Can wetland credits help restore La. coast?
The state’s coastal restoration and protection master plan lays out $50 billion in projects as a start for what coastal Louisiana needs. Finding that kind of money, though, is going to be the challenge.
State officials have repeatedly said $50 billion is what they chose not because it meets the need of an eroding coastal Louisiana but because they think it’s realistic to achieve that kind of funding.
What’s needed now, speakers at a coastal conference in Baton Rouge said Oct. 10, is to find new ways to raise the money.
“How do we set up a funding mechanism for that?” asked David Batker, chief economist and executive director of Earth Economics, a Tacoma, Wash.-based nonprofit that tries to provide “science-based, ecologically sound” economic analysis and policy recommendations.
The Mississippi River delta, Batker said, needs to be a national investment priority.
He likened this goal to the goal in the 1950s of funding the U.S. highway system. The solution at that time was the Highway Trust Fund, which was to receive money from federal gas and other vehicle user taxes and provided a dedicated source of money for the interstate system, according to information from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
One such potential funding mechanism for coastal restoration was recently announced when the American Carbon Registry approved a new tool to evaluate Mississippi River delta wetland projects for the sale of carbon offset credits.
Using this method, landowners can calculate the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that a wetlands restoration project would absorb over time. When these measured credits are approved, they could be returned to the registry and then sold to pay for the work.
“Our mission is to produce innovative ways to get funding for wetland restoration,” said Sarah Mack, president and CEO of New Orleans-based Tierra Resources. Tierra Resources is an environmental consulting firm formed in 2007 with a goal of finding new ways to pay for wetland restoration projects with a focus on carbon credit markets.
With funding from Entergy, Tierra Resources developed a process to calculate how much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases coastal wetlands capture over time. Tierra Resources is getting ready to do the first pilot project under its new methodology.
The issue of wetland credits can be complicated, but Mack compared it to someone losing weight. The person can either eat less or exercise more, or both. In other words, to reduce greenhouse gases released to the atmosphere, it’s possible to reduce the amount released or increase the ways in which the greenhouse gases can be used up by things like forests or wetlands, or both.
Within the carbon credit market, there is a voluntary market in which a company that wants to reduce its impact can either reduce emissions or buy carbon credits for restoration elsewhere, or a combination of both.
There is also a regulatory market in which companies need to buy carbon credits as offsets to what they release.
The new methodology was developed for the 4 million acres in Mississippi River delta, located mostly in Louisiana but including parts of Texas and Mississippi, she said.
“We wanted it to be eligible under any of the restoration techniques used in Louisiana,” she said.
If projects could be placed on 25 percent of the 4 million acres, she said, the work could raise between $5 billion and $15 billion over the next 40 years, she said.
“It starts to put a dollar value on wetlands,” she said.
Amy Wold covers environmental issues for The Advocate. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @awold10.