NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Political commentator James Carville challenged more than 1,000 scientists, engineers, public officials, environmentalists and others to look at the state's eroding coast as an opportunity to build a new water resources industry.
NOLA.com ' The Times-Picayune reports (http://bit.ly/1izTRUK) Carville opened the annual State of the Coast conference Tuesday in New Orleans.
"Why can't we be known, beyond our music, beyond our food, beyond our Mardi Gras, for our engineering expertise, for how to live with water?" Carville said.
He compared Louisiana's situation - struggling to respond to the effects of coastal erosion - with that of the Netherlands, whose engineering and scientific communities became world renowned for their responses to flooding threats in that country.
"Why can't we develop the expertise where Louisiana science, Louisiana expertise leads the world," Carville said.
And he said that expertise will be needed worldwide, thanks to sea level rise that's threatening other coastal communities. The U.S. Department of Defense has recognized sea level rise and its disruption of deltaic communities as the world's greatest threat to peace, he said.
Carville also urged the largely Louisiana audience to stop looking at the state's coastal needs as an expense.
"After the oil is gone, after the gas is gone, our biggest economic benefit will be how to live with water," he said. "We will do that and that is going to pay off in ways we can't imagine."
But he also said the state's eroding coastline also is a national problem that demands a national financial response.
"You cannot have a United States without having a port on the southern end of the Mississippi River," he said. "That's how the nation's goods get out of this country."
And it was the federal government's inaction on conserving the Mississippi River's sediment as a resource to be used to build wetlands that has been a key cause of the state's erosion problems, he said.
"You never gave a crap to what happened to our sediment," Carville said. "Now you have to pay for it and I don't want to hear any more about it."
The three-day conference is aimed at presenting the latest information on a variety of issues affecting Louisiana's coastal communities, including hurricane protection, coastal restoration and community resilience.
Sponsors are the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, a nonprofit organization that includes representatives of both environmental groups and industry interested in coastal issues; the Coastal Protection Restoration Authority, which oversees both levee and restoration projects along the coast; and the Water Institute of the Gulf, which is providing research assistance to the state on coastal issues.
State of the Coast: http://www.stateofthecoast.org/
Information from: The Times-Picayune, http://www.nola.com