounds is the longest coastline of any state. Roughly one-third of America’s entire coastal marshes are in Louisiana, but the land is eroding away so quickly that the region accounts for 90% of the nation’s annual loss of coastal wetlands.
That rate was accelerated in 2005, when hurricane storm surges drowned another 217 square miles of wetlands.
The devastation wrought by hurricanes Katrina and Rita prompted the Louisiana Legislature to expand its conservation and restoration arm and form the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA). CPRA has been tasked with developing and implementing a comprehensive coastal protection plan that includes both a master plan and annual plans.
The fiscal year 2010 plan outlines almost $1.4 billion in coastal restoration and protection projects to be constructed by 2012, including nearly 150 individual projects for wetland and beach restoration, barrier island restoration, shoreline protection, freshwater diversion and beneficial use of dredge spoil projects.
In the last century alone, Louisiana has lost more than 2300 square miles of coastal wetlands, an area roughly the size of the state of Delaware. Approximately 25 square miles of coastline vanish each year, but thanks to a concerted effort by the state and its federal partners, 2009’s coastal land loss rates were the lowest they’ve been in the last 50 years.
Prior to Katrina and Rita, requests for $14 billion in federal funds to restore the coast went unanswered and the cost to rebuild and protect this region has since multiplied exponentially.
Despite the fact that oil and gas extracted off Louisiana’s coast contributes more than $5 billion of the nation’s $7.5 billion dollar lease revenues annually to the federal treasury, the state’s share in those revenues compared to other oil producing states amounted to pennies on the dollar, until recently.
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita demonstrated the real cost of this kind of neglect and reminded Americans how dependent they are on this region, prompting Congress to pass the Offshore Oil and Gas Revenue Sharing Bill in December of 2006.
Beginning in 2017, coastal revenue sharing will extend to all new production in the Gulf of Mexico. Annual earnings for Louisiana are projected to be more than $650 million which the state has earmarked for coastal restoration and hurricane protection projects. But given the increasing rate of wetlands loss, mounting storm damage and this new wave of devastation from the BP oil spill, many argue that we can’t afford to wait.
Efforts are now underway calling for immediate revenue sharing to be included in upcoming oil spill legislation.