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Bradberry letter adds to troubling report questions

If belatedly, the biggest scalded dog of them all, Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Chairman Johnny Bradberry, wrote a letter to the editor regarding my Jan. 29 column in the Baton Rouge Advocate that noted apparently politicized decision-making in constructing scenarios for the agency’s draft 2017 Coastal Master Plan. Rather than refute the column, it only raises more troubling questions about the quality of the decision-making process.

Bradberry’s letter largely stayed away from the inadequate argumentation, as already noted, made by previous letter writers defending the change in scenarios regarding sea level rise (SLR). In 2012, the team responsible for calculating SLR came up with essentially the 2017 range (31 to 198 cm), yet the CPRA postulated scenarios (100, 150, and 200 cm) where the highest SLR level of 2012 (100 cm) became the lowest of 2017 and the highest of 2017 doubled the highest of 2012. The science (as unreliable as SLR calculations are historically) had not changed, yet the CPRA chose dramatically higher SLR assumptions, which would indicate politics interceded to explain the change.

Instead, Bradberry’s effort started off with a straw man, incorrectly claiming the column said that “increased sea-level rise predictions for Louisiana’s coast are somehow motivated by election of Gov. John Bel Edwards and not by science.” He either needs to work on his reading comprehension or take off his partisan blinders: the column only stated that the Edwards Administration brought an ethos more supportive of big government that would lend itself to a more alarmist view on significant anthropogenic climate change and that Edwards had appointed the majority of members to the CPRA (among them Bradberry). It never stated that SLR forecasts used did not have a basis in science, as unreliable as those have been.

He then introduces what he must have seen as a red herring – but which may end up more like a smoking gun. The letter casually mentions a video record of a presentation made to the CPRA of Sep. 22, 2015 of preliminary findings – before Bradberry’s and most current members’ tenures began, as Edwards’ election had not yet occurred – as if that demonstrated the nonpolitical nature of the eventual scenario choices. A month later what came out and went on during this session appeared in several documents that would serve as ancillaries a year later to constructing the 2017 plan.

But in the presentation, the team initially presented scenarios based upon SLR estimates of 43, 63, and 83 cm –higher values well below the formal reported range of a month later that established the 31-198 cm range. That appendix did not recommend scenarios but obviously extended the lower boundary somewhat and hyperextended the upper one. In fact, a question posed by a viewer asked why the levels chosen did not correspond well to much higher ones cited in the 2014 National Climate Assessment – a document cogently described by critic of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming Anthony Watts, backed by numerous scientists, as a “masterpiece of marketing that shows for the first time the full capabilities of the [former Pres. Barack] Obama Administration to spin a scientific topic as they see fit, without regard to the underlying facts.”

Response to it came from one of the team – Denise Reed, the chief scientist for The Water Institute of the Gulf in Baton Rouge, and writer of one of the previous letters about the column who in it erroneously claimed the column had said the team had interjected politics into SLR estimates when, in fact, it made no such assertion. The reply she gave was instructive: she welcomed any input in that regard that they may have “missed” (she also mentioned documents concerning the figures, now no longer available on the web site).

Contrast this with the 2012 effort. The appendix then did lay out two scenarios, starting with an SLR baseline of 12 to 65 cm over 50 years, then applying a fudge factor based upon theoretical but unverified empirically SLR acceleration over that period from the midpoint that made for a range of 27 to 45 cm. Finally, concatenating the 50-year assumptions to last through 2100, it came up with 50 and 100 cm. Those the CPRA membership then accepted.

Now consider the 2017 draft report timeline: during 2015, prior to the inauguration of Edwards, in September the science team came up with three scenarios of 43, 63, and 83 cm of SLR through 2100. A month later, it reveals the reported range derived from existing research, without specifying scenarios of 31-198 cm, almost identical to the similar reported range used in 2012. If considering the 2012 27-45 range was based on 50 years and the 2017 43-83 range on 83 years, that shows some negligible inflation in 2017 compared to 2012 (about -4 cm on the low end and around +5 cm on the high end). However, as the appendix itself makes no mention of suggested scenarios, it consequently provides no explanation for derivation of the 43-63-83 scenarios as presented the previous month, which may have been contained in the documents apparently no longer on the site. 

Then Edwards enters office in early 2016 and in Nov., 2016, with essentially an all-new CPRA appointed by him, it went with scenarios of 100, 150, and 200 cm. Note that while in 2012 the ratios of final to initial scenarios were 1.85:1 and 2.33:1, in 2017 these inflated to 2.33:1, 2.38:1, and 2.44:1 -- keeping in mind the 2012 comparisons are 50-year to 88-year, meaning that had the initial range been calculated on a 88-year basis those come out much smaller, approximately 1.06:1 on the low end, 1.28:1 on the high end, instead of only somewhat smaller (not forgetting that both sets have the fudge factor built in, the necessity of which remains unproven).

In other words, while the 2012 CPRA in its forecasts ratified two figures not much larger than an initial range adjusted to 2100 values, the CPRA of 2017 approved three figures much higher than those of the initial range. The question remains: why did the new political appointees assign scenarios substantially relatively higher than their previous counterparts, when the science throughout did not change?

The presentation that Bradberry asserted would provide evidence of lack of politicization does not answer these questions and, if anything, inculcates additional uncertainty regarding his assertion. Neither does the letter from Bradberry address the question above. Rather, it alleges that I “tried to politicize” the issue when all the column did was to question why the CPRA appointees chose 2017 scenarios so much higher than the 2012 when the data remained the same. It then turns into a polemic extolling Edwards’ virtues on the issue, confirming the political nature of the letter that, in contrast to the column which only asked an inconvenient question of him and his colleagues, itself seeks to politicize the issue.

Misdirection and disingenuousness will not provide the information Louisiana policy-makers need to make sound policy on coastal issues, nor will reassure the citizenry that they spend its tax dollars wisely. Unfortunately, that’s what Bradberry delivered in his letter.

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