BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — A proclamation issued Wednesday honors the 30th anniversary of legislation that has fueled Louisiana’s fight against coastal erosion.
Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards presented the document to former U.S. Sen. John Breaux, who drafted the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act — also known as the Breaux Act — in 1990.
“Louisiana is now an international leader in coastal restoration due in large part to Sen. Breaux’s efforts that put a spotlight on our coastal land loss crisis three decades ago,” said Edwards, reading his proclamation to a meeting of the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA).
“I can’t believe it’s been 30 years,” said Breaux, 76. “I’m not that old.”
Breaux’s legislation gave the state’s coast its first continuous stream of federal aide. Instead of lawmakers angling year-to-year for dollars, funds come automatically through part of a federal excise tax on fishing equipment and small engine fuel. (State funds account for the remaining 15 percent.) The arrangement has fed more than $2 billion in investment, funding 226 restoration projects on 105,000 acres of wetland.
The U.S. Geological Survey estimates Louisiana loses a football field of land every 100 minutes.
“I often compare coastal erosion to a silent hurricane that happens everyday, every hour, every minute,” Breaux said. “If a little bit of your state breaks off and disappears, that’s forever.”
Under the Breaux Act, a task force oversees which projects to fund using dedicated dollars. Members come from state and federal partners: the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture; the National Marine Fisheries Service of the U.S. Department of Commerce; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and Louisiana’s CPRA.
“We will be creating more land in Louisiana than we’re losing,” said Edwards, noting the projected impact of approved projects. “But you can’t snap your fingers and make that happen.”
Breaux recalled his efforts to convince Capitol Hill colleagues that Louisiana’s coast was eroding — and that other states could help address it.
“At first, they said this was a Louisiana problem, but of course it’s not just a Louisiana problem,” he said. “We drain 40 percent of North America through our state, and all that water we see coming down through those states is contributing to the erosion we see everyday.”
Breaux — a Crowley Democrat who represented Louisiana in the U.S. House from 1972 to 1987, then in the U.S. Senate from 1987 to 2005 — credits bipartisanship with moving his bill to the desk of then-President George H.W. Bush, a Republican.
“If there’s anything we should be bipartisan or nonpartisan about, it should be climate change,” he said in an interview. “All of our political leaders, as well as the people, have to pay attention to the science.”
“Those of us in Louisiana, we don’t have the luxury of politicizing climate change,” CPRA chairman Chip Kline said after the panel’s meeting Wednesday.
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