Gulf Restoration: A Win for Wildlife and the Economy

"There is a broad spectrum of jobs that could be created through the RESTORE Act"

11-16-2012 // Craig Guillot
Oil burning in Gulf of Mexico

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion sent more than 200 million gallons of oil and large quantities of hydrocarbon gas into an ecosystem already weakened by years of wetlands degradation. More than two years later, hundreds of miles of coastline from the Florida panhandle to the Mississippi River Delta still have visible oil and it may be decades before the spill’s full impacts are understood.

The U.S. Justice Department has reportedly reached a $4.5 billion criminal settlement with BP over the 2010 Gulf oil disaster. Under the Clean Water Act, BP could owe as much as $21 billion for its role in the disaster. (BP also violated a host of additional federal laws; the company’s total federal liability will likely be far higher.)

With the recent passage of the RESTORE Act, 80 percent of these Clean Water Act fines will be sent back to the Gulf Coast. Projects funded by the RESTORE Act should help wildlife recover in the wake of the spill, while stimulating local economies.

Billions could be headed to the Gulf Coast for restoration

The Gulf of Mexico is critically important to the nation. It provides 33 percent of the national seafood harvest, $34 billion a year in tourism, 90 percent of the national offshore crude oil and gas production and it is home to 10 of the country's 15 largest shipping ports.

Advocates say that investing the money from the oil spill fines into protecting and restoring this economic and environmental powerhouse is the fiscally responsible thing to do.

"There is a broad spectrum of jobs that could be created through the RESTORE Act," says David White, director of National Wildlife Federation’s campaign to restore the Gulf of Mexico. "It could help stimulate the local economy by creating jobs, training for large projects and more opportunities for smaller businesses."

Brian Moore, legislative director of the National Audubon Society believes the growing collaboration between businesses, chambers of commerce and organizations such as Audubon and NWF is a testament to the economic impact of restoration.

"When you have environmental organizations working together with chambers of commerce and businesses, you know there's a big monetary impact," says Moore. "These projects can create jobs on so many levels."

Restoring a disappearing delta

Breton NWR

In Louisiana, most of RESTORE Act funds will likely be used for projects in the state’s recently-approved Coastal Master Plan, which aims to reverse the state’s astonishing rate of wetlands loss. Currently, the Mississippi River Delta and the Louisiana coastline lose an average of football field worth of wetlands every hour.

The Coastal Master Plan includes a variety of projects—including barrier island restoration, oyster reef creation, and several large-scale river diversions—that will ultimately build new wetlands and increase the state’s natural protections from hurricanes.

These types of projects have a proven economic impact in the state. The Louisiana Workforce Commission estimates that the $618 million spent on coastal restoration in 2010 impacted a total of 8,900 jobs. The report estimates that the annual salary of a position directly created by one of these projects is about $56,000 per year—roughly 50 percent higher than the average earnings in the state.

Projects such as large-scale river diversions could create jobs lasting decades, benefitting Louisiana communities from New Orleans to Lafitte to Houma.

A boon to small businesses

One of more surprising findings of a recent Duke University report on the economic impacts of Gulf restoration was that fully two-thirds of the firms in the coastal restoration field were small businesses.

At the State of the Coast conference in July 2012, more than a dozen of these small firms presented their products and services related to coastal restoration. Burt Brumfield, a marketing specialist with Delta Land Services, showcased a mesh bag filled with kiln-processed and hardened clay balls that can provide a buffer for eroding marshes.

Aaron Pierce of Resource Environmental Solutions said his company started capitalizing on coastal restoration just a few years ago. Today, their nursery provides hundreds of thousands of native marsh plants annually for a variety of restoration projects.

"It's just a small part of our business but it's growing," says Pierce.

With help from the RESTORE Act, more businesses in the Gulf’s restoration economy will hopefully soon be experiencing a similar boost.

Related Resources
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