Two weeks ago President Donald Trump announced a trade: A few thousand temporary jobs for West Virginia coal miners in exchange for letting the Gulf of Mexico drown much of south Louisiana over the next 50 years.
Not a single member of Louisiana’s congressional delegation uttered a complaint. In fact, some of our five GOP members even praised the action.
That deadly bargain was announced March 28 when Trump, surrounded by coal miners, released his executive order titled “Promoting energy independence and economic growth.” It aims to repeal almost every regulation designed to halt the rise in greenhouse gas emissions – which is the major factor driving the rapid acceleration in sea levels swallowing coastal Louisiana.
Every Louisianian residing within 35 miles of the Gulf should read the order’s seven pages because they contain what could well be a death sentence for their homes and jobs. This includes areas around communities such as Lake Charles, Cameron, Creole, Grand Chenier, Hackberry, Houma, Grand Isle, Leeville, Lafitte, Cocodrie, Dulac, Montegut, Chauvin, Hopedale, Shell Beach, Venice and Myrtle Grove, as well as Slidell, Mandeville, Covington and Madisonville – to name a few.
And anyone living within 50 miles of the coast today can expect soaring flood insurance rates because, as the Gulf moves closer to your driveway, your risk of severe damage from storm surge soars.
This isn’t my opinion.
It’s the judgment of Louisiana’s own Coastal Master Plan – the state’s official prediction of what kind of future the bottom third of this state can have as we face two certainties: The sediment-starved, canal-sliced delta we live on will continue to sink, and sea level rise will continue accelerating due to increased emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane.
The state’s researchers projected three different outcomes for the coast over the next 50 years that looked at three different rates of emissions over that time. The results were clear to them: Higher emissions mean higher seas, greater storms surges, less land and more flooded homes.
Those results are the reason the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority this year ended its long-held claim that the master plan could see Louisiana building more land than it was losing in aggregate by 2065.
Now the state says that even if the plan works perfectly, those rising seas will still claim between 1,200 and 2,800 square miles of our current coast. The researchers said the grimmer forecasts are tied to human-caused sea level rise, not new estimates on subsidence. They have concluded that reducing emissions is the best chance Louisiana has to save some of those coastal communities and the wetlands that produce our fisheries – and protect the billions in oil and gas infrastructure that powers so many well-paying jobs.
This isn’t a doomsday warning from Greenpeace, or your local tree-hugging columnist. It’s the sober prognosis from the top scientists working for the state of Louisiana.
But Trump, a real estate developer and reality TV star, says he knows better than the scientists. That’s why his executive order would end almost all U.S. efforts to reduce emissions. And his proposed budget aims to end most studies of climate change and sea level rise – as well as many programs addressing our coastal crisis.
You might expect that a president’s decision to ignore a cause of Louisiana’s unfolding disaster would draw swift condemnation from the state’s congressional delegation.
But you would be wrong.
Our GOP members see those regulations (well, all regulations) as impediments to business and jobs – especially energy jobs.
U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, the former head of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Agency turned GOP congressman, thinks killing those regulations is a good way to help the state’s coast. His rather novel reasoning: The regulations have hindered recent expansion of the offshore oil industry, and the royalties from offshore production help fund the coastal plan.
Well, in the first place, the oil field slump was caused because prices fell from $100 a barrel down to $33. Besides, Graves and other GOPers were also against regulations when oil was over $100 a barrel.
And that second reason is like suggesting we should encourage more people to smoke because some of their tobacco taxes help pay for programs to prevent smoking. That’s a recipe to help those making money on the problem, not those being hurt by it.
Our delegation’s support for the president on this issue makes as much sense.
Instead they should be leading the charge to reduce emissions by any means possible because their state’s own coastal survival plan says without that change the Gulf could consume the homes and businesses of their constituents.
Of course, maybe they’re more concerned about coal miners in West Virginia – whose jobs will be ending anyway because of market conditions, not regulations.
It might be time for Louisiana conservatives – especially those on the coast – to ask their politicians whose interests they really represent.
Louisiana Pulitzer-Prize winning veteran outdoors writer Bob Marshall has won numerous reporting honors and prizes. This column, reprinted here with Marshall’s permission, was first posted at nola.com – The Times-Picayune.