By Scott Madere
Our coastal wetlands have immeasurable worth to Louisiana in terms of culture. Our history, art, celebrations, recreational opportunities and so much more are tied to the muddy waters and vast green expanse of our swamps, forests and coastal marsh. Our love for our land defines us as a people, and we often cite it to those who are not from here as the main reason why Louisiana’s coast is worth saving. It seems natural for us to talk about the coast this way, but to those outside of Louisiana it may be a little hard to understand. That’s why it’s also valuable to be able to talk about Louisiana’s worth in another way: raw dollars, the sheer economic value that the Mississippi River Delta provides to the nation.
Understanding the massive dollar value of what Louisiana provides to the country helps us make the case to our fellow Americans that Louisiana is worth the resources sent here to restore our wetlands. In a political environment where budgets are tight and decisions are made based on investment return, this could potentially be Louisiana’s best angle toward building more national support for restoration.
So let’s explore it. The Mississippi River Delta Science and Engineering Special Team (SEST), made up of 22 of our nation’s best coastal scientists and engineers, published a report in 2012: “Answering 10 Fundamental Questions About the Mississippi River Delta.” Within the report, SEST compiled some convincing data about the economic value of Louisiana’s coast from a number of sources. Here are some of the highlights:
- Mississippi River Delta ecosystems provide economically valuable services to the people of our state such as storm protection, fresh water, food, habitat, waste treatment and other benefits. These annual benefits alone are worth up to $47 billion per year to our citizens. With these annual benefits taken into consideration, the present value of the Delta’s ecosystem services could range as high as $1.3 trillion.
- Between 80 and 90 percent of Louisiana’s economy, seafood production and quality of life is linked to coastal ecosystem goods and services.
- Commercial fisheries have a yearly impact of $2.85 billion.
- Recreational fishing generates $1.7 billion annually.
- Economic activity linked to wildlife (hunting, wildlife watching, trapping, etc.) exceeds $1.6 billion each year.
- Tourism generates as much as $10 billion every year for Louisiana.
- The deepwater ports along the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge to New Orleans collectively form the largest tonnage port in the Western Hemisphere. Waterborne commerce in this corridor generates $35 billion annually and as many as 300,000 jobs.
And we haven’t even mentioned oil and gas yet.
According to the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association:
- Our state is the nation’s number one producer of crude oil and the number two producer of natural gas among the 50 states.
- Approximately 80% of the nation’s offshore oil and gas resources come from or through Louisiana. That equates to 30% of the nation’s energy consumption.
- The Louisiana oil and gas industry exceeds $70 billion of economic impact annually.
After reviewing this very short list of economic benefit provided to us by the coast, it is easy to see two undeniable facts.
First, Louisiana’s coast is an economic engine that needs to be protected. In a time when so much national focus is set on employment numbers, Louisiana contributes positively by providing hundreds of thousands of jobs related to the coast. Even more jobs can be provided by the coastal restoration process itself.
Secondly, placing a national priority on Louisiana coastal restoration is a wise move. The 2012 Louisiana Coastal Master Plan sets a cost of $50 billion to fund its 50-year coordinated coastal restoration strategy. When compared to the potential economic output of Louisiana for the next 50 years, that $50 billion price tag actually seems small.
In the years ahead, Louisiana’s citizens will have to continue to make the case, both on Capitol Hill and in Baton Rouge, that coastal restoration is a top national priority. The numbers do add up when it comes to supporting that claim, and our leaders and citizens should feel confident in taking that position when seeking support from others around the country.