In response to criticism that the Army Corps of Engineers has failed to take needed action, President Obama is creating a federal task force to overhaul management of coastal restoration efforts in Louisiana and Mississippi.
White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley made the announcement this week in an interview with Bloomberg News. The panel will consider options for revamping how the federal government manages environmental restoration and protection efforts in the region, which suffers from a serious coastal erosion problem.
The administration's budget and environmental offices will lead the effort, according to Sutley. The Corps will be part of the task force and continue to work on its projects in the Gulf, Sutley told Bloomberg:
"We thought it made sense to have an interagency working group on restoration that would include the Corps, but include other agencies as well," Sutley said. Discussions about how the group will be structured are in the early stages, she said.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) recently wrote a letter to Obama calling on him to reform the Corps and create just such a working group to address coastal restoration and flood protection. She told Bloomberg that she was "pleased that the President has responded to my request to elevate the challenges that face coastal Louisiana to a higher level of priority within the federal government."
As Facing South reported, a coalition of 17 advocacy groups held a press conference this week calling on the Corps to honor the president's pledge to restore wetlands that provide critical protection from storms.
The coalition noted that Congress directed the Corps to come up with a comprehensive plan for closing the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet navigation channel near New Orleans and restoring adjacent wetlands by May 2008. But the agency doesn't expect to complete its draft plan until next year.
In another example of slow movement by the Corps, it was more than four years ago that the agency completed a report recognizing the severe wetland loss in coastal Louisiana and recommending five critical restoration projects. Congress authorized those projects under the Water Resources Development Act of 2007 -- but only one is scheduled to begin construction before 2012. That meant none were eligible for funding as "shovel-ready" under the recent economic stimulus.
Louisiana officials recently offered recommendations for speeding up hurricane protection efforts. Pointing out that it currently takes an average of 40 years for the Corps to complete a project, they say the state's coastal communities don't have that much time.
(Photo of a coastal wetlands restoration project in Louisiana's Rainey Refuge from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)