By Will Lindsey, Environmental Defense Fund
As my first summer internship as a Tulane University Law School student comes to an end, I am grateful to have been so involved in work that directly relates to the place where I live and attend school. My work as a policy and partnerships intern with the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has ensured that I will never look at the Gulf Coast in quite the same fashion again.
Upon arriving at EDF, I knew I would be working on the RESTORE Act. Generally, I knew the RESTORE Act was significant because it would dedicate a large majority of the Clean Water Act penalties from the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster to the Gulf Coast states for restoration. What I didn't know was what this meant, practically speaking, for the Gulf Coast and for coastal Louisiana, specifically.
I quickly realized that the RESTORE Act has the potential to fund significant restoration projects that the Gulf Coast has desperately needed for a long time. It also became clear that if used wisely, this funding could vastly improve and protect the long-term ecological and economic stability of the Gulf Coast. It also became clear that if used unwisely, there was a possibility of wasting an unprecedented funding opportunity and the chance to make a real difference in the Gulf.
What this means on the ground is using funding from the RESTORE Act, as well other funding streams stemming from the Deepwater Horizon disaster, to implement projects that will both restore the natural environment as well as combat the loss of coastal wetlands that the Gulf Coast has been experiencing for several decades. These projects have long been recognized as needs in the Gulf Coast and have been outlined in many state plans, including Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan. These projects not only present the opportunity to protect and restore wildlife habitat, but many of these projects would create and/or restore coastal wetlands which ultimately serve as a natural storm surge buffers for populated areas.
Finally, I realized that the Gulf Coast economy was inescapably intertwined with the Gulf ecosystem. Wildlife tourism, including wildlife watching, recreational fishing and hunting, generates substantial revenue in the five Gulf Coast states and would not exist without a healthy ecosystem. Additionally, the Gulf Coast economy stands to grow as coastal restoration projects are initiated as new funding becomes available. Many businesses throughout the U.S. have recognized the economic opportunities that coastal restoration can provide and thus have begun to include coastal restoration-related services in their repertoires.
With good forethought and cooperation, it seems clear that these funding streams, which resulted from a terrible disaster, can ultimately serve to reverse much of the degradation that the Gulf Coast has seen in the past. In turn, this will strengthen the Gulf Coast economy, protect Louisianans and other Gulf Coast residents from natural disasters and improve, as well as safeguard, natural wildlife habitat.