Community and business leaders applaud "Path Forward" plan for restoring Gulf Coast

By ebhatti

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Washington, DC – International humanitarian and relief organization Oxfam America joined community leaders to praise the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council’s blueprint for developing a regional restoration plan released today. The “Path Forward” plan as it is known takes solid steps forward toward repairing some of our nation’s most valuable natural resources, while empowering the region’s communities and fostering the Gulf Coast’s emerging restoration economy. Oxfam lauded the Council particularly for addressing the concerns of working families still suffering from long-term effects of the oil spill, and communities still struggling to recover.

“We applaud the Council for recognizing that a truly comprehensive plan requires an integrated vision to leverage investments in ecosystem restoration to build more resilient communities and greater economic opportunity for the working families along the coast, many still impacted by the oil spill,” said Jeffrey Buchanan, Senior Domestic Policy Advisor at Oxfam America. “Gulf Coast communities are facing the inter-related reality of spiking poverty and enormous long-term ecological challenges, and the Council’s vision sets a path for creating new career pathways for struggling, hardworking families connected to projects addressing these environmental needs.”

The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council was created under the RESTORE the Gulf Coast Act, legislation signed by the President in July 2012, which will send up to $20 billion in civil fines under the Clean Water Act from the 2010 BP oil spill directly to the Gulf Coast states. The Council is tasked with developing a comprehensive plan to expend funds on critical coastal and marine restoration projects and guide the use of other resources.

“Instead of debating false choices that pit the economy against the environment, the Council is pointing towards a path to make things right in the community and in the environment,” said Patrick Barnes, President of BFA Environmental, a regional environmental engineering firm, and founder of Limitless Vistas, a nonprofit organization preparing New Orleans-area disadvantaged youth for environmental jobs. “We need an integrated comprehensive plan that restores the coast and ensures those projects promote training and real job opportunities to revitalize the local economy and the life of these coastal communities as they adapt to new challenges."

Ecosystem restoration projects create from 17 to 36 jobs for every one million dollars invested. This includes middle skilled, decent wage jobs -- like boat captains, pipefitters, welders, heavy equipment operators, construction inspectors and surveyors -- that low-skilled workers could obtain with access to additional skills training and on-the-job learning opportunities.

“Coastal restoration projects have the opportunity to wrap together both ends of the socioeconomic spectrum in the Gulf Coast as it relates to jobs,” said Elliott Bouillion, CEO of Resource Environmental Solutions (RES), a leading provider of wetland solutions based in Houston, TX and Baton Rouge, LA.  RES operates Louisiana’s largest commercial native plant and coastal grass nursery in Pointe-aux-Chenes, LA. “Under the leadership of the Department of Commerce and the Gulf Coast states, this is a chance to put scientists and engineers to work together with construction and monitoring crews. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to invest in the Gulf environmentally and economically."

In many coastal communities along the Gulf where livelihoods rely on a healthy marine ecosystem, individuals and families have been struggling to survive since the spill in 2010. According to the Census Bureau, coastal counties and parishes across Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana (the states closest to the spill site) saw poverty rates jump by as much as 33 percent between 2009 and the most recent post-spill data in 2011.

“As our shrimp, crab and oyster fisheries continue to suffer the impacts from the BP spill, we have seen more and more fishermen fall on hard times, particularly in the Vietnamese community,” said Kaitlin Truong, Chair of Ocean Springs, MS based community development organization Asian Americans for Change. “We need to remember the people of the Gulf, and we look forward to the opportunity to engage the Council to ensure community input is heard as its starts to construct a regional restoration plan that repairs our natural resources and finds new ways to help the most impacted communities access new livelihood opportunities.”

“Through the years our company has seen how investing in the environment can mean jobs for workers and economic growth for local communities,” said Ashley Kerns, vice president of Westlake, LA-based Mike Hooks, Inc. a regional dredging and marine construction firm. “The industry is excited to work with Acting Secretary Blank, the Council, and the Gulf States to execute projects and help create new career opportunities for Gulf Coast workers -- jobs that in many cases, for those willing to work hard and stay with it, can provide working families with good wages and a shot at economic mobility.”

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Oxfam America is an international relief and development organization that creates lasting solutions to poverty, hunger, and injustice. Together with individuals and local groups in 99 countries, Oxfam saves lives, helps people overcome poverty, and fights for social justice. Oxfam America is an affiliate of Oxfam. To join our efforts or learn more, go to www.oxfamamerica.org