Q and A With Louisiana Senate President Joel Chaisson: May 2010

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Joel Chaisson

Louisiana Senate President Joel T. Chaisson II spoke with State Legislatures about the challenges of coastal restoration and the benefits of collective efforts in dealing with the federal government

State Legislatures: What can state legislators in other parts of the country learn from your experience in working through coastal restoration issues and with the federal government?

Senate President Joel T. Chaisson: Getting the federal government’s full support requires local leaders to demonstrate a strong consensus for implementation of an overall master plan and a commitment to bringing that plan to fruition. In Louisiana, we have created master sustainability plans, established a trust fund to ensure that federal dollars are spent only for restoration and protection projects, and streamlined our procedures to meet federal guidelines. All of this had to be done before Congress committed to dedicating a larger share of offshore energy revenue to our state.

SL: Do you think the issue of Louisiana’s coastal land loss has received the national attention it deserves?

Chaisson: Yes and no. We had to organize an aggressive campaign to inform Americans that the plight of what we call America’s WETLAND in coastal Louisiana was directly tied to their interests. With Katrina, that effort proved successful as most of the media coverage focused on wetland loss as a serious problem. Furthermore, the immediate spike in gasoline prices quickly showed the nation the strategic importance of this region to their own pocketbooks. Now, we face a fiscally strapped federal government that will have to be creative in funding anything. A positive sign is that there is a first-time focus from the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to work with the state to find solutions. We are making progress but there is much more to be done.

SL: Do you think joining regional groups such as the America’s Energy Coast (AEC) helps strengthen Louisiana’s case at the Federal level?

Chaisson: Absolutely. The strength of the AEC is in its diversity. Everyone is at the table. I think there is promise in having the consensus the organization has built with stakeholders at the local level around some really tough issues. These issues are finally starting to bubble up to the Federal level and hopefully result in sound policy. A good example is the recent Roadmap for Sustaining the Gulf Coast issued by CEQ.

SL: Does the energy-producing region—Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas—have as strong a voice as it should in the national energy debate?

Chaisson: It is starting to be coordinated for the first time through cooperation. We are moving past our parochial issues to form consensus on priorities that we share like restoration and coastal protection issues. We also are helping others understand the unique demands on a working coast to balance ecological and economic needs that both serve the nation.

SL: What other voices are necessary?

Chaisson: NCSL helps us to demonstrate how the unique assets of our states serve the broader national purpose. The one-size-fits-all scenarios of Washington don’t often align with solving specific problems in our individual states. Having a sounding board like this organization to illustrate problems in the system and highlight the need to fix processes that may be broken is now more important than ever.

SL: How would you like to see AEC state representatives in the four states organize and give more voice to the region?

Chaisson: I have been writing letters to state representatives in the region to encourage them to sign on the AEC Honorary Leadership Council. Eventually, I’d like for the Leadership Council to organize around moving local consensus to the federal level.