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In Obama's Budget, a Trickle of Money for Louisiana's Disappearing Coast

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NEW ORLEANS -- I've been rather consistently critical of the Obama administration's largely MIA stance toward New Orleans, with the singular exception of the appointment of a new FEMA administrator who, by all reports, has cut the red tape and started the long-appropriated funds finally flowing to fix the damage caused by the failure of the federal levees. So it's only fair to acknowledge a small, halting step towards progress in Washington.

Today's Times-Picayune editorializes in delighted surprise at the inclusion of money in the new 2011 budget for programs to help restore the long-eroding Louisiana coastal wetlands. That's the good news. The less-than-good: the $35.6 million requested to work on rebuilding the essential fabric of South Louisiana's economy and culture (and the essential hurricane buffer for the city of New Orleans) is one-tenth the money requested in the budget for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

The Great Lakes? Are they dying? Here's a Brookings Institution summary of the situation:

The Great Lakes and surrounding areas face numerous threats to their health and utility, however. In recent years, Great Lakes' beaches have been closed due to contamination, fish stocks have dwindled, and invasive species have become growing menaces. According to Pre-scription for Great Lake Protection and Restoration: Avoiding the Tipping Point of Irreversible Change -- a 2005 report published by many of the region's leading scientists and now endorsed by 200 scientists nationally -- the Great Lakes have experienced over 400 years of human induced stresses.4 To reverse this damage, these scientists have called for the restoration of crit- ical elements of the ecosystems' self-regulating mechanisms, particularly the wetlands, tributaries, and near-shore habitats that enable the lakes to heal themselves.

Fair enough. But, as I've been learning in talking to experts on Louisiana's disappearing wetlands for my documentary The Big Uneasy, the problem south of New Orleans has been a slow-motion disaster that threatens the source of much of this nation's petroleum and seafood (don't eat them together), as well as the survival of New Orleans.

I don't want to start yet another war between South Louisiana and the Midwest. But maybe the disparity in requested appropriations represents not a disparity in need or seriousness of the problem, but just the disparity in the number of voters abutting the affected areas.

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