Gulf of Mexico
A contracted employee works on the Bush canal Floodgate in 2011 / File: Houma Today

Study: Sea rise, subsidence to cost Louisiana $38 billion

A new study suggests protection and adaptation against the rising sea levels could cost Louisiana $38 billion or more by 2040.

The study, produced by the Center for Climate Integrity, projects that the state will spend the second most in the nation for adapting public infrastructure and installing protection, behind only Florida. The study estimates that Florida will spend nearly $76 billion.

Of the 132 counties or parishes projected to spend over $1 billion by 2040, 10 are in Louisiana. Terrebonne Parish’s estimated spending by 2040 ranks 11th in the nation at $4.7 billion. Lafourche is 25th at $3.2 billion.

The center is an advocacy group that pushes for legal action and policy changes against bodies that have contributed to climate change.

Richard Wiles, the center’s executive director and a co-author of the report, said the year-long study incorporated data from two of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s models for sea level rise. This included the rise from global sea level rise -- which is related to climate change -- and Louisiana’s rate of subsidence, or sinking, of its land.

Scientists say the sea level is rising at a rate of 9.08 millimeters per year at Grand Isle, with one third due to global sea level rise and two-thirds due to subsidence.

Wiles said researchers tried to focus on providing a moderate estimate versus a worst-case scenario by using the IPCC’s models that account for lower carbon emissions. They also incorporated the effect of a one-year surge event -- one that typically happens at least once a year -- or high-tide flooding.

“The point of this study was not to identify a worst-case cost,” he said. “This is kind of the bare minimum cost that a community is facing.”

The costs of protection are based on the idea of constructing seawalls around at-risk areas at the base of the rising tide. Wiles contended that the construction of seawalls was unlikely in Louisiana due to the geography but said the planners included on the teams viewed the hypothetical construction of seawalls as a way to calculate “a baseline cost.”

“If you’re going to do any more sophisticated defenses,” he said. “Then those in most cases are going to be more expensive than building a wall.”

The study looked at the entirety of the United State’s coastline, estimating that the nation was looking at more than $400 billion in cost by 2040.

Wiles noted that the cost will likely fall on the backs of taxpayers. He argued that the results of the study should spur more people to push for oil and gas companies to foot the bill for protections.

“Given the numbers and the size of the cost, companies should be forced to pay,” said Wiles. “They should be paying to help these coastal communities.”

States and communities across the country have tried their hand at filing lawsuits against oil and gas companies for damages related to climate change. So far, none have been successful.

Several parishes have filed lawsuits against oil and gas companies for damage to wetlands caused by exploration, production and pipeline constructions activities, but none have pointed directly to their role in climate change. Most recently, New Orleans filed a lawsuit.

Terrebonne and Lafourche parish councils and presidents have stood firmly against suing any oil and gas companies, stating the local economy relies heavily on the energy industry.

In April, the state appointed Terrebonne District Attorney Joe Waitz to assist the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources in an investigation of possible environmental damage caused by energy companies.

Understanding the role the oil and gas industry plays in the two parishes, Wiles said, his group is not calling for the companies to stop operations. He said they’re focusing on pushing for companies to compensate the public.

“We’re not saying let’s put the oil industry out of business tomorrow,” he said. “We’re saying they should pay for the damage their products caused.”

Staff Writer Halle Parker can be reached at hparker@houmatoday.com or 857-2204. Follow her on Twitter, @_thehalparker.

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