Gulf Oil Spill Threat Could Expose Louisiana to Another Deadly Hurricane

EDF Calls for Emergency Funding Legislation, Urges Senate to Pass Climate Bill to Transition to Clean Energy

April 30, 2010

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 

Contacts: Sean Crowley, 202-550-6524-c, scrowley@edf.org

(New Orleans–May 1, 2010) Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) today proposed that the Obama administration and Congress take five steps to limit the damage and recover from the ongoing Gulf of Mexico oil spill, including passing a $4 billion emergency supplemental appropriations bill. The five steps include:

1. Conduct a massive intervention—suitable in scale for a potentially unprecedented environmental disaster—to stop the oil from flowing and to prevent as much of it as possible from reaching shore.
2. Design a sustained, long-term clean-up program that is science-based and that reflects the extremely fragile nature of the wetlands.
3. Provide economic assistance to fishermen and others whose livelihoods will suffer from the spill.
4. Put in place a continuing program of scientific research and monitoring to track and assess the short-and long-term effects of the spill and of the clean-up.
5. Prepare an emergency supplemental appropriations bill to provide $4 billion to restore hundreds of square miles of fragile wetlands in coastal Louisiana—including the accelerated development of five projects already authorized by Congress—and employ a new Mississippi River management system to re-build coastal wetlands.

"The Obama administration is doing everything in its power to contain this spill, but history indicates that it is likely to be weeks before the spill ends. In the meantime, we face mass destruction of the wetlands that harbor hundreds of wildlife species and protect two million local residents from deadly hurricanes," said Paul Harrison, senior director for the Mississippi River and East Coast at EDF's Center for Rivers and Deltas. "In fact, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has confirmed that the oil spill toxins are a threat to the grasses that keep the sediment from the Mississippi River Delta—which replenishes and rebuilds the wetlands—from washing away into the sea. The stakes couldn't be much higher: coastal Louisiana plays a critical role in the nation's economy, fishing industry and wildlife support system."

"This disaster is another reminder that America must transition to a clean energy future, which we can accelerate by enacting a strong clean energy and climate bill into law," said Elgie Holstein, senior director for strategic planning for EDF's Land, Water and Wildlife Program, a former Chief of Staff at the U.S. Department of Energy and former Assistant Secretary of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "In addition, the climate bill could provide a source of revenue for coastal protection and restoration."

According to The [New Orleans] Times-Picayune, the area under threat:

• Produces the largest total seafood landings in the lower 48 states
• Is a vital wintering or resting spot for more than 70 percent of the nation's waterfowl
• Is used by all 110 neo-tropical migratory songbirds
• Produces 50 percent of the nation's wild shrimp crop, 35 percent of its blue claw crabs and 40 percent of its oysters
• Researchers say 90 percent of all the marine species in the Gulf of Mexico depend on coastal estuaries at some point in their lives, and most of those estuaries are in Louisiana

"A disproportionate fraction of the total seafood production in the region is at risk, a body blow both to marine ecosystems and fishing communities," said Douglas N. Rader, EDF's chief oceans scientist. "It is especially sad that this catastrophe threatens the fishing communities of the Gulf that have become national leaders in transforming oceans fisheries to sustainability. We urge the federal government to act swiftly to bring aid and assistance to already-reeling coastal communities."

"We could see 50 years of wetlands erosion occurring in a fraction of that time if we don't act now to re-build these critical natural barriers," added Harrison. "If we allow New Orleans to become a waterfront city, this unique American community simply will not survive."

In March, the Obama administration—after consulting with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's administration—unveiled an 18-month plan to restore coastal wetlands in Louisiana in response to catastrophic wetland loss in the Gulf Coast region that worsened the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina. Since the 1930s, Louisiana has lost 2,300 square miles of wetlands—an area larger than the state of Delaware—because of erosion and sinking land, much of it caused by mismanagement of the Mississippi River and its delta. Today, the state is losing a football field of wetlands every hour.

In February, President Obama released his presidential budget that included more than $40 million for wetlands construction projects, wetlands pre-construction studies and Gulf Coast restoration along the Louisiana and Mississippi coast.

"President Obama has put his money where his mouth is to demonstrate his unequivocal commitment to restoring coastal Louisiana," concluded Harrison. "Given this catastrophe, Congress must up the ante and dramatically increase funding to restore coastal Louisiana at the same time it supports more stringent environmental and safety rules for offshore drilling."

###

Environmental Defense Fund, a leading national nonprofit organization, represents more than 700,000 members. Since 1967, Environmental Defense Fund has linked science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships to create breakthrough solutions to the most serious environmental problems. For more information, visit www.edf.org.