Louisiana's crisis: a national opportunity

by Mary Tutwiler

I'm not so sure the heads of the Environmental Defense Fund, the National Audubon Society and the National Wildlife Federation would appreciate being compared to Machiavelli. I'm not so sure the heads of the [Environmental Defense Fund](Environmental Defense Fund), the National Audubon Society and the National Wildlife Federation would appreciate being compared to Machiavelli. The 15th century Italian philosopher is renowned for his treatise urging leadership through the ruthless exercise of raw political power. It was Machiavelli who coined the expression "never waste the opportunities offered by a good crisis," which has lately been touted by White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

But in the past few days, the leaders of the environmental movement in the United States have spoken with one voice, urging the president and Congress to use the crisis of the BP oil spill as an opportunity to direct funding for the restoration of Louisiana's crumbling coastline. With billions of clean-up money on the balance sheet, environmental leaders have called on the Obama administration to create a $5 billion BP escrow account as well as direct the millions in proceeds from BP's Clean Water Act violations to fund the existing, but as-yet unfunded plans for coastal restoration.

The Louisiana Coastal Area Ecosystem Restoration Plan, developed by the state after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, focuses on restoration of the wetlands below New Orleans, at the mouth of the Mississippi River and in Barataria Bay through freshwater diversions through the levees and barrier island restoration.

It's been nearly five years since Hurricane Katrina graphically demonstrated the vital need for the restoration of our degraded wetlands to protect Louisiana's coastal communities. Five years ago, coastal scientists gave the state a 10 year deadline before the wetlands loss became so severe that we would reach the point of no return. Plans were written while the state's congressional delegation worked and pleaded for federal funding that has never materialized. Now, with the crisis of the oil spill bringing Louisiana's plight once again to the national stage, and now, with the potential of billions in damages going into federal coffers, the opportunity ripens.

It is also an opportunity for White House to show that the pledges to rebuild Louisiana's coast are not just rhetoric. It may take the ruthless exercise of raw political power to earmark this funding for coastal restoration in Louisiana, especially in a time when every state is begging for funding in the uncertain economy.

As Emanuel quipped back in 2008 to the New York Times, "You don't ever want a crisis to go to waste. It's an opportunity to do important things that you would otherwise avoid.'' For Louisiana, this is as important as it gets. It's time.