Congress is Setting Out to Tackle Climate Change and Coastal Louisiana is in the Spotlight.

02.26.2019 | In Community & Events
By Grace Tucker, Program Coordinator, Coastal Resilience, Environmental Defense Fund

Earlier this month, the House Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife hosted a hearing on “Healthy Oceans and Healthy Communities: the State of our Oceans in the 21st Century.” This was one in a series of hearings hosted by the House Committee on Natural Resources, all discussing climate change and its impacts. And at this hearing, the story of coastal Louisianans was front and center.

To learn more about the impacts of climate change on coastal and fishing communities, the subcommittee brought in a wide range of witnesses to testify. All five of the majority witnesses were women, including Angela Chalk, a local community leader from the 7th Ward of New Orleans. Ms. Chalk is the Executive Director of Healthy Community Services, a nonprofit based in the 7th Ward that connects community members to local green infrastructure projects and provides training and resources on stormwater management and the impacts of sea level rise in their community.

Angela Chalk testifies before House Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife. Photo credit: Angela Chalk.

Throughout her testimony, Ms. Chalk demonstrated that the concept of climate change is not an abstract one to our coastal and fishing communities – it is tangible and has dire consequences for those who call Louisiana home.

Louisianans have seen first-hand the loss of favorite fishing spots, marshes, and coastline. Ms. Chalk referred multiple times to coastal restoration efforts, like the projects included in the Coastal Master Plan, that are helping protect Louisiana communities from storm surge, repetitive flooding and more severe and frequent storms. She asked committee members to find policy solutions that would bring together sound science and natural infrastructure to find ways “to be proactive, rather than reactive.”

Members of the subcommittee had questions about the economic viability of addressing climate change, wanting to ensure that local economies would not be damaged in the process. Ms. Chalk told the subcommittee about her experience during Katrina, when she had six feet of water in her home. “Climate change is now, we’re adapting now,” she said; and for many communities in Louisiana, it’s more expensive to ignore the impacts of climate change than it is to prepare for them.

“In order to help foster a healthier economy, it is vital to remember the community organizations that engage our residents and educate residents about the effects of climate change, sea level rise and restoration efforts. We are our front line of defense to these environmental changes – not because of the theoretical science, but because of generational life experiences and reality. You can’t come to Louisiana to teach me how to make a gumbo if you’ve never made a gumbo before. But certainly you can listen to the people who are experiencing the things that are occurring as a result of our environmental changes.”

Over the course of the hearing, this community-focused message was repeated by other witnesses including Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation, and Dr. Deborah Bronk, President and CEO of the Bieglow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, who called for increased funding for natural science, social science and citizen science research programs. Congressman Garret Graves (R-LA) echoed that need and also called for additional coastal restoration funds, for which he has strongly advocated throughout his time in Congress.

In her testimony, Ms. Chalk brought New Orleans and all of coastal Louisiana to the forefront of policymakers’ minds when she said, “As this body makes decisions, remember the people. We are real. Remember that we are already fighting these battles in our backyard. Not just for ourselves, but for everyone upstream, too. And just as our efforts in Louisiana matter, your decisions matter, too.”

With these hearings, the 116th Congress is taking steps to make addressing the impacts of climate change a primary policy objective. The House Committee on Natural Resources is asking Americans to share their personal climate change stories. You can submit your own story online here.