Thank you, Chairman and Members of the Committee.
I am Benny Rousselle and I represent the people of Plaquemines Parish, a relatively small community located on the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, south of New Orleans.
Plaquemines Parish is small in size and population, yet it provides multi-million dollar revenues for North America. The parish’s oil, gas and fishery industries provide an economic impact for not only Louisiana but for the entire United States. The Naval Air Station – Joint Reserve Base, representing all five branches of the U.S. Armed Forces and the U.S. Coast Guard is located in Plaquemines Parish.
Two prominent scientific research centers are located in Plaquemines Parish. Tulane University’s F. Edward Hebert Research Center focuses on environmental, biological and medical research activities. The Louisiana State University’s Citrus Research Station obtains produce research data on citrus, vegetables and small fruit.
Plaquemines Parish is also the home of the ConocoPhillips Alliance Refinery, one of the last grassroots refineries built in the United States. The refinery processes crude oil and receives domestic crude oil by pipeline and international crudes via the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port. Approximately 600 employees and contractors operate and maintain the refinery. The refinery started operations in 1971 and remains one of the country’s most efficient and modern refineries.
The Chevron Oronite Oak Point Plant in Plaquemines Parish is one of the largest and most advanced producers of high-quality blended fuel and lubricant additives in the world. The plant occupies 100 acres in the parish and has more than 410 employees. More than 30 unique additive components and intermediates are manufactured at the plant and more than 300 packages are blended at the site for customer requirements.
Southeast Louisiana is a major oil and gas-producing region, with an energy industry that accounts for $93 billion in revenue to the Louisiana economy and the employment of more than 62,000 people. In 2001, Plaquemines Parish produced more than 21 million barrels of crude oil from more than 23,000 wells, - more than any other parish in the state. In addition, Plaquemines Parish also produced more than 146 million cubic feet of natural gas.
The mouth of the Mississippi River is in Plaquemines Parish. Through this gateway to the Mississippi River Valley passes 92% of the nation’s agricultural exports, as well as coal, petroleum products, iron and steel, rubber and chemicals.
The mouth of the Mississippi River is served by five ports – including the Ports of Plaquemines, St. Bernard, New Orleans, South Louisiana and Baton Rouge. These ports handle a significant portion of the nation’s cargo. In fact, annual U.S. tonnage reports consistently rank the Port of South Louisiana FIRST in tonnage shipped, while the ports of New Orleans and Baton Rouge rank fourth and sixth. The ports also serve as America’s cargo gateway to Latin America and, with the potential opening of the Seapoint facility, they are expected to become critical to our trade with China.
The parish of Plaquemines jutting out into the Gulf of Mexico was the first to be hit by Hurricane Katrina. Just a few short weeks afterward it received the backlash of Hurricane Rita. In both instances, Plaquemines Parish was inundated by waters that flooded and washed away practically all businesses, homes and structures on the east bank and southernmost points. Our only protection was levees, both federal and non-federal, that suffered tremendous soil loss and in some instances, collapsed.
Unlike other parishes that need levee protection in some areas of their parish, Plaquemines is bordered by levees on all sides. We rely heavily on our levees year round for daily protection. We have been dependent on the Corps of Engineers to provide us with protection for our federal levees. However, Plaquemines Parish has allotted substantial local dollars for federal and non-federal levees. This does not include the time and labor spent by employees to maintain both the federal and non-federal levees. In order to provide adequate levee protection of Plaquemines Parish we must have all of our levees funded under a federal system.
However, levee systems are not and cannot be the lone solution. There must be a move to restore America’s wetlands. They are an important part of our economy, our culture and our environment.
Louisiana boasts the nation’s largest shrimp fishery and second-largest commercial fishing industry (second only to Alaska). Some of the largest commercial fishing ports in the country are in the Southeast Louisiana corridor. Fishermen working out of these ports land between 350 million and 495 million pounds of saltwater fish each year and about 22 million pounds of freshwater fish – the largest freshwater harvest in the nation.
The wetlands surrounding Plaquemines Parish are the spawning grounds and nurseries for much of the nation’s most desirable seafood: shrimp, oysters, crab, catfish and red drum. Without wetlands protection and restoration, the Louisiana seafood industry and the nation’s seafood populations are vulnerable.
Parts of Plaquemines Parish are designated as essential habitat for brown shrimp, white shrimp, and red drum by the Gulf of Mexico fishery Management Council. America’s wetlands also provide natural flood control, natural hurricane protection and natural filtration systems to protect water quality. In fact, America’s wetlands located in Louisiana have been called “the hardest-working,” “the most productive” and “the greatest wetlands on earth.” But these wetlands are disappearing at the rate of 40 square miles a year. That’s 80% of the nation’s total coastal wetland loss occurring in the nation’s most important and productive wetlands. Without protection, these wetlands are not only vulnerable . . . they’re gone.
The southern portion of Plaquemines Parish and its east bank population now stands at 10% pre-Katrina numbers. Our residents and businesses are waiting for adequate levee protection and coastal restoration. Plaquemines Parish is not a heavily populated area. Louisiana, in general, is not a heavily populated state. But consider this: these small numbers of people make up nearly 100% of the workers in the nation’s second-largest seafood industry. And comprise the workforce of one of the nation’s most important oil and gas-producing regions. They service three of the nation’s busiest ports and form a unique and priceless part of America’s cultural heritage.
Today I am asking that you invest in the maintenance of all levee systems in Plaquemines Parish. I am also asking you to invest and dedicate funding to our wetlands and nature’s hurricane protection system.
We respectfully request that you don’t turn your back on the levees and the vanishing wetlands of our parish and state. These levees and wetlands present a priceless opportunity to act locally to reap enormous global benefits. Without protection, we’re all vulnerable.