Coastal Master Plan would create jobs, revenue

Fully funding Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan could result in the creation of between 109,000 and 212,000 jobs and provide at least $757 million in new yearly revenue for the state and local governments, according to a new report analyzing the economic effects of coastal restoration efforts.

The study, performed by economist Tim Ryan and paid for by the nonprofit Restore Louisiana Now, estimates the 50-year plan — which would cost between $50 billion and $100 billion to fully implement — would not only have environmental benefits and help protect southeast Louisiana from hurricane damage but also would create “a significant economic engine.”

The new report tracks previous studies that have touted the economic benefits of environmental projects in the state, suggesting that rebuilding the coast could boost employment and help turn Louisiana into a center of coastal restoration expertise.

It also comes at time when advocates, including Restore Louisiana Now, are fighting to ward off political interference in a wide-ranging lawsuit targeting oil and gas companies that allegedly contributed to wetland damage. If successful, the suit could result in billions more for restoration efforts in the state.

“Restore Louisiana Now was created to fight for the coast and for New Orleans,” said John Barry, who leads the organization. “But survival is not enough; we want the region to thrive.”

The study analyzed two potential scenarios: one in which about $50 billion is spent on coastal projects over the 50-year span of the Coastal Master Plan, and one in which that amount is doubled, which is seen as the ideal goal of the effort.

The $50 billion proposal would generate $6.7 billion a year in direct spending and another $5.6 billion in secondary spending each year, leading to the creation of about 109,360 jobs and $3.6 billion in earnings, according to the report.

A $100 billion investment would result in about $13 billion in direct spending and $11 billion in secondary spending, creating about 212,680 jobs and leading to earnings of about $7 billion, according to the study.

Overall, that would lead to between $757 million and $1.4 billion in new state and local tax revenue each year, according to the report.

Ryan said coastal restoration would have other positive economic impacts, such as lowering flood insurance costs and preventing the catastrophic damage that occurred when the levees failed during Hurricane Katrina. In addition to the human toll of that disaster, the state lost roughly 72,500 jobs in the wake of the storm and required billions in recovery funding, he said.

Investments in restoration could also help grow that industry in Louisiana. Currently, the Dutch dominate the field, but local businesses could become the go-to companies for coastal rebuilding efforts, Ryan said.

That concept already has been a focus for state officials, who have promoted the creation of a Water Center on a $45 million campus in Baton Rouge that would be focused on research into coastal restoration and engineering.

Previous studies have found similar, or even larger, potential economic benefits from coastal restoration. The Coastal Master Plan itself estimates the creation of almost half a million jobs from its implementation.

In theory, the state’s Master Plan is designed to slow and eventually reverse the dramatic erosion of Louisiana’s coastline, which has shrunk by about 1,900 square miles since the 1930s. Funding for that effort, however, remains uncertain, and the plan only calls for about $668 million to be spent in the next year.

A lawsuit filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East against 97 oil and gas companies has been touted as a potential solution to the funding gap by Barry, who championed the case as a member of the board before he was removed amid opposition to the suit by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration. Barry and other supporters of the suit have said the proceeds would go toward funding the Master Plan.

Administration officials have said the lawsuit interferes with their larger strategy for restoring the coast and have also argued logistical issues mean the state could not front-load much more money into restoration efforts.

Ryan’s study comes as energy industry groups are in the midst of a public relations blitz aimed at promoting the importance of oil and gas companies to Louisiana’s economy as a way of building support for legislative efforts to derail the case. That effort includes television ads trumpeting the importance of energy jobs in Louisiana and organizations like Give ’em the Boot, which has pushed the argument that oil and gas companies may abandon the state because of an adverse legal climate.

Restore Louisiana Now’s study was commissioned before those efforts ramped up. But Barry said it proves that environmental restoration and job creation are not mutually exclusive.

“There is no trade-off,” he said. “It’s not either-or.”