Editorial Roundup: Louisiana

The Advocate. February 28, 2024.

Editorial: State’s coastal agency is working, don’t weaken it

Gov. Jeff Landry’s proposal to consolidate and reorganize the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority under the Louisiana Department of Energy and Natural Resources calls to mind the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Not only is CPRA not broke, but many coastal protection experts also consider it one of the most highly functioning agencies in state government.

Created by lawmakers in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, CPRA is the sole state entity charged with developing and implementing comprehensive coastal protection and restoration for Louisiana. It alone brings together multiple agencies to accomplish that goal.

CPRA has written and updated Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan, enabling the state to draw down billions of federal dollars for coastal protection and restoration. Before CPRA, several state agencies competed for those dollars — and they often came up short.

Most important of all, every governor since 2005 has steadfastly worked to strengthen CPRA’s authority and ability to complete its mission.

Landry’s idea of subsuming CPRA, its governing board and its advisory board into the oil-and-gas-focused DENR would effectively defang the agency at the most critical moment in Louisiana’s long struggle to save our vanishing coastline.

We are not alone in reaching this conclusion.

The Bureau of Governmental Research, a nonpartisan governmental watchdog, recently sent the governor a letter urging him to keep CPRA separate. BGR correctly noted that CPRA’s mission extends far beyond DENR’s narrow focus on energy and natural resources. In addition, BGR wrote, CPRA and its board provide essential transparency and accountability, and the agency is the state’s best hope for future federal funding for the coastmonce financing from the BP oil spill settlement runs dry in 2032.

While Landry characterizes the move, part of a broader plan to reorganize state government, as a step toward efficiency, others say it’s a step backward.

U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, who served as chair of the CPRA board from 2008 to 2014, generally supports Landry’s consolidation efforts but staunchly opposes moving CPRA under DENR.

“Any proposal to bury the CPRA or go back to older structures should be paired with prescribing leeches to heal the sick,” Graves said. “The CPRA must operate with an agility and quickness that represents the urgency of their mission — protecting our communities and saving our coast.”

Graves suggests going “in the opposite direction” by giving CPRA’s chair direct access to the governor so the agency “can have real impact and coordinate state activities as the law requires.”

Steve Cochran, former director of the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition, said CPRA’s coastal program “may be the most successful area of state government since Katrina.”

Cochran noted that CPRA’s approach is bipartisan and relies on science rather than politics to guide its decisions — resulting in “enormous outside funding, thousands of jobs” and consistent support from successive governors and legislatures.

“Why in the world would we mess with that?” he added.

Why, indeed?