Pointer  Online Extra: Worry Over Wetlands

July/August 2008

State Legislatures magazine talked with Sidney Coffee of America's WETLAND Foundation about the challenges in trying to restore the Louisiana wetlands.

S.L.: Tell me about the new sustainability goal America's Energy Coast is working toward. What do you mean by 'sustainability'?

Sustainability is not about the status quo. In the accord that we've been working on we talk about what sustainability means. The accord defines "sustainability" as a concept that does not promote the status quo, but instead refers to new approaches necessary to adapt to a changing future.  It fosters collective efforts of environmental, community and industrial partners to focus on how to adapt by reducing future vulnerabilities. Sustainability means reaching new agreements that promote regional and national benefits for future generations.

This coastal area is about balancing economic activities that benefit the nation and take place in a vulnerable coastal environment. Fisheries, navigation, energy production and globally significant wildlife habit all occupy the same strategic coastal region. All require a sustainable environment.

S.L.: Why is this push toward sustainability so important?

There is a national discussion going on about the nation’s energy security and no legitimate discussion can take place without looking to America’s Energy Coast of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, where we are drilling off our shores now. All the issues of sustainability are right here and how we accomplish true sustainability will very well point to how we approach these matters as we go forward. If we get it right here, it will serve all purposes and interests--environment, industry, recreation, wildlife. We can’t separate out the issues of climate or energy or the environment. They must be looked at comprehensively. 

S.L.: Why should the rest of the country be concerned about sustainability along the coasts of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama?

The rest of the country should be very concerned because what happens along the coast of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama benefits and impacts each and every person in the United States one way or another. Economically, for example, the area has a huge impact on what happens in the rest of the country with regards to importing and exporting.  The port system in this region is largest in the world in tonnage. The Mississippi River moves goods from the heartland of America out to foreign ports and the Gulf Intracoastal Water Way moves bulk cargo and chemicals east and west.

Protecting the environment along this coast is critical. Because of changes in climate, we have to include sea level rise projections in our plans for coastal restoration and protection projects. We have to protect our communities whose citizens and infrastructure support more than 90 percent of the country’s offshore oil and gas supply. Because of both natural disasters and human activities, these communities are at extreme risk from increasingly intense storms and sea level rise. 

What this coastal region is dealing with and, especially along Louisiana’s coast, is a harbinger for the rest of the nation’s coastline.  What’s happening here will ultimately happen to states like New York, Florida, California, and others.

S.L.: America's Energy Coast is an innovative approach given the diverse membership (businesses and organizations).  Why was it critical to have this diverse mix at the table?

For too long we have seen interests on opposite sides of these issues talking at each other and not coming together to find solutions.  We needed a new approach, one that provided an opportunity for all to come together through a consensus-based process. It was critically important we bring together people representing energy, environment, navigation, ports, fisheries, wildlife, communities, to develop the accord with workable solutions on issues this diverse group could come together around. Making sure that the group was diverse and inclusive as possible makes for a more valid process.

This framework enabled us to take a bottom-up approach. We deliberately did not go the route of top-down with government at the top.  This allowed us to work in an atmosphere absent of politics and not dependent on the approval of high-ranking officials, giving us a little more freedom to address sustainability issues. Now we will go to those in positions to enact new laws and policies and present them with a working accord that lays out the issues to sustainability and the broad approaches, followed by a more specific action framework that will come together during the next five months or so.

S.L.: Through a network of working groups, America's Energy Coast has developed an accord.  Can you tell me more about it? 

In November 2007, we held a forum in Louisiana to start work on the accord. We wanted to bring folks to the table to get the discussion started and to set the process. We knew what we wanted to accomplish and we needed to agree to guidelines and principles first. In addition to discussing the governance of the accord, we established a policy committee and five task forces: Domestic Energy Security; Culture, Community and Economic Development; Transportation, Navigation and Infrastructure; Ecosystem Vulnerabilities; and Legal Issues to Sustainability. 

Each task force was made up of a diversity of interests. For example, the Domestic Energy Security Task Force is co-chaired by representatives from Chevron and The Nature Conservancy. The Ecosystem Vulnerabilities Task Force is co-chaired by representatives from [power company] Entergy and the National Wildlife Federation.

The task forces identified the scope of their work, what issues needed to be addressed and how to address them. The things that were possible to reach consensus around moved forward, while some issues will require more work. This is a dynamic, working document and, at our forum near Houston on July 24, we will fully discuss the accord and will change it where necessary.

At the July forum, we will begin prioritizing recommendations for an action agenda. Then, over the next few months, we will expand the membership of the task forces and work on fleshing out specific actions we can reach consensus on and present this action agenda in Washington, D.C., in December

 Worry Over Wetlands July/August 2008 Article