Report urges swift federal restoration action

By HARLAN KIRGAN

A report released today in Washington, D.C., on restoring the Gulf Coast recommends 30 items for urgent action including the need for urgent federal action.

The report, “Beyond Unintended Consequences: Adaptation for Gulf Coast Resiliency and Sustainability,” is the result of forums held in 11 communities across the Gulf Coast in 2011 and 2012 by America’s Wetland Foundation.

The recommendations are presented in five areas: seek urgent federal action; deploy multiple lines of offense; allow innovation and enterprise to flourish; revitalize regional strengths and pride; and sustain action based on recommendations.

Among the overall findings are:

Contradictory rules, regulations and agency priorities impede coastal restoration by delaying projects and increasing costs. A more orderly, efficient process must be established to meet urgent needs. The report calls for fast-tracking restoration projects.

Short-term thinking has led to consequence planning defined by inadequate, piecemeal fixes — mainly in the wake of disasters. The focus must shift to a long-term vision for the future that emphasizes adaptation by using innovative, systemic approaches that incorporate nonstructural and structural elements.

Bureaucratic barriers and a lack of smart incentives hinder the development of creative, efficient coastal restoration strategies. Unless policies and plans harness the power of new technologies, visionary research, market forces and local ingenuity, environmental degradation will continue to outpace restoration and protection efforts.

Coastal degradation and mounting vulnerabilities threaten entire communities, cultures and a valued way of life. Local citizens must adapt to changing circumstances to preserve their cultural heritage and build the foundation for a stronger future.

The degradation of the Gulf Coast will continue to accelerate without a robust, coordinated response that enlists all interested parties and every level of government.

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., stated in an email, “Getting the transportation bill done which led to the passage of the RESTORE Act, was a signal that the Congress was concerned about the future of America’s Energy Coast. As you can tell from this report, the clock is ticking and we are short on time to restore the values of our coast.”

Blue Ribbon Resilient Communities forums were held in Texas at South Padre Island, Houston and Galveston; in Louisiana at Lake Charles; Avery Island; Houma; Plaquemines Parish; New Orleans; in Mississippi at Biloxi; and in Alabama at Mobile and Orange Beach.

The America’s Wetland Foundation manages the largest, most comprehensive public education campaign in Louisiana’s history, raising public awareness of the state, national and global impact of Louisiana’s wetland loss. The America’s Energy Coast initiative works to sustain the environmental and economic assets of the Gulf Coast region.

From policymakers to practitioners on the front lines, this report represents the voice of an entire region, a news release stated.

“Each of the 30 recommendations is vital to protecting the Gulf’s tremendous economic and environmental assets, but, above all, the overwhelming consensus is that action must be taken immediately,” a news release stated. “Leaders from Texas to Florida agree that if the status quo is allowed to continue, the deterioration of the Gulf Coast will accelerate, and its vital national resources will eventually disappear. This report offers a roadmap for adaptation and long-term sustainability, beginning with an urgent need for federal policy changes.”

The Gulf Coast produces 30 percent of the nation’s domestic energy, one-third of the seafood consumed in the U.S., and is home to critical habitats and ecosystems, the release stated. If combined, the GDP of the five Gulf Coast states — $2.4 trillion — would rank as the seventh largest economy in the world, the news release stated.

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