Too often, people talk about coastal preservation and restoration as if it were an afterthought-something insignificant to our everyday lives. But even though the effects of coastal erosion may seem like an issue for the future, it is very consequential to our present.
In the last 80 years, Louisiana has lost 1,900 square miles of land- 300 of those just from Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike over a span of four years- and another 2,250 are at risk over the next 50 years. This loss of land compounded by the increasing threat of flood can and will have an effect on every aspect of our lives: our homes, our culture, and our economy. Even for those of us who live in the city slightly removed from our State’s coastal wetlands and habitats, we are still intrinsically connected to the waterways that have always brought us such beauty and prosperity.
But the Louisiana coast isn’t just a treasure for us, it is also a provider of riches for the entire country. Our coastal contributions in terms of our ports, natural habitats, and oil and gas infrastructure are unparalleled. And as such, should be treated as an invaluable asset to be protected and preserved at all costs.
For these reasons, I have been an avid supporter of our Coastal Master Plan, which provides a comprehensive, long-term approach to meeting our coastal challenges. Instead of coming up with a new plan with every change of administration, the Coastal Master Plan allows us to look far into the future and start building the foundation we need now to prevent future losses. The 2017 plan focuses on building and maintaining land and reducing flood risk through large-scale projects centered around: marsh creation and sediment diversions; structural protection and nonstructural risk reduction; and proactive resilience investments for flood prevention and protection.
However, it’s one thing to talk about all of this and another to pay for it. And despite our efforts, it is clear that the government can always be faster and more cost-efficient in the execution of such extensive projects. With these challenges in mind, I passed legislation last year to create a natural resource restoration banking program. This banking program holds credits that correspond to the creation of large-scale restoration projects found in the Coastal Master Plan. When people or companies are found to be responsible for minor oil spills, they can purchase these credits as fulfillment of their court-ordered obligation to participate in coastal reconstruction to counterbalance the negative effects of their spill. That way, mitigation dollars are directed towards projects already identified as crucial to coastal restoration, creating cash flow that was previously non-existent. Due to this bill, private investors can develop and fund wetland projects that are already part of the existing $90 billion Master Plan in coastal restoration. These private projects will have a direct and immediate impact on coastal restoration and protection at a quicker pace and a much lower cost than would be incurred by the government.
This kind of creativity and coordination will be crucial in moving forward with coastal preservation and restoration. We have to continue to prioritize this issue not only because we stand a lot to lose, but because we stand even more to gain.