January 10, 2018

VIDEO: Cassidy Warns Slow Permitting Process Imperils Coastal Restoration Efforts

WASHINGTON— U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA) appeared before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works today to introduce Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition Director Steve Cochran for a hearing on America’s water infrastructure needs and challenges. Cassidy warned that even as Louisiana is losing land by the minute, the federal government’s outdated and inefficient environmental review and permitting process is hamstringing the state’s efforts to address the crisis.

Cassidy recently led a successful effort to include a provision in Republicans’ tax cut legislation that will provide tens of millions of dollars for coastal restoration in Louisiana. Last month, Cassidy hosted U.S. Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke in Louisiana for discussions focused on coastal restoration efforts.

A full transcript of Cassidy’s remarks in today’s hearing is below.

CASSIDY: Chairman Barrasso, Ranking Member Carper and other members, again thank you for allowing me to introduce Steve Cochran, a dedicated Louisiana public servant. Steve has worked for many years in pursuit of a long-term solution that will restore and protect Louisiana’s incredibly fragile coastal ecosystem.  

He’s worked with former Louisiana Congressman-then-Governor Buddy Roemer, the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, the Mississippi River Delta Coalition and the Environmental Defense Fund. That makes him uniquely qualified to speak to the need of an integrated strategy that utilizes innovative approaches to restore wetlands and support coastal ecosystem. 

Now coastal Louisiana is losing land as we speak. As we speak, there’s something on a Google map that looks green, that if you really had an updated Google map would no longer look green, it would now look like open water. So that is the crisis we have. It poses a serious threat to our state, to our communities, and upon our state and nation’s economy.

It has required our state to develop in a bipartisan fashion a comprehensive plan referred to as Louisiana Comprehensive Master Plan for Sustainable Coast a $50 billion over 50 years plan to restore Louisiana’s coast based on sound scientific and modeling principles required to be updated every five years. 

Now, while Louisiana is prepared to begin to implement projects detailed in the master plan, the problem is the environmental review and permitting process challenges that threaten to stop these projects from going forward.

Currently, the average timeframe for the government to approve a federal project is close to five years.

Now, remember I said we’re losing coastline like this minute? We get five years to permit something, and by that time there’s been dramatic change. This timeframe is unacceptable given the magnitude of the threat to Louisiana’s coastline.

Revising the permitting approach for the Corps and for other agencies, particularly when multiple federal agencies are involved, is critical so that regulations focus on finding ways to expedite consideration of long-term ecosystem projects that restore wetlands and protect communities, rather than maintain the current short-term regulatory focus that, again, only seems to impede these important projects from moving forward.

The Mid-Barataria Bay Sediment Diversion, a WRDA authorized project south of New Orleans, offers a textbook example of the need to increase transparency and improve coordination between federal agencies.

The diversion will take fresh water and sediment from the Mississippi into threatened wetlands on the western side of the river to build and sustain new and existing wetlands. Now, the existing regulatory hurdles in multiple federal agencies will likely to lead to multi-year permitting delays for this and other large ecosystem restoration projects, resulting in the loss of more Louisiana coast.

I look forward to working with this committee, the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition, the Corps of Engineers and other interested parties to update and modernize the federal permitting process in the next WRDA reauthorization bill so that we are better able to sustain coastal environments and communities in both Louisiana and across the nation, and I thank you for the opportunity to testify this morning to introduce Mr. Cochran.