America's Energy Coast tackles federal regulation problem

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

BILOXI, MS  (WLOX) -  A group called "America's Energy Coast" wants to break down federal bureaucratic barriers that hinder storm recovery and wetlands projects.

The organization which includes environmental advocates and community leaders from four gulf coast states held a conference in Biloxi Thursday.

This gulf coast alliance is urging better communication and cooperation with and within federal agencies.

Representatives from four federal agencies gave a report, then found themselves in the cross fire.

"I want to say this nicely. A lot of what you gentlemen talked about was how it's supposed to work. It's not really working that way in our experience," said Jody Henneke, with the Texas General Land Office.

Questioned about permit delays, the Army Corps of Engineers general pointed to progress, like building the world's largest surge gate and pump station in New Orleans.

"Fifteen billion dollars worth of work in four years. So, when there's leadership and understanding and commitment on what the vision is, certainly it can move extraordinarily rapid," said Gen. Michael Walsh with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Group members say, trouble is, a federal bureaucratic maze of regulations often delays or denies a well planned project.

"Different agencies have different priorities, have different missions, different scopes. And those missions and scopes come in conflict with one another. And the policies and regulations that are in place are sometimes inhibiting our ability to do what's necessary," says Mayor Randy Roach of Lake Charles, Louisiana.

"Without moving forward on at least some of these conflicting policies, we will not make any progress," said Henneke.

The Mississippi Department of Marine Resources director says gulf states are looking for better facilitation from its federal partner.

"If you look at the goals and the objectives that we lay out, and you say these are good goals and objectives, then by damn find a way to help us make those things happen," said Dr. William Walker.

"It's not just federal. It should be regional and state. And I think we need to modify it to reflect that. That we all have to be willing to commit to making this work," added Ted Falgout, with the Greater Lafourche Port Commission.

The resolution seeking improved federal regulations passed unanimously.

An example of conflicting federal regulations involves the use of dredge spoils from digging or widening a ship channel.

If a community wants to use those spoils to help restore a barrier island or coastal land, current federal policy makes it difficult to accomplish such a project in a timely manner.

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