Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Delta Chapter 2012 Legislative Report, July 2, 2012


Sierra Club Delta Chapter started engaging with the 2012 legislature back in the Nov 2011 elections with active support for election of several state legislators including campaign work for Stephen Ortego, active support for Jack Montoucet, and formal endorsement of J.P. Morrell of New Orleans. This year we put on two social events for legislators, one in New Orleans on March 1, and one in Baton Rouge on March 21. We received great feedback and recognition among legislators for these events. The purpose of these events was to get ourselves and allied legislative advocates in the same rooms with legislators to enjoy a casual evening of food and conversation. Our legislative lobbyist Darrell Hunt deserves major credit for coming up with the idea and for doing the cooking at our event in Baton Rouge.

The 2012 regular session of the Louisiana legislature adjourned on June 4. Legislation passed by both houses of the legislature has now been considered and either signed into law or vetoed by the Governor. Following are the results of legislative actions that we have been following:

Oil Industry Legacy lawsuits - A crop of bills on this issue eventually got boiled down to two that were signed into law. HB 618 Abramson (Act 754) and SB 555 Adlee (Act 779) together provide for limited liability for environmental damage such that a party elect to admission of liability for environmental damage and responsibility for implementing the most feasible plan to evaluate and or remediate damage to regulatory standards. This would be done according to a plan reviewed by Department of Agriculture and Forestry, the Department of Environmental Quality, and the Department of Natural Resources. The legislation contains timelines, provision for public hearing and waiver of right to indemnification against punitive damages in certain circumstances. The legislation appears to give the oil industry what it wanted at the outset, which was a limitation on liability for cleanup costs when plans are developed and approved by relevant state agencies.  Landowners still retain the right to sue for damages. The real effect of the laws will be determined in the course of litigation sure to follow.

Water Issues - SB 436 by Sen Gerald Long, signed into law by the governor as Act 784 requires the Sabine River Authority to obtain legislative committee and local government approval for out-of-state water sales. The effect of the law will be to ban out of state water sales by the Sabine River Authority and by implication all water authorities in the state. The State of Louisiana has never had a consistent plan how to deal with in state or out of state sale of water. A related bill by Sen Long is SB 495, signed into law by the governor as Act 471 It revises powers and duties of the Ground Water Resources Commission to include surface water, not just groundwater. Louisiana does not have comprehensive water law to provide guidance for water management so proposed large sales are handled on a case by case basis by Department of Natural Resources and/or the legislature.

HB 957 by Rep John Bel Edwards which provides for the disclosure of the composition of hydraulic fracturing fluids was signed into law by the governor as Act 812. This legislation writes into law and strengthens requirements of rules recently promulgated by DNR Office of Conservation. The law is comparable to laws on the books in other nearby states such as Texas and Arkansas where hydraulic fracturing for natural gas is occurring.

SB 439 by A.G. Crowe authorizing certain parishes to create a conservation district never was heard in its first hearing. The purpose of the bill was to set up an authority that could receive penalty funds for settlement of the Temple Inland paper mill toxic spill to the Pearl River, and administer such funds for the benefit of water quality on the river. The bill was opposed by the governor’s office because it would set up a local authority whose jurisdiction and powers would conflict with state agencies such as Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.  

SB 450 Walsworth to prohibit dumping of electronic waste such as computers, televisions, cellular phones and other electronic devices into landfills became Senate Resolution 83 which urges the Department of Environmental Quality to study the establishment of a recycling and collection system for electronic waste and report its findings to the legislature.

HCR 49 by Stephen Ortego requesting the Louisiana Dept of Wildlife and Fisheries to study Bayou Teche for inclusion in the State Historic and Scenic Rivers System successfully passed both house and senate as a concurrent resolution. Department of Wildlife and Fisheries will hold public hearings and make a determination as to whether inclusion of Bayou Teche should be formally proposed in legislation next year. Delta Chapter is working with local groups to build support in communities along Bayou Teche.

Other legislative actions of interest:

HCR 89 was a proposed concurrent resolution by Rep Stuart Bishop stating that United Nations Agenda 21 is a comprehensive plan of extreme environmentalism, social engineering, and global political control that was initiated at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992, and resolving that the Legislature of Louisiana recognizes the destructive and insidious nature of the United Nations Agenda 21. Delta Chapter recognized early in the legislative process that this was an attack on the principle of sustainable development. We activated our network of legislative allies to voice our opposition and launched a phone call campaign to the office of the bill sponsor and to members of the first legislative committee that would hear this resolution. The resolution was never put on the agenda and so was stopped in its first committee.

Senator J. P. Morrell Dem district 3, New Orleans (formally endorsed for election by Delta Chapter) proposed three pieces of legislation to protect children from exposure to lead in buildings. The laws were SB 200, 201 and 211. They require owners of certain child-occupied facilities to conduct an inspection for the presence of lead hazards and to disclose results of testing for lead, identify lead hazards and describe lead abatement activities. One of the bills requires state and local agencies engaged in lead hazard reduction activities to publish on their Internet website the standards related to those activities. All three bills were passed by the legislature and signed into law by the governor.

Representative Eddie Lambert tried again to pass a Louisiana Beverage Container Law (HB 1046) that would set up a nickel deposit for plastic bottles and aluminum cans. The bill if successful would be a huge step in de-littering Louisiana roadsides, woods and waterways. Lobbyists for grocers, liquor dealers and soft drink distributors were out in strong opposition to the legislation because they don’t want to deal with the returned bottles. The proposed law would have created a large state program which would be administratively complex but would pay for itself at projected rates of bottle redemption. The proposed legislation was killed in its first committee after extensive debate.

Contact for further information: Woody Martin, Chapter Chair at hrmartin2sc@gmail.com


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Statement before Senate Natural Resources Committee

April 19, 2012

Statement before Senate Natural Resources Committee re:
HCR 31 to Approve the 2012 Atchafalaya Basin Plan

Haywood Martin, Chair, Delta Chapter Sierra Club
Representing some of our members who have very extensive knowledge of the Atchafalaya because they are out there on the water making a living in crawfishing, frogging or any of a number of other subsistence activites  year round.

We agree with notes under Current Challenges in the Basin, p 17 - Sedimentation that Since 1932 there has been a net accretion of sediment in the Basin floodway, converting much open water and cypress swamps to bottomland forest.

And we agree that spoil banks, oil field canals and natural levees inhibit the historical sheeting pattern of water flow, causing hypoxic conditions within nearly all of the large, interior swamps.

1)     We are against the "redistribution of sediments" plan. They are using east-west canals to move water full of sediments from the Atchafalaya River into deep swamps to convert more cypress swamp to bottomland forest. Elements of this problem are contained in the proposed East Grand Lake Project, Upper Grand River Flats projects and locations such as Coon Trap, Florida pipeline, Williams Canal, Work Canal and Bayou Sorrel Shell Field). 

2)     We are concerned that some dredging projects could be taken beyond natural width and depth conditions to create large straight oilfield access canals like the well known Bayou Postilion mistake. In this regard we are concerned about the Bayou Fourche and Big Bayou Pigeon projects. 

These first two points can be summed up by saying we are in favor of opening north to south flowing waterways to their natural width and depth, no more no less.

3)     We are concerned that the Atchafalaya Basin Program (ABP) proposing to use tax payers dollars to fix problems created by illegal activities on wetlands that also supposed to be protected by environmental easements (Brown Bayou, elevated road north of I-10), and Bristow Bayou. 

Our members realize there is a technical advisory group and public hearing process but feel that their voices have not been heard in regards to these very important issues. These members have intimate knowledge of how water and sediments move through the A Basin and care deeply that the remaining cypress swamp character of the basin be preserved. Our members and Sierra Club Delta Chapter respectfully oppose this plan in its current form.

But we do not intend to take our marbles and go home. We look forward to our continued participation in the A Basin planning process.

Despite our objections the A Basin planning process is much better than it used to be. The credit for this change goes to Rep Karen St. Germaine for her work on HB 1135 and HCR 26 in the year 2008 legislature.

Thank you for the opportunity to make this statement today.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Spring Into Action with the Delta Chapter!

Spring is a time of regeneration, growth, and new beginnings. It’s a busy time for nature, and for many people, too. This spring is an especially busy one for the Delta Chapter. We’re as active as ever at the State Capitol as we continue to push for laws that protect the natural resources and citizens of Louisiana. We are working hard to recruit new leaders and plan new activities for our local Groups. We are planning on tabling at Earth Day events, festivals, and community events across the state. And we are trying our best to be the best grassroots environmental organization in the state. But to achieve these goals, we need your help. Help can come in a variety of ways, from volunteering to help make phone calls to supporters on important legislation, to helping to plan or lead outings and activities, to tabling at events to help spread our mission, to taking a leadership role in your Group or Chapter ExCom.

Take a minute to look through the list of upcoming events and volunteer roles and decide if there’s anything you can do to help keep the Sierra Club alive and vibrant in 2012 and beyond. You can also contact Woody Martin at 337-298-8380 or hrmartin2sc@gmail.com to ask about other roles you can fill. For our families, for our future!

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Request for urgent action - St. Martin Parish School Board wants to cut cypress forest


The St. Martin Parish School Board has contracted a logger to cut cypress from 640 acres in the Atchafalaya Basin. We are campaigning to get them to reconsider. School Board members are political people and we believe they will be influenced by a letter writing campaign. We need this to happen within two to three weeks. We have Tulane University Law Clinic lawyers working on this and they requested the letter writing campaign. Please at least send letters to the School Board President and Vice President. The same letter sent to more school board members is even better.
School Board name and address information is at http://saintmartinschools.org/site293.php
Sample letter is presented below this text. Please feel free to modify the letter with your own words.
Thanks for your help, Woody Martin, Sierra Club Delta Chapter

Sample letter:

Name and address of sender

Date                                                                                                     

Name and address of school board member

Dear Mr.

This is to request that St. Martin Parish School Board not cut trees, especially cypress, on Section 16 land in the Atchafalaya Basin. The Atchafalaya Basin is a unique and invaluable natural resource for the State of Louisiana and for our country. I am concerned that cutting of cypress trees in the Basin is damaging forever its natural character. I am informed that when cypress trees are cut they will never grow back because of changing water levels and predation of juvenile cypress by the invasive nutria. Therefore cutting of cypress does not qualify as silviculture because there is no natural regrowth of the same trees. Furthermore the trees could be of much more value to St. Martin Parish schools if they are left standing than if they are cut in a one time logging operation, after which they are gone forever.

I believe that St. Martin Parish School Board is taking the wrong path when it jumps to the conclusion that logging is the only way to make money on this land. There are at least three other options for making money on land with standing trees including ecotourism, conservation easements, and carbon mitigation bank credits. Any of these choices has the huge additional benefits of preserving the forest for its ecosystem and economic value to persons who fish, hunt and watch birds in natural forested wetlands, and the benefit of leaving cypress trees standing for appreciation by future generations. I believe that the School Board should look more broadly at ways to benefit from the value of the standing cypress forest before sacrificing that forest for a short term and relatively small economic return. In addition I believe that the school board should consider that the dollar value of cut trees does not come anywhere close to representing the true economic, cultural and spiritual value of the natural forest.

Thank you for your consideration of this request,

Sincerely,

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Delta Chapter Legislative Update, April 3, 2012


Sierra Club Delta Chapter state legislative strategy is getting better all the time. We are working a multi part strategy that includes ongoing discussion and working with our allies in the Louisiana environmental community. We started this legislative season with active support for election of several state legislators including campaign work for Stephen Ortego, active support for Jack Montoucet, and formal endorsement of J.P. Morrell of New Orleans. We initiated two social events for legislators, one in New Orleans on March 1, and one in Baton Rouge on March 21. The purpose of these events was to get ourselves and allied legislative advocates in the same rooms with legislators to enjoy a casual evening of food and conversation. We are receiving excellent feedback from legislators for these events. In New Orleans the Green Collaborative did the bulk of the work to organize the NO event. Our legislative lobbyist Darrell Hunt deserves major credit for coming up with the whole idea and for doing the cooking at our event in Baton Rouge.

Some legislative issues we are watching closely include legislative comment and approval of the state’s recently released Coastal Master Plan and legislative review of the state’s recently released report entitled “Managing Louisiana’s Groundwater Resources.” We are also watching the legacy oilfield battle between oil industry and landowners. There are a dozen proposed bills on this subject but the one to watch is SB 528 by Sen Gerald Long. The sponsor keeps holding it back from going to hearing because of rumored negotiations going on between industry and landowners.

Another big one to watch is SB 436 by Sen Long which would require Sabine River Authority to obtain approval for out of state water sales from each parish in its territory. This goes back to the flap a few months ago about possible sale of water from Toledo Bend Reservoir to out of state (Texas) investors. The State of Louisiana has never had a consistent plan how to deal with in state or out of state sale of water. A related  bill by Sen Long is SB 495 revises powers and duties of the Ground Water Resources Commission to include surface water, not just groundwater. Compared to other states Louisiana is just getting started on how to manage its ground and surface water resources.This bill was scheduled for hearing last week but was postponed, apparently due to ongoing discussion by interested parties.

Some other bills to watch:

HB 957 provides for the disclosure of the composition of hydraulic fracturing fluids. This bill would write into law and strengthen requirements that already exist in rules recently promulgated by DNR Office of Conservation.

SB 439 by A.G. Crowe Authorizes certain parishes to create a conservation district. This would allow formation of a conservation district in Washington Parish to receive penalty monies from Temple Inland for their toxic discharge that killed the West Pearl River.

SB 450 Walsworth prohibits dumping of electronic waste such as computers, televisions, cellular phones and other electronic devices into landfills and requires DEQ to adopt by March 10, 2014 a plan and standards for the collection and recycling of all electronic waste in the state.

HCR 49 by Stephen Ortego requests the Louisiana Dept of Wildlife and Fisheries to study Bayou Teche for inclusion in the State Historic and Scenic Rivers System.