The Lens has partnered with PolitiFact for the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina to see if President Barack Obama has followed through on his campaign promises about the storm and the city of New Orleans.
Pledge: Help restore Gulf Coast wetlands that protect against hurricanes
Barack Obama will help the Gulf Coast restore the wetlands, marshes and barrier islands that are critical to tamping down the force of hurricanes. He will work with local governments to develop the best strategies for protecting and expanding wetlands. As president, Obama will immediately close the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, which experts say funneled floodwater into New Orleans.
Ruling: Promise Kept
President Barack Obama has largely stood by his promise on wetlands restoration, with some help from an unlikely source: the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
The Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, a shipping channel dredged by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and long considered an economic and environmental blunder, was plugged in 2009. However, due to a funding dispute with the state, the corps has not followed through on a commitment to restore wetlands damage caused by the channel.
But federal agencies have worked closely with agencies in Louisiana on wetlands restoration.
Under the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act, numerous federal agencies partner with state and parish authorities on coastal restoration efforts. That includes partnerships with the corps on the design and engineering of marsh creation and river diversion projects, key parts of Louisiana’s 50-year, $50 billion plan to restore its coast.
The state doesn’t have most of that money, but the Obama Administration can take some credit for steering nearly $8 billion to Louisiana’s coastal restoration efforts via settlements with BP for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Of that, $5 billion comes from the Natural Resources Damage Assessment, which was negotiated by the Justice Department.
Also included in that $8 billion is money dedicated to coastal restoration through the RESTORE Act, which dedicates 80 percent of BP’s Clean Water Act fines to Gulf restoration. Obama signed that bill in 2012.
In addition, Obama has included funding for a coastal restoration project in his proposed annual budget three times, ranging from about $17 million to about $36 million. Congress, however, has rejected it each time.
The president’s push to reduce carbon emissions could also be considered another plus for Louisiana’s coast. Carbon emissions contribute to sea-level rise, which could swamp much of the state’s remaining wetlands by the end of the century.
But environmentalists’ positive views of Obama’s coastal commitments fell sharply this year when he essentially proposed repealing the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act. Beginning in 2017, that law could provide Louisiana with about $140 million a year for coastal restoration; Obama’s budget proposed directing that money to other environmental programs. Congress hasn’t acted on his request, however.
Obama did close the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet, although the corps hasn’t mitigated wetlands damage it caused. In general, his administration has worked closely with state and local authorities on coastal restoration projects.
Most importantly, his administration has helped secure billions for coastal restoration through penalties and fines for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
It’s important to note that most of the restoration has yet to begin. The state is still losing 12 to 16 square miles of wetlands a year. Even if Louisiana’s plans are successful, the state would not begin to gain more land than it loses until 2060.
However, billions in federal funding certainly counts as helping restoration efforts, which is what Obama pledged.
We rate this Promise Kept.
The Times-Picayune, “Obama administration asks Senate to restore funds for coastal ecosystem,” Nov. 11, 2011
The Times-Picayune, “President Barack Obama’s budget proposal is $3.8 trillion,” Feb. 14, 2012
The Times-Picayune, “Mississippi River Gulf Outlet now blocked with 352,000 tons of rock,” July 24, 2009
Associated Press, “Enviros, state officials call for MRGO wetlands restoration,” Aug. 11, 2015
The Lens, “The BP settlement is only a downpayment on the massive coastal restoration bill,” July 15, 2015
The Lens and ProPublica, “Losing Ground,” Aug. 28, 2014
The Lens and ProPublica, “Louisiana’s Moon Shot,” Dec. 8, 2014
Obama administration, “President Obama’s Plan to Fight Climate Change,” June 25, 2015
The Lens, “State’s coastal restoration efforts imperiled by Obama’s budget proposal,” Feb. 3, 2015
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