December 21, 2006
New Wave - The new Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy will help sort out the complex laws and policies regarding use of the nation's coast and waterways, including the Mississippi River.
When Mark Davis takes the reins of Tulane Law School's new Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy at the beginning of the new year, he will be guided by a lesson learned from his 14 years as executive director of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana.
"The single greatest thing I've learned is that you don't assume it is anybody's job to get the job done," says Davis, who was named as the institute's director in November. To that end, the primary role of the institute will be to help sort out the complex network of laws and policies shaping how the nation's coasts and waterways are used.
"From the institute's point of view, we will be helping to frame the boundaries between law, science and politics so that, for example, you are not asking a scientist to do what a lawyer should do," says Davis.
Davis says that hurricanes Katrina and Rita comprised the "most transformative moment since the 1927 flood," yet the fragility of coastal areas exposed by the storms does not mean that change in the way society views and protects these areas is a given.
"When you look at coastal restoration, hurricane protections plans, the rise in sea level, Gulf hypoxia -- we have the science, engineering and public consensus for change but the rules you run to in Baton Rouge or Washington, D.C., are not set up to commit to the things we are asking them to commit to."
Bureaucracies tend to create programs that are self-perpetuating, even when they outlive their usefulness. "They march forward and hopefully do what they are intended to do, but things programmed in the 1920s through the '60s are still out there, though they may not be the things we need today."
Davis points to the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, the New Orleans Hurricane Protection System and Louisiana's coastal mineral rights laws as results of outdated policy that need to be dealt with quickly and effectively but are tangled in decades of accrued legal mandates and agency jurisdictions.
Davis, who also is joining the law faculty as a senior research fellow, says the Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy is not intended to be an "advocacy shop" but will provide a solid legal and policy foundation from which advocates may work.
The challenges facing Louisiana in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita are a presage for coastal communities nationwide, says Davis. "Many people feel that for something this big, that Congress or their state legislature must have already made it someone's responsibility to deal with. It is an assumption that is tragically wrong."