Turning vulnerability into assets in the Gulf Coast

By jlee

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Washington, D.C. — Oxfam America and the Center for American Progress today put forward a plan to restore America’s Gulf Coast during a conference featuring NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchecno, White House Senior Domestic Policy Advisor Melody Barnes, and Executive Director of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force John Harkinson. The report “Turning Vulnerability into Assets in the Gulf Coast,” details the Gulf Coast’s environmental, economic and social challenges and recommends a regional ecosystem restoration plan to help coastal communities and the ecology recover their past strength and build a foundation for a new economic future – establishing the Gulf Coast as an international leader in coastal restoration and resiliency – by promoting participation from coastal communities and businesses, and prioritizing innovation and opportunity.

The report, co-written with former Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Phillip Singerman, builds on analysis of agencies across the region to detail how a well-designed economic and workforce development plan – hinged on coastal restoration – can build on the region’s existing assets and leverage incoming federal funding to spark innovation and collaboration,  putting Gulf Coast communities to work. The report also examines how stakeholder participation in restoration legislation could strengthen local support, identify risks, and reduce costs.

“Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, together with the Deepwater Horizon oil catastrophe delivered a one-two-three punch to the Gulf Coast, highlighting the region’s economic and environmental vulnerabilities, but also the incredible resilience and determination of its residents,” said Kate Gordon, vice president of energy policy with the Center for American Progress and co-author of the report. “The region has an opportunity, and if done right, recovery can diversify the Gulf economy while promoting innovation, creating jobs and protecting communities”.

The BP oil disaster demonstrated the dependence of the economy and jobs on a healthy, functioning Gulf of Mexico, according to the report, but policy makers can turn the Coast’s vulnerability into assets by investing in a cutting-edge set of industries around coastal and marine science along with resiliency technologies capable of competing in a growing global marketplace. In fact, the insurance company SwissRe predicts annual international investments in coastal protection and water management to reach as high as $135 billion annually in the coming years.

“We need to confront the false choice between promoting business, communities and the environment in the Gulf,” said Paul O’Brien, Vice President of Policy and Campaigns, Oxfam America. “Lasting coastal restoration depends on all three working together.”

The advocacy groups also called on Congress to pass legislation redirecting Clean Water Act fines from the Deepwater Horizon disaster towards a coastal restoration plan that also focuses on innovation and increased economic opportunity connected to coastal and marine restoration. Such funds, in combination with funds raised through the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) and the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA), could substantially address the region’s coastal vulnerability while creating new economic opportunities. 

“America’s Gulf Coast is under assault and Washington must join Coastal states and take action,” said Rev. Tyronne Edwards, founder of Zion Travelers Cooperative Center in Phoenix, Louisiana. “It is crucial that our Congress develops a plan that gives our communities a voice and helps workers in our coastal communities find opportunity.” 

To read the report, go here.