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Report urges solutions, unified voice to sustain Gulf Coast

Last Modified: Thursday, September 13, 2012 4:28 PM

Special to the American Press

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Urgent federal action, innovation and cooperation among Gulf Coast states is critically needed to fight off the constant storm that threatens the region’s $2.4 trillion combined Gross Domestic Product and the nation’s energy security.

The America’s WETLAND Foundation on Wednesday released a new report, “Beyond Unintended Consequences: Adaptation for Gulf Coast Resiliency and Sustainability,” that offers 30 recommendations for Gulf Coast sustainability based on research and testimony from a series of leadership forums held in 11 communities from Texas to Florida during a 14-month period in 2011 and 2012. AWF’s “BLUE RIBBON RESILIENT COMMUNITIES: Envisioning the Future of America’s Energy Coast” initiative brought together policymakers and stakeholders from environment, business, government, NGOs and other sectors to outline a roadmap for a more resilient coast.

“The observations, testimony, research, honest dialogue and desire to reach consensus on critical issues resulted in a remarkable report that represents the voice of the Gulf Coast,” said AWF Chairman R. King Milling at a Washington, D.C. press conference, when the report was officially released. “Instead of looking at the big picture and implementing a vision for long-term sustainability, the nation for too long has reacted to natural and man-made disasters alike with piecemeal, short-term fixes. The cost to the taxpayer for this reactive thinking has been tens of billions of dollars over the past decade, with little or no effort to address the cause of the problem to be found in these expenditures.”

The report’s recommendations fall into five distinct categories.

1) Seek urgent federal action by resolving conflicting federal policies and practices. 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.

2) Deploy multiple lines of offense by decreasing regional vulnerabilities through cooperative action. 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 non- structural and structural elements.

3) Allow innovation and enterprise to flourish by supporting strategies to facilitate regional stewardship. 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.

4) Revitalize regional strengths and pride by empowering communities to practice self-determination. 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.

5) Sustain action based on recommendations by communicating regional visions for resiliency. 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.

“The input that led to this report came from a diverse set of voices that engaged in an intense process of debate, compromise and consensus building,” said Louisiana Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, chair of the Blue Ribbon initiative. “This report lays out not only our challenges, but for the first time what can be done to meet them and move forward to restore our critical coastal landscapes.”

U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said, “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.”

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., added, “In the 10 years since America’s WETLAND Foundation was founded, we have made great progress in educating our colleagues about the importance of America’s Energy Coast and improving coastal flood protection. But as Hurricane Isaac has reminded us, too many of our coastal communities remain vulnerable. The findings and recommendations in this report detail better ways to protect our communities and promote the connected goals of economic progress and environmental sustainability. I look forward to working with America’s WETLAND Foundation, and the many other wonderful partners committed to coastal restoration and protection, to turn these recommendations into policy to help build a stronger, more sustainable energy coast.”

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. Data from a $4.2 million study commissioned by Entergy and AWF quantified the economic value of what is at stake. The livelihoods of 12 million people, natural resources that support $634 billion in annual GDP, and assets valued at more than $2 trillion are increasingly vulnerable to storm surge, flooding, wind damage and the effects of sea level rise. The study also identified $49 billion in investments over the next 20 years that could avert $137 billion in losses.

The BLUE RIBBON RESILIENT COMMUNITIES effort was led by Dardenne as chair, Texas State Chair and Texas Railroad Commissioner Buddy Garcia, Mississippi State Chair and Department of Marine Resources Executive Director William Walker and Alabama State Co-Chairs State Senator Vivian Davis Figures and State Representative Randy Davis.

AWF Managing Director Valsin A. Marmillion praised the leaders of the effort along with the dedication of everyone involved. “The most important impact of this initiative might be community empowerment. The Blue Ribbon forums have mobilized the energy, expertise and dedication of an entire region to protect its heritage and secure its future,” he said.

Information on the initiative, as well as a copy of the report is available at www.futureofthegulfcoast.org

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