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Restoring in the billions

WETLAND Foundation report calls for federal policy changes


  The latest America's WETLAND Foundation (AWF) report, which was presented last week in Washington, D.C., urges lawmakers to pledge billions of dollars to Gulf Coast restoration. The report, "Beyond Unintended Consequences: Adaptation for Gulf Coast Resiliency and Sustainability," is the result of forums held in 11 Gulf Coast communities with 1,100 "stakeholders" in environment, business, government and other agencies, all of whom were asked to make suggestions for rebuilding the coast.

  The report also based its recommendations on the findings of a $4.2 million coastal study from Entergy.

  The 30 recommendations outlined in the report are a "roadmap for adaptation and long-term sustainability, beginning with an urgent need for federal policy changes." The report's opening letter — co-signed by Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and high-ranking officials from other Gulf Coast states, but no governors — reads, "Resiliency is often talked about these days, but meaningful action is scarce, and the country cannot afford to wait."

  Louisiana adopted its own $50 billion coastal restoration plan earlier this year, but the report calls for a federal, bipartisan effort to restore coastlines. AWF met with state and federal agencies last week. "There seems to be some openness to move restoration along at an emergency pace," said AWF managing director Val Marmillion.

  Among the report's recommendations: streamline and fast-track coastal restoration projects and their permit process; ensure all levels of government have policies in place to handle "at-risk" coastal infrastructure; provide tax credits for restoration projects; support funding for oyster beds and other sensitive coastal habitats; create a "carbon market"; and provide better support to communities (including increased tourism promotion and communication with officials).

  The report also makes several recommendations for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to update its guidelines to address coastal restoration. Marmillion told Gambit that until 2007, the Corps had "nothing significant in its guidelines about coastal restoration," and that the Army Corps must be held accountable for the ongoing health of the systems it protects.

  The report's release follows the difficult and lengthy approval process for the RESTORE Act, which finally satisfied both sides of the aisle and was signed into law as part of a transportation bill earlier this year. It pledges to set aside 80 percent of Clean Water Act fines against BP and other responsible parties for the Gulf Oil Disaster. Those fines are estimated to be somewhere between $5 and $20 billion for Gulf Coast states. The America's WETLAND report, however, aims for a much higher sum to trickle down to the Gulf. — Alex Woodward

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