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Participants to hear about creating single voice, insurance issues Wednesday

NEW ORLEANS -- Federal "cookie cutter" regulations that hamper coastal protection and restoration projects must be changed if the Gulf Coast region is to meet the challenges of increasingly stronger storms and disasters, said participants in America's WETLAND Foundation's Blue Ribbon Resilient Communities Forum Tuesday.

In discussing what must be done to restore Louisiana's rapidly disappearing wetlands and shore up protection systems from Texas to Alabama, participants in the forum zeroed in on blanket federal regulations that require any project in the wetlands to be "mitigated," even if the original projects aids coastal restoration or protection.

"We have got to change the process," said Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, one of 80 participants in the forum, which Tuesday concentrated on the New Orleans-Jefferson Parish area. "We shouldn't be held to mitigation when we're trying to replace what's out there, and that's what's happening."

That defies common sense, said Valsin A. Marmillion, AWF's managing director. "AWF has recommended an emergency rule be adopted to streamline these federal processes that hurt coastal restoration," Marmillion said.

Beyond regulatory improvements, "we must bridge the ideological divide between the business and environmental communities. More often than not, their interests are one in the same," Marmillion said.

Louisiana Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, who chaired AWF's Blue Ribbon Resiliency Forums held in over 11 Gulf Coast communities from Texas to Alabama for the past 15 months, said Tuesday's forum generated "very healthy discussion that could lead us to speak with a collective voice to our congressional delegations and federal authorities to get some common sense in our mitigation processes. AWF can play a pivotal role in getting this point across."

King Milling, founder and chair of America's WETLAND Foundation, said the New Orleans meeting's recommendations will be combined with those from the other 10 forums, from South Padre Island to Orange Beach, Ala., to make specific recommendations to local, state and federal officials.

"Some of the recommendations are powerful and call for a unified regional voice to ensure that policy makers in Washington are listening and acting upon them," Milling said. "If not, we as a region will ask why and expect answers."

Alabama and Texas co-chairs of the forums, Texas Railroad Commissioner Buddy Garcia and Alabama State Rep. Rep. Randy Davis of Daphne, Ala., said one problem is even coastal state residents often don't think of themselves as endangered, or even coastal.

AWF research found that "Houston didn't see itself necessarily as a coastal community, and there they are, tied to the Gulf," Garcia said. That same attitude is evident in Alabama, Davis said. "Even people in our two coastal counties don't see the bay or Gulf," he said. "They can be within 15 minutes of the shore but don't think of themselves as coastal."

Entergy Corp. presented results of a $4.2 million study that showed that annual economic losses to assets in Orleans and Jefferson Parish could nearly double over 20 years, with $878 million in predicted annual losses in 2010 growing to $1.5 billion annually by 2030, with climate change.

Across the four energy-producing states - Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, those annual losses could total $350 billion by 2030, said Jeff Williams, director of climate consulting for Entergy Corp. "We can reduce those losses and take the worst outcomes off the table," Williams said.

The coastal forum continues Wednesday, when there will be discussions about developing a single voice among the coastal states and the coastal insurance crisis.

The America's WETLAND Foundation manages the largest, most comprehensive public education campaign in Louisiana's history, raising public awareness of the impact of Louisiana's wetland loss on the state, nation and world. The America's Energy Coast initiative works to sustain the environmental and economic assets of the Gulf Coast region. The initiative is supported by a growing coalition of world, national and state conservation and environmental organizations and has drawn private support from businesses that see wetlands protection as a key to economic growth. For more information, visit or

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