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Editorial: Louisiana’s ‘working coast’ withers under climate costs

Posted on December 4, 2023

There are so many huge numbers associated with Louisiana’s climate challenges — billions of tons of emissions, trillions of tons of carbon in the world’s atmosphere.

But here’s a smaller number that is just as staggering to some: 800, as in $800 a month for homeowner’s flood insurance.

Sure, that’s in the coastal town of Pointe a la Hache, but those costs are going up across Louisiana, particularly in the coastal areas.

The centuries-old town of Pointe a la Hache is one of the ZIP codes facing the steepest flood insurance costs in the nation.

The little Plaquemines Parish town might seem an extreme example, but maybe it’s best called a canary singing out dangers for coastal Louisiana.

Louisiana’s battle against land loss and sea-level rise has led to alarm over which parts of the state could actually vanish, and when. But the end for some communities may come long before the land beneath them disappears.

Life may just become too hard and expensive to justify staying. It is already happening in some places along the coast.

This newspaper’s Mike Smith cataloged the problems facing the residents of Pointe a la Hache’s residences along the banks of the Mississippi River, next to a disappearing marsh.

But this is a problem that is already almost existential in nature along the Louisiana coast: Census estimates in 2022 showed three Louisiana parishes among the top five counties nationwide with the biggest percentage drops in population: Plaquemines, St. John the Baptist and Terrebonne. Much of it was attributable to Hurricane Ida the previous year.

While there has been discussion about how to deal with vulnerable communities, including whether to move them, the more likely scenario may be that they simply wither and die on their own. Again, who can afford housing on what state officials call Louisiana’s “working coast,” made up of families who fish the sea, drill for energy and make their livings working every day?

Yes, big industries can afford to make significant protections for their enterprises: Both Cameron in southwest Louisiana and Plaquemines in the southeast have pursued major liquefied natural gas plants. In Cameron, parts of the coast previously known for fishing have been transformed into giant warrens of pipes and holding tanks to export energy — which critics say contribute to the global climate problem, but arguably, also provide cleaner-burning energy than coal and other traditional sources.

We don’t at all disagree with the argument that the economic importance of Louisiana’s coast makes a strong case for federal help to deal with our problem. But large-scale facilities need workforces, too, just as much as a shrimp boat.

Where are people to live with flood insurance at $800 a month?


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