Earlier this week Commerce Secretary Gary Locke descended on Louisiana to announce a $30.7 million grant for a coastal restoration project near Port Fourchon. He called the funding a sign of the “administration’s commitment to help the Gulf Coast’s economy and environment recover in the wake of the BP oil spill.”
There was just one problem — funding for the project was approved months before the oil spill. And according to the state agency in charge of coastal restoration, there was no action even necessary by the Department of Commerce for the project to progress.
That didn’t dissuade Locke from using his Louisiana trip to boast about the administration’s role in the Gulf — even if it was exaggerated. The public-relations strategy appears to be working. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey this month showed Obama’s approval rating on the Gulf oil spill improve from 42 percent in June to 50 percent in August.
A press release from the Department of Commerce hailed the $30.7 million grant as a vital step to protect the property in Lafourche Parish from storm surge and erosion. While it’s true the department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration provided some of the funding for the project, Locke wasn’t announcing anything new when visited Louisiana.
The project’s own website says it was approved for engineering and design in October 2006. And the state’s Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Task Force authorized funding for the West Belle Pass Barrier Headland Restoration on Jan. 20, the same day Obama was inaugurated.
Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.) announced the task force’s approval that same day, noting the project would benefit 305 acres at a total cost of more than $42 million. He called it a “first line of defense to Port Fourchon and Lafourche and Terrebonne Parishes.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Commerce did not respond to a call or email seeking clarity about Locke’s announcement.
It’s not that people in Louisiana were unfamiliar with the restoration project. At its January meeting, the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Task Force (CWPPRA) approved it along with eight other projects totaling more than $230 million. The New Orleans Times-Picayune covered the story.
Meanwhile, Louisiana coastal scientist Mark Schexnayder mocked Locke’s announcement as “a grain of sand on the beach in the grand scheme of things.” To put it in perspective, Jindal said last month that Congress has authorized $9 billion in coastal projects, but they lack funding from the federal government.