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Landry administration reorganizing states coastal protection authority

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(The Center Square) — The Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana conducted a web forum to discuss Gov. Jeff Landry administration’s initiative to revamp the state’s coastal agency.

The webinar, which was Friday, featured Tyler Gray, the secretary of the Department of Energy and Natural Resources; Simone Maloz, campaign director of Restore the Mississippi River Delta; and Rep. Jerome Zeringue, R-Houma, who was once the executive director of the CPRA.

On Feb. 1, Landry issued an executive order placing the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and the CPRA Board under the Louisiana Department of Energy and Natural Resources.

The reorganization hasn’t been without controversy.

The nonprofit Bureau of Governmental Research sent Landry a letter Feb. 20, telling the first-term GOP governor the work of the CPRA and its board is “distinct” from the energy department’s mission, they provide transparency and accountability and they can make a case for more federal funding for conservation projects.

A bill by Rep. Brett F. Geymann, R-Lake Charles, would make changes to the CPRA’s governing board.

House Bill 806 would remove several state officials from the CPRA board, including the secretary of the Department of Transportation and Development; the secretary of the Department of Economic Development, the commissioner of administration; the commissioner of agriculture and forestry; the commissioner of insurance; and the director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

The bill is before the House Committee on Natural Resources and Environment.

Gray said one of the goals for the Landry administration was to be able to respond to the Biden Administration’s push for more green energy sources and blend that with the state’s traditional energy industry with oil and natural gas.

“You look at what over multiple administrations where there are the opportunities and try to almost align our energy strategy in a way that actually meets the needs of the public going forward rather than looking about how energy is supplied,” Gray said. “Looking more about how energy is needed and what those demands are and and in terms of preparing that for the future, we look at ways to sort of reorganize the the agency in a way that’s more efficient.”

Zeringue said officials from the state’s department of energy and natural resources had been helpful answering questions related to CPRA and he didn’t believe that the coastal agency “would lose its function” if it was absorbed by the agency.

But he did caution against “change for change’s sake” and said the present organizational model created in 2008 was the result of consolidation.

Maloz said 2005’s Hurricane Katrina forced a massive change in the way the state handled flood protection in coastal Louisiana.

“We could no longer have levees working outside of (the department) of natural resources,” Maloz said. “So we changed all the rules and it was not easy, it was very difficult, but every step along the way all the way back to even the constitutional amendment that dedicated GOMESA (Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act) dollars, all of it was an educational opportunity to involve these coastal communities that are on the front line to tell them how we need a science-based master plan.

“We need to make strategic investments in our coast, not just for tomorrow, not just for quick fixes, but for the long term.”