A Louisiana coastal marsh and pond. (Canva image)
The departing coastal authority head thinks restoration needs to be elevated in Louisiana’s political conversation, including the governor’s race.
Chip Kline will exit as chairman of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) after July 3. He’s held the role and been state director of coastal activities since 2018. Kline also manages the day-to-day operations of the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities, according to the coastal authority website.
Five of the seven major candidates for governor took part in a forum last week at the State of the Coast, hosted by the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, but Kline said the contenders aren’t giving the issue the weight it deserves.
“Yeah, they participated … and they were forced to talk about it,” Kline said in an interview. “But this issue needs to be elevated to a higher priority in the overall political conversation in this state. I hate to even use ‘political’ because protection and restoration isn’t political. But it’s part of the overall political conversation for people running for office, and I wish that it would be elevated to a higher status.”
To Kline, who oversaw the recent passage of the state’s $50 billion plan to restore the state’s sinking coast over the next 50 years, coastal restoration is not just about the environment but all aspects of Louisiana’s economy.
“Infrastructure projects are a priority,” Kline said in one example, “but you can’t drive on roads and bridges if they’re underwater.”
With the recent passage of the coastal master plan, Kline said he felt like it was a high point to step away from his job. He plans to work on coastal issues in the private sector, he said, though he’s not sure exactly where yet. Lawrence Bren Haase, the CPRA’s executive director, will replace him as chairman.
During his time in Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration, Kline also served as the chair of the Climate Initiatives Task Force that created a climate action plan that was the first of its kind in the Gulf South.
It was a part of Edwards’ plan to get the state to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 — a goal most vying to replace him have so far been hesitant to embrace. Kline said if he was running for governor, he would continue the commitment.
“If the next governor does not commit to the net-zero goal, the state of Louisiana will essentially be spinning its wheels,” Kline said.
Implementing projects to beat back coastal land loss is one piece of the puzzle, he said. Another is being proactive about slowing greenhouse gas emissions that cause seas to rise.
Carbon capture is a controversial piece of Edwards’ plan to achieve net-zero carbon emissions. Neighbors of proposed carbon capture projects worry about safety risks and ecological damage, and some environmentalists say the technology enables continued polluting instead of encouraging industry to move away from fossil fuels.
Kline said carbon capture can help reduce the state’s carbon footprint, and “the environmental risks, if done correctly, are minimal.” At the same time, he said, if Louisiana is serious about carbon capture, it needs to do a better job engaging with the public on it.
“I think the state needs to be out in front of this issue a little bit more than it has been thus far,” Kline said. “Because it’s a new concept. It’s a new technique. And of course, they’re going to be concerned when you start talking about these things.”
Engaging with coastal parishes and stakeholder groups to develop the coastal master plan is what Kline said he is most proud of from his coastal authority’s work. It is also a part of the process that earned the CPRA many plaudits from lawmakers.
“Any future (coastal authority) leader must maintain that level of trust with the public and multiple stakeholder groups,” Kline said.
Kline said he feels, “without question,” optimistic for the future of the coastal program, but one of his looming concerns is finding new revenue streams to support its projects.
Right now, around 80% of the coastal program is funded through BP oil spill settlement dollars, money that will dry up by 2032.
An important part of replacing that money, Kline said, will be increasing payouts from the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act, which shares federal leasing revenues with most Gulf Coast states to use toward their coastal restoration projects.
New Mexico, under a different law, produces oil and gas on federal lands and gets 50% of the revenue generated from those leases with no cap on the amount of money it can receive, Kline said. Meanwhile, Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Alabama receive only 37.5% from drilling off their coasts and are capped at the amount of money they can receive.
“I’m not aware of the state of New Mexico losing land at, you know, a football field every 100 minutes,” Kline said. “And so it makes sense for us for this country to return a larger portion of those revenues to Louisiana to ensure that that infrastructure that coastal Louisiana houses is protected.”
To secure new funding and push the coastal program into its next chapter, future coastal leaders and the next governor will need to act with urgency, Kline said.
“This is an issue that has been talked about too long. It’s been an issue that has been studied too long, scrutinized too long, analyzed too long,” Kline said. Future leaders need to be “proactive to get it done,” he said.
“Sometimes people think that it’s a fight that can’t be won,” Kline said. “But I think if you look at what has been accomplished over the last several years, the tide is turning when it comes to the restoration and protection of our coast.”
And Kline thinks Louisiana has the passion to fight for its future.
“There is no one in this country that cares more about the place they call home than the people that live in south Louisiana,” Kline said.
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