Trump's budget could kill an urgent coastal recovery project – and slam our economy

Steve Cochran

Louisiana’s coast is a working coast. Home to nearly 2 million people, the region is an economic engine for our nation, which relies on it for energy, shipping, chemicals and seafood.

But the state is also facing a land loss crisis that threatens to grind this engine to a halt, with billions in industry losses as a potential result.

The Pelican State alone could lose as much as $3.6 billion worth of homes, businesses and other economic infrastructure over the next 50 years if nothing is done to restore the coast – impacts that would ripple through the United States economy. 

This is why the president’s budget proposal to eliminate the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act – which provides critical funding for sustaining and ramping up Louisiana’s coastal restoration – is both alarming and puzzling.

These funds, drawn from energy revenues generated in the waters off the Gulf Coast will soon be the only consistent source of federal support for such projects. It’s also why they were tapped for Louisiana’s 2017 Coastal Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast – a blueprint for coastal restoration that brings hope to the entire region.

In all, more than $100 million will be lost annually if the act is repealed. The prospect of this is already bringing uncertainty to communities and thousands of businesses, including some companies with headquarters many states away – all of whom have a stake in the coast.

Billions in economic impact - and potential loss

Louisiana supplies more crude oil than any other state, and generates $47 billion a year in total oil and gas production. Its ports account for 20 percent of annual waterborne commerce in the U.S., and five of the country’s 15 largest ports by volume are in Louisiana.

Both commercial and recreational fisheries depend on the state. Nearly 30 percent of U.S. commercial fishery landings, by weight, happen here. Recreational fisheries, meanwhile, have a $1.8 billion economic impact.

Louisiana generates $47 billion a year in total oil and gas production.

With the U.S. economy as a whole so dependent on the health of the Mississippi River Delta, Louisiana’s unprecedented land loss has wide implications. Since the 1930s, the state has lost more than 2,000 square-miles of land, an area almost the size of Delaware.

Every 100 minutes, a football field worth of coastal wetlands turns into open water because of decades of shortsighted management and, more recently, rising sea levels.

These wetlands provide vital protection against storm surge for cities, homes and nationally significant industries – including oil and gas, navigation, ports and fisheries. When they erode, the economic risk can be significant, as we saw with Hurricane Katrina when idled oil refineries led to millions in lost revenue and spikes in gas prices nationwide.

The largest restoration project of our time

Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan will become the largest restoration program of our time, and its benefits will ripple through the economy like any massive infrastructure project would.

Dedicated and sustained investments in barrier island restoration, marsh creation, reef construction and sediment diversions are expected to support up to 10,500 jobs annually and contribute as much as $1.5 billion in annual output, a recent report found.

Which makes the administration’s decision to eliminate funding for such projects so much more puzzling. If economic growth and good, homespun jobs are on the agenda, saving Louisiana’s coast should certainly qualify.