Delta Dispatches: Innovative Funding for Coastal Restoration
On today’s show Shannon Cunniff, the Director of Coastal Resilience at the Environment Defense Fund joins the program to talk with Jacques & Simone about environmental impact bonds (EIBs), and how they can save Louisiana money and restore the wetlands sooner. On the second half the episode, Megan Terrell, the Legal Advisor for Coastal Activities at the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities brings a new perspective to talk about EIBs and other coastal restoration financing opportunities.
Jacques: Hello, welcome to Delta Dispatches. This is Jacques Hebert, with Audubon Louisiana. We’re discussing Louisiana’s coast, its people, wildlife, and jobs, and why restoring it matters.
Simone: And this is Simone Maloz from Restore or Retreat.
Jacques: Simone made it in, just in the nick of time.
Simone: I’m always teasing them; they should give me a key to the building!
Jacques: Yeah. But you made it, you’re here, that’s important.
Simone: I did! I did, I did. How was your week?
Jacques: It’s busy, but going well. I know we’re all collectively holding our breath, and also monitoring-
Simone: Another name! Every week we talk about a different name. Nate is this week.
Jacques: Yeah, we had our meteorologist friend on at the beginning of hurricane season, and he did say that they were predicting this was going to be an above average season, and it certainly has been.
Simone: We should have Alex back on too. This week I went to LSU in part of their college for the coast and I met a gentleman and, his whole body of work is about studying historic hurricanes. But going back hundreds and thousands of years and I told him, “You need to be a guest on our show.” How fascinating is that?
Jacques: Yes he does; that would be so interesting. You hear about these storms that happened before we had tracking capabilities, but thinking about centuries, or even longer.
Simone: Do you think as a little kid he was like, “I wonder what the history of hurricanes are?” But not just a hundred years, but hundreds of thousands-
Jacques: … I can’t even begin to imagine how you begin to measure that.
Anyway, to get serious, it’s important that folks stay on top of the news, get a plan; we’ve had folks from the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness on (GOHSEP), and their website is getagameplan.org. You can go and find all the resources you need, plans you need for your families, and then just stay on top of the news. We just have to monitor it, hope for the best, hope that moves out quickly.
Simone: Yes, it sounds like it’ll be pretty quick.
Jacques: Okay. So what are we talking about today?
Simone: We’re talking about financing. Once again, this is always a good conversation for us to have, certainly we have a great plan. We’d like to talk about parts of that plan, how to implement it, the projects within it. But, what good is a plan when you don’t have the money to execute it. So, today we’re going to talk about some new, innovative ways of financing.
Jacques: Yeah, absolutely, and that they’re a huge opportunity, right?
Jacques: Because it’s not just a matter of getting the money here, but how can we achieve cost-savings over time, and then, how can you do more with the money that’s coming.
Simone: Yeah! So our first guest that we’re going to have on today, is going to talk about a particular way that we can do some of that innovative financing that comes together, where some of Restore or Retreat’s work on the bigger financing picture. Let’s introduce her!
Jacques: On the show, welcome to Delta Dispatches, this is Shannon Cunniff, Director of Coastal Resilience with Environmental Defense Fund. Welcome to Delta Dispatches, Shannon.
Shannon: Thanks for having me.
Jacques: Of course! You’ve had a lot of experience working in government, and the Environmental Defense Fund as well, so tell us a little bit about your background, and what you do at EDF.
Shannon: Well, that may take more time than we have.
Simone: It’s interesting though, Shannon, let’s hear it!
Shannon: A few Abita’s later.
Simone: Yes, I like it.
Shannon: I’ve been working on flooding issues my entire career for different agencies in the federal government, including the Corps of Engineers, and EPA. And, the kind of things that I’m doing, all my career is about, really getting out in front of these flooding problems, so the disasters don’t have this massive effect on our communities. Because these disasters that we’ve seen over the last two months have a tremendous effect on both the social, economic and environmental fabric of our communities. So that’s what I do, and why I do it.
Jacques: Obviously, it’s incredibly relevant; it’s been for at while, and it seems … It’s getting only more so, and really the focus on, “How can we do more in advance of these storms, or disasters?”
Simone: It’s certainly something that’s common through all of the United States, right? Shannon did a lot of Midwest work, but obviously we’re talking about it today, even in south Louisiana. Flood knows no region, right?
Jacques: No state borders, yeah.
Simone: Shannon, EDF earlier this week announced it was going to be designing the first-ever environmental impact bond for Wetland restoration. What does that mean?
Shannon: Well, an environmental impact bond is basically a new kind of financial tool that rewards investment, and connects it with measurable environmental outcomes. This gets wonky, super fast; let me put it a different way.
Like any bond, an environmental impact bond makes cash available upfront, in this case, to restore Louisiana’s Wetlands. But what makes it special, is that it’s really designed to establish, upfront, a desired outcome, and then pay interest to investors, based on the quality or the success of achieving that outcome. So it’s basically like a mechanism to share risk between the state, the contractor that’s implementing the project, and investors. But what’s really cool about it.
Simone: I think it’s cool too, Shannon.
Shannon: I think that this project provides us with a really interesting opportunity to start to demonstrate the value of Wetland restoration to stakeholders in the region. The idea is that we’re trying to design into this transaction a way to begin to identify the benefits that accrue to those stakeholders, and build their interest, not only in just Wetland restoration projects, but enough so that they might actually be willing to contribute to the repayment of the bond. In other words, we might be able to attract people other than CPRA as a way to pay for Wetland restoration.
Simone: Yeah! Shannon, when you sum it up like that, it sounds simple, right? You build it, you do it well, I’ll pay you for it; maybe I’ll give you a little extra, right? That’s a good way to do it, especially since we need to be creative here in south Louisiana, because we do have such structured payments, and in some cases, we don’t have enough money at all.
Specifically, how will this EIB save money?
Shannon: That’s what interesting about it. We can save the state money, basically by providing the financing money earlier, allowing projects to be built sooner. Because the longer we wait to build a project, the more the construction costs go up.
Shannon: The more sediment has to be placed to compensate for sea-level rise and subsidence of the Delta.
Simone: And Shannon too, there’s also a cost of … It’s more important to, some of these projects that we need to have that land now, not just the cost of it. Environmentally, it’s better to have the land restored faster, sooner.
Shannon: Exactly, exactly. We did a little bit of an analysis when we were designing this concept. And we basically said, “Well, what if … We had a 10 year bond, that basically accelerated the start of just one Wetland project?” A 6,700 acre project, and we accelerated it by 10 years … What kind of savings could be generated? The lowest case scenario for this, based on the assumptions that we made, which were all very reasonable, because we were trying to make it ‘real-world’, was it could save $130 million dollars.
Shannon: One project, 10 years.
Simone: Yeah, that’s a whole another project in our world. Right, Shannon?
Shannon: Exactly. If you start to scale this up, and multiply it over many projects, you’re talking hundreds of millions of dollars. And as your point was before, that doesn’t count the added benefit of preventing future loss of other Wetlands, because you’re protecting.
Simone: Buy one, get one free? Love it.
Jacques: It’s so important, in terms of getting projects on the ground sooner, that just means that we’ll have more marsh to hopefully serve as a buffer against some of these storms.
Simone: Right. More habitat, all of it.
Jacques: So it’s a win-win-win-win.
Shannon, you’re working with CPRA and others to design the first environmental impact bond for Wetland restoration. What are you hoping this project will do at a larger scale?
Shannon: Sure. Ultimately it’s three things: Save Louisiana money, restore the Wetlands sooner, and then demonstrate the value of the Wetland restoration to others, so that they’ll become payers. So the idea is not only getting the private sector investing, but you’re also bringing new payers in. If we can do that once, then the idea is, “Let’s scale it up, and do it a whole bunch of times.”
Simone: Yeah. Shannon, we’re going to have to take a break in just a second, but we want to talk to you more about … Has this been done elsewhere, and things like that. So hang on Shannon, with us, we’ll be back after the break! This is Simone Maloz, with Delta Dispatches.
Jacques: Welcome back. You’re listening to Delta Dispatches, this is Jacques Hebert with Audubon Louisiana, and we are here with Shannon Cunniff, Director of Coastal Resilience with the Environmental Defense Fund, and we are discussing a great initiative that the Environmental Defense Fund announced this week. They are working to design the first environmental impact bond for Wetland restoration.
Simone: Shannon’s willing to figure out the hard stuff, right Shannon?
Jacques: No easy task. Well Shannon, we wanted to get back in, but before we do, I know you are very active on Twitter, because I follow you myself.
Simone: Me too!
Jacques: I get a lot of really great news, and articles, and top leadership from you. Can you tell everyone what your Twitter hand is, so they can follow you?
Shannon: Sure, I’d love more followers. It’s ‘water witch’. I instill a little bit of science. It’s actually H-2-O witch.
Simone: Oh, okay.
Jacques: @H20witch. And I highly recommend Shannon, she’s someone who gives a lot of really great information and really keeps me on the ball.
Shannon, I want to talk a little bit about environmental impact bonds in general. I know this is the first for Wetland restoration, but where else have they been done, and can you talk a little bit about how they have worked in other places.
Shannon: Sure. I’m only aware of one, maybe two others that have been done. The one that’s been done that I am most familiar with is one that was done in Washington D.C. with D.C. Water and Sewer and, basically, it was to do a test on whether green infrastructure would do enough to reduce the amount of stormwater runoff coming off of the city.
Simone: In our finance report, a lot of people talked about that example of D.C. Water. That’s pretty complex, right? And they started this first successful EIB, and actually I think they went back after that, because the first one was so successful to do more water projects and figure out creative financing around that. Maybe not necessarily an EIB, but that, “Hey, there’s other ways that we can solve this problem.”
Shannon: Right, and what we did; very sneaky on our part, is we hired the firm that put together that deal.
Simone: Nice, good job, Shannon! Good job.
Shannon: We got Quantified Ventures on as a partner with us, so we’re tapping into that experience, and their creativity to help make it work for Louisiana.
Jacques: So tell us, who else besides Environmental Defense Fund and Quantified Ventures are involved in this project?
Shannon: Well, I would be remiss to not mention that we are doing this because we got a grant through the Nature Conservancy’s Nature Vest. It’s an accelerator grant specifically for conservation financing. So they’re certainly a financial partner very interested in the outcome, and very active in Louisiana as well. And then, I think you’ve mentioned this already, the CPRA is a partner in this as well, providing us with advice and insights as we work through this project.
Simone: Yes, so they have a vested interest, right?
Simone: In this outcome.
Jacques: Saving their money, and getting their projects on the ground.
Simone: Exactly. Shannon, what brought you to this in the first place? What led you to this particular initiative?
Shannon: To the, environmental impact bond?
Shannon: I think it’s a confluences of factors. I personally, professionally, have been very frustrated by the fact that, flood disasters cost this nation a heck of a lot of money, and those costs are only going up. Half a trillion dollars in the last 17 years, and that’s before you even count Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Nate.
Simone: And Nate.
Shannon: Yeah, we hope that doesn’t get that bad. I really believe that there’s a way to get out in front of this, and communities and states can do more. So, looking at the problems that the Coastal Master plan has, in terms of financing … They’ve got a $50 billion plan … My understanding is that they only have about $20 billion earmarked; known sources of funding that could be used. So we’ve got to fill that gap. I am never one to shrink from a challenge.
The idea was to try to figure out different ideas, and we’ve been thinking about this for about a year, and did expert surveys, how to workshop … And this was one of the ideas that came out of that workshop that we had, just last January.
Jacques: It’s so interesting, what you were saying about this being one of the first places that this is being done, at least on the Wetland restoration side. It is one of the things that we focus on, in terms of Louisiana, and through the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, really being a leader on a lot of these issues, in terms of water management, coastal restoration, and now even, financing. Your contributions there are so exciting, here in Louisiana.
Tell us a little bit, Shannon, where else do you expect this could be used, beyond Louisiana.
Shannon: Well, that’s what’s so cool about it. Obviously, elsewhere in Louisiana, as you mentioned, but can any of the gulf states that have money coming in through the Restore Act might be able to use this same mechanism, to get more out of that money. And I have every reason to believe that this could work for any sort of coastal resilience project, or even flood plain management projects. Basically, you need to have some uncertainty; some kind of risk.
Shannon: And you need to have some flow of money; an ability to tax, or an ability to … Have an oil spill. Not that that’s what you want, but some kind of source of money that’s coming in, so that you can issue a bond.
Jacques: For this project, specifically, what are some of the next steps, and can you talk through a bit of the timeline for people?
Shannon: Yeah. What we’re trying to do, is by next summer, come up with a report that describes what a transaction could look like. So where/what Wetlands might be suitable in the Coastal Master Plan? That’s in the process where we are right now; trying to identify which would make a good place to start.
Come up with the terms of the transaction in the sense of who could the investors be, what would the performance measures be that would ‘pay for success’, because that’s an important component of this. And then, just assess the overall feasibility. So, really do the economic analysis. In fact, this is a feasible mechanism that we could put on the market, and attract investors.
Jacques: Yeah, it is really interesting, and we’re going to stay up to date on it ourselves, and hopefully have you back on as it develops further, but where can people go to learn more about this project, and support the work of the Environmental Defense Fund?
Shannon: Just in case I confused/befuddled everybody.
Shannon: It’s edf.org/impactbond; it’s a new website that we just set up this week.
Shannon: And it’s got some nice descriptions right now, and we’ll be adding to it as we go through some of these phases so that people can see what we’ve done, and what we’re thinking.
Simone: Shannon, are you working on anything else … Cool?
Shannon: The hurricanes have certainly kept me busy.
Simone: I bet.
Shannon: A lot of people have been asking about coastal resilience, and how to incorporate natural infrastructure into their activities.
Simone: Yeah, and that’s certainly risen to the top of people’s priorities during this storm season; it’s something that maybe, we’re no stranger to in Louisiana, but can always be better at. Anything else that you’re working on?
Shannon: Well, one of the things we’re trying to do is better establish what the performance of Wetlands, and other features like barrier islands and broad beaches have, in terms of attenuating waves, and reducing inland flow of water. In other words, try to put them on a more equal footing in the sense of, an engineer understands, “Here’s the incremental added value of putting a Wetland in front of a levee.”
Jacques: That’s great, Shannon. I think it’s so interesting, because one of the things I’ve found, and it’s sad that you need these natural disasters as a reminder. But, in places like Houston and Miami, they’re having conversations that we’ve been having in Louisiana obviously because of Katrina. So, this work is only going to get more important, and more relevant.
Shannon, we did give you fair warning that you have to answer a fun question when you come on Delta Dispatches. I guess, my question to you is, what is your favorite po-boy?
Shannon: The only ones I’ve had are oyster ones.
Simone: Oh, really? Most people don’t go there first, Shannon.
Jacques: I like half oyster, half shrimp, because I like the best of both worlds.
Simone: What do they call that, peacemakers?
Well Shannon, thank you again, so much, for being on Delta Dispatches. We hope to have you back on again.
Simone: Yeah, thank you Shannon. It was really great to have you.
Jacques: And one more time, please give everyone your Twitter handle, as well as, where people can go to learn more about this report.
Shannon: Sure, it’s @H2Owitch, and the website is edf.org/impactbond.
Jacques: Great, thank you so much!
Simone: Thank you, Shannon!
Jacques: And we’ll be back after the break!
Shannon: All right, take care.
Jacques: Welcome back. You’re listening to Delta Dispatches; this is Jacques Hebert with Audubon Louisiana.
Simone: And this is Simone Maloz with Restore or Retreat! We’re here every Thursday on 990 WGSO, and online through our new podcast. Check out the Restore the Mississippi River Delta website, and the Restore or Retreat website, and the Facebook pages, the Twitter.
Jacques: Simone, I know you guys had a big burrito day.
Jacques: How’d that go?
Simone: I know!
Jacques: You were making me hungry with all your posts.
Simone: I know. Restore or Retreat had a Chipotle fundraiser in Houma on Tuesday, but last night, the Maloz’s celebrated National Taco Day.
Jacques: Oh, was last night taco day?
Simone: Uh, hello?
Jacques: You think it would be on a Thursday … Oh no, taco Tuesday.
Simone: Yeah. Well last year, taco Tuesday, and National Taco day were on the same day, and everybody was like, “This is it. This is it, people.”
Jacques: So you’ve been having a lot of-
Simone: You’re too busy at Mosca’s eating the tikka masala.
Jacques: Let me tell you, oysters Mosca’s.
Simone: Hm-hmm. You brought your cash?
Jacques: Yeah, I brought my cash. I had to go to the ATM, and I was like … My wallet was so thick. I was prepared, though. But it was delicious.
Simone: Yay! We have Megan Terrell on; she is the Legal Advisor for Coastal Activities. She works in Coastal Activities, Environment, and Natural Resources for the Governor’s office. She’s been with them since February of 2016; prior to that, she was at the Louisiana Department of Justice, where she served as the Deputy Director of the Civil Division, and Chief of the Environmental Section. That all sounds very important.
Jacques: No big deal.
Simone: Yeah, I know, right?
Jacques: Literally, at the most crucial time in our state’s environmental/legal-
Simone: She’s an LSU law grad, she’s an LSU grad, and she comes from Lafayette. She also comes with a very strong endorsement from avid listener Chip Klein of the Governor’s office. Welcome to the show, Megan.
Megan: Thanks for having me.
Simone: Chip told us some stories, we’ll save those for later.
Megan: Chip always tell stories.
Simone: But we want to talk to you about what you do. Tell us what you do for the Governor’s office.
Megan: Yeah, sure. A little bit of everything really. I know one of CPRA’s prime goals here recently has been this concept of getting private investment into coastal restoration, so I’m working on a couple of projects in that realm, and I also work on some of the natural resource damage, restoration planning. Really, just a lot of legislation over the past couple of years; just anything related to CPRA that they need me to work on, I’m happy to step in.
Simone: So you are assigned to CPRA, but you really work for the Attorney General’s office? How does that relationship work?
Megan: No, I used to work for the Attorney General’s office, and then in 2016 I jumped over here to the Governor’s office of Coastal Activities.
Simone: Gotcha. Yeah! Okay.
Megan: The Goke office. So we’re the policy arm of CPRA.
Simone: Right. And you have that sweet office in the State Capital.
Simone: What’s that like, working in the capital? Good and bad?
Megan: It’s good. I’ll tell you that, the good and the bad is that you’re right here, where everything happens.
Jacques: Yeah, I’m sure you get called down to committee hearings more often than you’d like.
Megan: Exactly. You can just get there so quickly because you’re right here.
Simone: Yeah. I think she hates those, “Megan, get downstairs right now! Right now! We’re watching committee online!”
Also, you get to work with the governor’s attorney, Matthew Block some?
Megan: I do, I do. I work with Matthew often.
Simone: Matthew’s from Thibodaux; shout out!
Jacques: Shout out!
Simone: Yes. We appreciate his work there. We definitely appreciate yours. We brought you along today because you work with Shannon Cunniff, and you’re part of this environmental impact bond business, right?
Megan: That’s right.
Simone: Tell us a little bit about that; that required some legislation, and some things on your part. So, tell us about that.
Megan: Yeah, that’s right. The CPRA helped work on the legislation that authorized CPRA to work on this type of what we call, ‘alternative delivery system’. It’s really just a new, outcome-based performance contracting that allows CPRA to look at these private investors, to build our coastal restoration project, and pay for them over time, instead of CPRA having to front the cost. And the real benefit to these types of contracts; they’re also referred to as the ‘pay for success’ contracts, is that we pay only when certain performance milestones are met. So it’s really a way to help us shift some of the risk over to these private investors, and ensure that the success milestones are met before CPRA pays out any funding.
Simone: So those terms aren’t interchangeable? I always say, ‘pay for success’, and then the vehicle is this environmental impact bond, right?
Megan: Yeah, the environmental impact bond is one of the vehicles by which, one of these ‘pay for success’ projects could be implemented.
Simone: Megan, you envision master plan projects are a prime target for these kind of ‘pay for success’ initiatives, correct?
Megan: Yeah. CPRA is really focusing on marsh creation and restoration projects. We think those are probably the best projects for the ‘pay for success’ model.
Simone: Because it’s easy to evaluate success; I guess easier.
Megan: Exactly. The types of performance milestones you’d be looking at for a marsh creation or restoration project are pretty simple. You’re looking at the acreage that can be built or restored, and the elevation of that acreage, both at the end of construction, but also over time.
Jacques: I know Shannon hit on this a little bit, but in terms of marsh creation, the costs only increase over time, as the land subsides more; it gets deeper, costs more, using more sediment-
Simone: Yeah, costs of doing business also could go up too, right?
Jacques: … Hm-hmm. Talk a little bit about the private investment in Wetland restoration, and what potential you see there for projects outside of CPRA, but for some of those private investors to get involved.
Megan: Yes. I think that’s a lot of what EDF is doing. We’ve partnered with them on developing this feasibility study for the environment impact bond, and part of what they’re looking at that we’re really excited about is, what types of private investors may be willing to come in, and you’re going to look at the types of entities that benefit from coastal restoration. Whether that’s oil and gas interests, shipping interest, large land owners; you could potentially even be looking at property insurers, right?
Megan: Because if we can increase the risk resilience for property, and reduce some of that storm surge, there’s a potential for property insurance rates to go down if we can help protect houses, and protect properties.
Simone: Yeah, that’s so interesting; Jacques and I were talking about this during the break about how this works, and of course you have some companies here that say, “Hey state, I can do this … If you give me this kind of job within these parameters; I need to meet these milestones that, I’m already right here, next door, I can build it for this, I can build it for cheaper, I can build it for faster.” You really want to test what they’re telling you too, right? You want to test not only the companies, but those people who really do have that significant investment here in Louisiana.
You also had this same idea, right? Why don’t you tell us a little bit about that.
Megan: Yeah. That was a law; another piece of legislation we had passed in the 2016 session. And what the Natural Resource Damage Restoration Banking does, is it authorizes CPRA to develop the program; I’m happy to say that we have done so. We spent one year developing and promulgating regulations, working closely with our Oil Spill Coordinator’s office, and those are done; we’re open for business. The way restoration banks work, is that … A private entity like a mitigation banker, it works similar to the Wetlands mitigation banking … The bank sponsor will come in and propose a project that is either a master plan project or an increment of a master plan project, or consistent with our master plan. And the idea is that, they would build the projects, they earn credits, and like ‘pay for success’, they earn credits when they meet performance milestones that CPRA works out, on the front end.
And then, when there is an oil spill; most of our oil spills in Louisiana – don’t think Deepwater Horizon.
Simone: Right. They’re little.
Megan: They’re typically your smaller, and smaller injuries, and less complex injuries. So, an oil spill happens, and rather than the responsible party going out and restoring the injury on their own, while potentially … A cash settlement, which piecemeals restoration, they would potentially be authorized by the trustees to purchase these credits from the restoration banks.
Simone: Megan, that is so smart. Not only do you get to ensure that the projects are consistent with the master plan, but it just makes it easier for you guys … And makes it easier for the companies to join in, right? Was that something … It’s obviously new to Louisiana, but is that something that other states were doing? How did y’all get the idea to do that?
Megan: As far as I understand, this really is a first of its kind in the nation. So, CPRA is out there again, blazing trails. I think there are a couple of other states that use similar, what we call, ‘compensation schedules.’ Which is a schedule to quickly determine an injury from a spill. But this is really the first of the restoration banking, and then tying it to oil spills. So we’re really excited about the program.
Simone: And you talked about how long it took to make the rules, but the devil’s in the details of all of that, and how you figure this out, and same with the environmental impact bonds, or ‘pay for success’. One of your jobs is to think about every single thing that could happen, or could go wrong. I find that so interesting that, y’all have to do so much work on the front end. I don’t think everybody appreciates that either, that y’all do so much work on the front end to make sure that when it’s time for implementation, it can be really smooth.
Megan: I think that’s absolutely correct, and we’re embarking on the same effort on our ‘pay for success’ program right now, and really looking at how we’re going to get solicitations out there, and what the performance milestones are going to be. It’s definitely a lot of work to get there, but we’re really excited about it.
Simone: Okay. Megan, if you want to stay with us, we’ll come back with you after the break. We want to talk about your work during the BP oil spill-
Jacques: And the good stores!
Simone: Yeah, we want to get to some fun questions. So, if you hang on with us through the break, we’ll be back! This is Simone Maloz; you’re listening to Delta Dispatches on WGSO 990 AM!
Jacques: Welcome back. You’re listening to Delta Dispatches. We’re discussing Louisiana’s coast; it’s people, wildlife, and jobs, and why restoring it matters.
Today we’re discussing a really important topic: Financing. We had Shannon Cunniff with the Environmental Defense Fund on earlier talking about an exciting initiative they have to design the first environmental impact bond for Wetland restoration here in Louisiana, and we’re excited to have Megan Terrell, Legal Advisor for Coastal Activities with the Governor’s office of Coastal Activities back on the show. So Megan, we promised our listeners we would ask some fun questions; you were working for the Attorney General’s office during the oil spill, which must have been, still to this day, such an incredible experience in terms of the legality, and working through that. Any good stories you want to share?
Megan: Yeah, I have several good stores, and some that I would say were, maybe not good, but interesting, although contrary to Chip’s statements, I did not write a song about the oil spill.
Simone: Oh, I don’t know if I believe that. I heard there’s a Kevin Costner story in there somewhere?
Megan: Well, Kevin Costner did write a song about the oil spill.
Megan: And, interestingly enough, I did meet him after the oil spill. He was here with a company that he owns that, had some centrifuges that were trying to use to clean up the oil spill.
Megan: So certainly when I got into that, the last thing I thought is that I would meet and, become somewhat friends with Kevin Costner briefly.
Simone: Six degrees of Kevin Costner, right?
Megan: Absolutely. He’s the one that has the song about the oil spill.
Simone: Ah! We’ll have to get a couple of drinks in somebody, and get that story.
Jacques: I guess that brings up-
Megan: We can talk about that Shannon.
Jacques: I guess that brings up your fun question. What is your favorite Kevin Costner movie?
Megan: Favorite Kevin Costner movie-
Simone: There’s only a couple, right?
Dances With Wolves?
Jacques: Field of Dreams?
Megan: Dances with Wolves is definitely up there, and then one of the recent ones I think was Black and White, which is a really good movie.
Simone: Wasn’t he JFK? No, yeah.
Jacques: He was! Yeah … A lot of that was set in New Orleans. I really liked Robin Hood.
Simone: (laughs) I have a friend that her little brother watched it so much, that the tape wore out.
Okay, back to serious stuff. Tell us about working during the BP oil spills. What was that like? Did you always think that you were going to do that kind of work?
Megan: I was always interested in environmental law, certainly. And I was very fortunate that, not long after law school, one of my environmental law professors actually called and said, “Hey, there’s an opening; they’re looking for a young attorney at the Attorney General’s office.” And I said, “Yeah, hey, sign me up.” I’ve had the unfortunate pleasure, I suppose, of having worked on a lot of disasters in Louisiana, which isn’t great, but it’s made for an interesting career.
Simone: Right place, wrong time; bad timing.
Megan: Exactly. I was there for Hurricane Katrina, and several of the other hurricanes, and of course, the BP oil spill. So it was … Interesting. It was busy, and there was a lot of work to be done, and I think that’s also why I’m really excited to be over here now, at Coastal Activities, and working on the Coastal Restoration side, because it’s picking up from the BP oil spill, and now trying to clean up and restore our coast.
Simone: So you’re like me; I came in before Katrina, the January before Katrina, and … In a way that was one of the best times, because all the rules changed anyway. Everything changed anyway after Katrina, and certainly Rita, and then Ike and Gustav, and then the oil spill. To be there when they’re rewriting that stuff, where things are just changing so quick, it’s actually sometimes better than already being entrenched in something.
Simone: I can appreciate that point of view. What are some other things that you’re working on right now?
Megan: We talked about the restoration banking, and we’ve gotten our first application, what we call a ‘prospectus’. So we’re working through that, and some of the restoration planning on the Natural Resource Damage side, and of course, there are all the issues associated with mid-Barataria, and our sediment diversions, and anything coastal restoration related, I’m working on it. Or working closely with other people who are in the trenches as well.
Simone: What do you think are some of the biggest challenges that we do face? You think about it from a legal perspective; is it policy, is it laws, is it our environment … What do you think are some of the biggest challenges that we face?
Megan: I think it’s a little bit of everything. Certainly on the permitting side of things, we have some ways to go in terms of laws, and policy, and just getting folks to think of large-scale ecosystem restoration projects a little bit differently from your industrial, or your commercial project, on the permitting side. Because we’re really trying to restore the environment, and not intending to do anything to injure the environment. So that’s one thing that we’re working through, and that we spend a lot of time on, certainly.
Simone: Yeah. I think … When other people think about some of these complex projects, they seem to harm the environment, but in our case, we’re actually trying to restore it. So it’s really hard to apply some of the same policies and laws to that. Do you think that’s an educational thing? Do you think that it’s, just trying to tell people about Louisiana’s problem, and how we are different? What do you think that the challenge is there; is it just that the climate is not right, or?
Megan: Yeah, education is always important. I think the more we can get folks to understand the dynamics of our coast, and also the importance of our coast is really critical, but it’s also outreach, and listening to the folks that live on the coast and listening to the fishermen, and the shrimping industry, and the shipping industry. Everyone really has a stake in coastal restoration, and everyone has a voice. And there’s a way that we can bring everybody together and accomplish the same goals, and understand that doing nothing is not an option. So we all need to work together, both from an educational perspective, and a policy perspective to do whatever we can to advance coastal restoration, and protection as well.
Jacques: Megan, you went to LSU for your undergrad, and also you got your law degree there, and you mentioned you were interested in environmental law. Do you see more people becoming interested in environmental law, and what advice would you give to someone who might be in law school, wanting to pursue a career in environmental law?
Megan: I think I do … See people interested in environmental law. But also specifically, coastal Louisiana, and I would definitely encourage people in law school to focus on that area; I think it’s one that is really innovative, and we’re always looking at new challenges, and would need new faces there. And the same is true in other fields as well. I know CPRA works closely with the School of Engineering to try to get those young students interested in coastal Louisiana and engineering, and keeping their efforts here in Louisiana.
Simone: And they need more talkers like me and Jacques. That’s what we do; we just talk, right?
Jacques: We’re cheerleaders for the geniuses that are out there doing the work.
Simone: Megan, we are very appreciative that you were able to come on with us today; we would love to have you back, especially as you develop this a little bit more. If you want to come talk to us before sessions too, that would always be great, so thank you for being on with us.
We do have one more fun question; we want to know what the baby boys will be dressing up for as Halloween.
Megan: We have a Thor and a Loki.
Simone: That’s so funny. Brothers, right?
Megan: That’s right. Twins.
Simone: Aw. Very cute. Well thank you Megan for being on with us, we really, really appreciate it.
Megan: Thank you so much for having me.
Jacques: Thank you, Megan.
Simone: Jacques, what else do we have coming up?
Jacques: The next two episodes are actually going to be great. We’re going to be exploring a lot of different topics, but really focusing on some documentaries that were produced by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, focusing on coastal issues. We’re going to have the Vice President of Content for Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities on; one of the lead producers, to talk about it. And then we’re doing an event on October 18th at the New Orleans Advocate, as part of the New Orleans film festival, where they’re going to premiere the documentaries, and we’re going to do a little panel before. We’re going to see if we can record the panel.
Simone: We know some people in those films?
Jacques: Yeah, some familiar faces. You probably know more than I do.
Jacques: But I got a sneak peak, I will say, and they’re really well done. One, for example, shows the perspective of a New Orleans drainage pump, from the perspective of a high school student. She just really wants to understand how this all works. And there’s this great scene where she is visiting a pumping station, and then she goes outside of the levee system. And, Denise Reed, who we’ve had on the show-
Jacques: Talks about what it’s like living outside the levee, and how the drainage works there versus inside the levee. So, really important, timely topics told from a very human and engaging perspective.
Simone: Well I’m looking forward to that. And if you want to catch past episodes, or this episode, you can check out those on www.deltadispatches.org.
This is Simone Maloz with Restore or Retreat.
Jacques: And this is Jacques Hebert with Audubon Louisiana. Thank you for listening to another episode of Delta Dispatches. We’ll be back next week! Bye-bye.
Simone: Talk to you soon!