Unlikely allies unite for 'America's Energy Coast'
The Associated Press/ Cain Burdeau
July 24, 2008
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- An unlikely coalition of environmentalists, oil companies, government agencies and shippers is joining to ask the nation to invest in restoring the degraded landscapes of the western Gulf Coast and bolster oil production.
The loose alliance, calling itself America's Energy Coast, planned to present a united front Thursday in an accord spelling out a range of regional problems -- from wetlands erosion to threats facing oil ports, pipelines and transportation -- and offering solutions.
The accord, which resulted from months of discussion, defines America's Energy Coast as Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana, states that allow offshore oil and natural gas drilling.
Among the threats to the region, the group highlights the loss of 17 square miles of wetlands a year in Louisiana; the annual fish-killing area of nutrient-fed low oxygen in the Gulf known as the "dead zone;" the erosion of beaches in Texas; and the 150 miles of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway at risk from erosion.
The group would like to see Congress pass legislation to meld the region's interests into a national policy and set up an America's Energy Coast caucus.
It also wants action to restore the region's degraded environmental landscape by saving forests for songbirds, restoring beaches and building back lost marsh.
On the energy side, the coalition thinks the Department of Homeland Security should do more to secure refineries, offshore platforms and oil ports. Also,
the nation should consider protecting energy infrastructure in danger from rising sea levels and support the development of alternative energy like wind and solar farms.
The group is also asking federal and state agencies to cut red tape, coordinate their efforts and treat the Gulf Coast as a region with common needs.
The group said the accord "arrives at a critical time and from a region that can be viewed as America's laboratory for energy development."
Coming in the midst of high oil prices and a push by President Bush to open up more offshore waters to drilling, the coalition has potential political influence, and presented itself as a model to bridge differences between sparring interests.
"We're all trying to find our way. It's no secret to anyone that these are interests that have not always seen eye to eye," said Susan Kaderka, National Wildlife Federation director for the Gulf region. "We're trying to find a common ground."
With Kaderka on the America's Energy Coast ecosystem task force are representatives from the National Rifle Association, Ducks Unlimited, climate change scientists and Entergy Corp., a New Orleans-based utility.
Elsewhere, getting such disparate groups to talk might seem unthinkable. But in recent years, environmentalists and businesses have increasingly spoken in a common language along the Gulf Coast. This is particularly true in Louisiana where the erosion of the Mississippi River delta is a grave threat to both the ecosystem and the oil network.