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National Ocean Policy Should Take Root First in Louisiana

The Times-Picayune in New Orleans reports that some of our friends in Louisiana were part of hearings recently in New Orleans held to vet plans for a national ocean policy, which would benefit the Gulf of Mexico region more than anywhere in the U.S. Chris Kirkham reports: “Several high-level Obama administration officials heard more than three hours worth of testimony from environmental groups, fishing organizations, scientists and the oil and gas industry about development of a national policy aimed at protecting the oceans and streamlining government management.

Comments for the national ocean policy task force reflected the wide-ranging pressures on the Gulf of Mexico’s resources: oil and gas pipelines and drilling activity; pollution from the Mississippi River creating a vast “dead zone” in the Gulf; overfishing that puts some species at risk; and the large-scale collapse of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands, which provide a nursery for Gulf seafood and serve as the infrastructure for ports and energy production.

“Over the past 20 years or so, we have watched as the dead zone has grown, and no funding has come down to do anything about it. We have watched as our coast has disappeared,” said Tracy Kuhns, who lives in the Lafitte area and runs Louisiana Bayoukeeper, a coastal advocacy group. “It’s not just a wetlands, it’s not just a swamp out there. People live there. When we lose all that we lose our culture, and our livelihoods.”

Obama has asked the ocean policy task force to draft an ocean policy plan by Dec. 9. Monday’s meeting in New Orleans was one of six the group is holding across the United States. The specifics they will address in their plan are unclear at this point. An interim report from the task force issued last month mentions pollution from rivers and the need to better integrate the way federal agencies manage ocean resources.

“Right now it’s pretty obvious the oceans are becoming increasingly crowded places, and we’re seeing more and more conflicts across that space,” said Jane Lubchenco, the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who is on the ocean policy task force, as well as a new federal inter-agency working group to address Louisiana’s coastal land loss. “That will inevitably require doing things differently, but what that is we don’t really know.”

Although Monday’s meeting was tailored to ocean policy, the bulk of the comments focused on coastal collapse in Louisiana.

“The nation cannot continue to watch Louisiana disappear. Thinking big and thinking bold is urgent,” said Robert Twilley, associate vice chancellor for research at Louisiana State University and a professor of oceanography and coastal sciences. “Supporting aggressive actions that are not paralyzed by conflicting federal policy should be of the highest priority.”

Dealing with coastal restoration should not be viewed as an either-or decision by policymakers in Washington, said Denise Reed, a coastal researcher at the University of New Orleans.

“It’s not about a choice between navigation and ecosystem restoration, it’s about interdependence. We want to do navigation on this river and we want to do oil and gas, ” she said. “Louisiana is undoubtedly in a crisis, and we don’t need short-term fixes, we need deliberative thinking about what the next century holds.”

Many recreational and for-hire fishing groups cautioned they should be included upfront in any plans the federal government has for ocean conservation.

“There’s a lot of people who make their living on the water here, ” said Gary Williams, a charter boat captain in Mississippi. “Whatever we do, we need to make sure that we can continue to do so.”

Jim Grant, a representative with oil company BP America, said any changes should consider effects on the Gulf’s energy economy.

“We caution the task force to carefully weigh policies that may set up exclusionary zones, disrupt the (federal government’s) leasing program or disrupt opportunities for economic growth.”

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Chris Kirkham can be reached at ckirkham@timespicayune.com or 504.826.3786.

SoLa: Louisiana Water Stories Film Screening in Baton Rouge

We’re just wrapping up the editing of a beautiful, provocative film about Southern Louisiana – “SoLa, Louisiana Water Stories” – about man’s relationship with water in a part of the world where everywhere you look you’re surrounded by bayou, swamp or wetlands, the Mississippi River or Gulf of Mexico. Home to the most unique and vital culture in America, every Cajun has a story – or two, three or more – about … water.

Today too many of those stories are negative. SoLa’s waterways are home to some serious environmental problems, including oil and gas spills, petrochemical waste, fertilizer run-off from its neighbors and coastal erosion that is disappearing twenty-five square miles of Southern Louisiana each year.

This Saturday, we are screening a rough cut of our new film with our friends at LEAN in Baton Rouge. If you are in the area, please come by and join in the festivities.

Lousiana Water Stories, on GMA

We first went to Southern Louisiana with cameras one year ago; we’ve been back a couple times since and are just wrapping up the editing of a beautiful, provocative film – “SoLa, Louisiana Water Stories” – about man’s relationship with water in a part of the world where everywhere you look you’re surrounded by bayou, swamp or wetlands, the Mississippi River or Gulf of Mexico.

The region is home to the most unique and vital culture in America and every Cajun from Grand Isle to Breaux Bridge, has a story – or two, three or more – about … water.

Theirs are stories with a lot of passion and heart but also a fair amount of dismay. SoLa’s waterways are home to some serious environmental problems, including oil and gas spills, petrochemical waste that has filtered into the air and water, fertilizer run-off from its neighbors and coastal erosion that is disappearing twenty-five square miles of Southern Louisiana each year.

Tomorrow morning (August 27) between 8 and 9 a.m. EST ABC’s  “Good Morning America” and Sam Champion are excerpting a piece from our film, taking their own look at one of the most serious and mysterious of SoLa’s problems, a growing Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

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