Economy got you down?
Well, a new report projects that billions of dollars in funds for coastal restoration projects will create nearly 60,000 new jobs for Louisiana and the rest of the Gulf Coast states in 10 years, and almost 80,000 jobs within 50 years.
The “Job Creation from Gulf Coast Wetlands Restoration” report from Greater New Orleans, Inc., The Walton Family Foundation and Mather Economics also discusses the longer-term values in restoring Louisiana’s coast.
This is a coast that has nearly 40 percent of the nation’s wetlands and is losing land at an alarming rate.
This is a coast that is home to an abundant and unique mix of wildlife and fisheries that provides almost one-third of the nation’s recreational fishing catch and leads the nation in crab and oyster harvesting.
Louisiana’s wetlands also serve as hurricane buffers and help prevent flooding, even protecting the state’s oil-and-gas infrastructure.
The billions of dollars for these jobs and restoration projects are the cost to BP and other responsible parties for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion that killed 11 men and resulted in a three-month discharge of 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf, compared with nearly 300,000 barrels leaked from the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989.
To this day, dolphins and sea turtles are still dying and lesions and deformities are found on some fish and shellfish, along with signs of crude oil in the zooplankton that form the base of the Gulf’s marine ecosystem food chain.
So there’s a lot of work required to fix the ongoing problems.
But it’s going to take a while for any of those projected jobs and dollars to show up in Louisiana. Planning naturally will take time too, but even that can’t get fully get under way yet.
Why? Not so shockingly it’s because of congressional gridlock at the moment.
Just a week or two ago, the news seemed optimistic that the RESTORE Act was moving comfortably along while tied to a large federal transportation bill.
The RESTORE Act provisions currently guarantee that 80 percent of the fines collected from the April 2010 BP oil leak — an amount that could reach $20 billion — would be distributed for coastal restoration to the five states along the Gulf: Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, Texas and Alabama.
Democrats and Republicans spoke optimistically about coming together within a conference committee and working out the legislation.
The problem has been getting past the initial rosy rhetoric and into meshing out the details, with neither the House nor the Senate giving enough ground, depending on who is asked.
Of course, a June 30 deadline on transportation spending also is looming.
This past week included some back-and-forth proposals but also a lot of partisan sniping, absolutely none of which has involved the RESTORE Act.
House Republicans said the Democrat-controlled Senate will not compromise enough, while Democrats charged that the House wants to stall everything until after November to make President Barack Obama look bad by delaying job-creating bills.
The catchiest line of the week was the “My way or no highway” approach that Democrats accused the House Republicans of taking.
All hope is not lost though, at least not yet. Hard work and a willingness to compromise by enough could lead to Congress still passing the legislation by June 30, even if it looks unlikely at the moment.
If they fail, the Louisiana delegation and other Gulf Coast congressional members are working on alternatives to push the RESTORE Act through outside of the transportation bill.
There also is the method of potentially pushing the BP fines through the Environmental Protection Agency’s Supplemental Environmental Projects policies, but only the RESTORE Act would put in place guarantees for now.
This legislation may demonstrate whether something actually can be accomplished amidst election-year politics or whether there will continue to be a gridlocked, do-nothing Congress — a Congress that keeps talking and proposes a lot but actually approves very little.
So keep a look out for June 30.
Jordan Blum is chief of The Advocate’s Washington bureau. His email address is jblum@