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    Strong Coast Strong Texas

    Diverse interests reach accord on Gulf Coast needs

    Diverse interests reach accord on Gulf Coast needs
    Shreveport Times/ Mike Hasten
    July 25, 2008

    NEW ORLEANS -- Laying down their battle swords in an effort to help each other, environmental and oil and gas production interests have joined government officials in a pact aimed at increasing energy production in the Gulf of Mexico while restoring fragile wetlands.

    Calling itself "America's Energy Coast," officials from Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama and national wildlife associations forged an accord to present a unified front to convince Congress that they are serious about restoring the damaged coastline.

    All have personal interests in success -- oil companies' pipelines and production facilities that supply 90 percent of the nation's oil and gas are threatened by a rapidly eroding coast and marshes that provide breeding grounds for much of the nation's seafood are being washed away.

    "These estuaries have tremendous ecological value," said Susan Kaderka, National Wildlife Federation director for the Gulf region, in a satellite press conference from the America's Energy Coast Conference in Houston, where the accord was signed Thursday. "They are threatened by climate change, sea level rise and hurricanes. Their future depends on a safe and sustainable coast.

    "This is an area in need of attention, restoration and protection," she said.

    R. King Milling, chairman of the America's Wetlands Foundation, which initiated the alliance, said the goal of the pact is to "speak with a unified voice to impact policy, as well as practices."

    Randall Luthis, director of the Minerals Management Service in the U.S. Department of the Interior, described the accord as "a broad agreement on the need for a reliable, sustainable source of energy," as well as a statement that all will work toward restoring the coast, which has been ravaged by hurricanes and is facing other threats.

    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 of Mexico known as "the dead zone," the erosion of beaches in Texas and the 150 miles of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway at risk from erosion.

    Luthis said the agreement "could not be more timely" as the nation depends on oil and gas while it works on alternative energy sources.

    Dale Hall of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the agreement is "recognition of not what we're against but what we are for. We are for all of those things and we are trying to find a balance."

    Mark Hurley, president of Shell Pipeline and chairman of the AEC Industry Council, said that with so many diverse interests on the panel "we didn't expect to agree on everything. We found common ground that we can agree on."

    Kaderka agreed that the groups were "finding common ground" and said "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."

    Louisiana Senate President Joel Chaisson, D-Destrehan, said at the National Conference of State Legislatures in New Orleans that the agreement "represents a milestone" because so many groups, including state and local governments, have come together.

    He cited a poll of residents in the four states that found 91 percent believe the states should work together, 90 percent believe the federal government should contribute and 88 percent believe "we can drill for oil in the Gulf and protect the coast at the same time."

    Rep. Warren Chisum of Pampa, Texas, said now that a draft agreement has been reached "We must move quickly to transform our plan into action."

    Chisum, part of a group of lawmakers from across the country at the NCSL summit who flew over the Louisiana coast, said "We are in serious trouble. Our offshore assets out there are threatened and our coast is eroding. Without a healthy coastline, we cannot sustain production."

    Milling said the next steps are to put the accord into a form that calls for action and present it to Congress.

    "We don't have time to waste," Kaderka said.

    Chaisson said that when oil production begins in newly leased offshore areas off the Outer Continental Shelf, Louisiana will have money to meet its share of coastal restoration costs.

    But the federal government is requiring a $1.8 billion match within three years, which "would devastate our effort. We're willing to pay, but we need more time," he said.

    The four-state coalition could help in convincing a new Congress to allow a longer payout, he said, because "there's strength in numbers."


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