Nov. 16, 2016 02:06 PM

President Trump, who says he wants to address our deplorable infrastructure, could start with saving our coastal infrastructure, which aids both the environment and our energy economies.

Five previous presidents came into office with little knowledge that one of the nation’s biggest environmental disasters was awaiting their action at the mouth of the Mississippi River. As each in turn would learn, the continued loss of coastal Louisiana to erosion and encroaching tides could easily mean disaster for the U.S. economy. Soon President-elect Trump will come face-to-face with this issue, and time will tell if he will try to wait out the consequences as some others have done, or embrace the issue as part of his advocacy to restore America’s crumbling infrastructure.

We hope the latter becomes a part of the new president’s action agenda. And here is why.

The fact that America’s energy security relies on a strong environment to provide support for operations and protection from the elements that might cripple it is indisputable. What has become de rigueur across the land is to pit the forces of energy and environment against one another. There are enormous legions of followers in each camp, and what we have gained with such an irrational war is little, save greasing the pocketbooks of the ad men from both sides.

For more than a decade the America’s WETLAND Foundation has said both energy and environment are important elements of the other. We have been steadfast in our belief that to have a strong economy you must have a strong environment. But walking the middle ground in 2016, America gets you nothing but deep wounds. We need to quit marginalizing either side.

Image courtesy La. Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority

At a double header of leadership forums convened by AWF and the Louisiana Coastal Protection & Restoration Authority in October, the agenda was designed to look at what is happening with wetland loss in Louisiana and, if left unattended, understand that serious consequences are inevitable. We are on the eve of Louisiana’s third master plan for protecting and restoring its coast, and the two forums were designed to illuminate how to make the plan operational and how to fund the effort into the future.

For those who may not be aware, the master plan has become a model for states and communities whose coasts are being lost to the ravages of nature — the sinking land (subsidence) or the seas inching closer inland, destroying valuable wetlands and marshes that provide habitat for man and beast alike. You probably do know that Louisiana is ground zero or, as we say, zero ground, with one of the most severe land loss rates on the planet. For more than a decade we have used the time worn phrase of losing the equivalent of a football field of land each hour in coastal Louisiana. We call it the continuous storm, and low lying regions of Louisiana, Acadiana included, are beginning to see roads covered with water at high tide and water around the doorsteps with more debilitating weather events.

Many of us have repeatedly warned that Louisiana is just the symptom of greater shoreline woes ahead for America. Because we have spent a decade raising awareness as our master planning process to combat the land loss has taken shape, our deep dive into the issue says that what we are enduring here is of national significance. And, in our race against the land loss clock, we are imploring decision makers at all levels of government to act with urgency before it is too late. Among others tactics, we are uniting with those on the east and west coast who have had just a taste of what is to come with storms like Sandy in New York and New Jersey and Wilma in Florida.

So, we find ourselves in New York with a new president who says that our deplorable infrastructure is the place to spend our money. We couldn’t agree more. In fact the energy infrastructure in Louisiana that supports the nation’s ability to be energy independent is estimated to be worth $100 billion. Think of pipelines, refineries, ports, LNG facilities and the like. A President Trump could do no better than to save coastal infrastructure, which aids both the environment and our energy economies.

The issue has become so dire in Louisiana that voters say by over 70 percentiles that coastal restoration is the issue of their lifetime. Some parish governments, determined to move to protect their communities, are budgeting funds for restoration and protection projects. Communities are starting to retreat inland. The new projections for land loss are bleak, showing storm surge by 2050 moving beyond I-10 for the first time.
Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority's Johnny Bradberry
Image courtesy America's WETLAND Foundation

A follow-up summit to the two leadership roundtables will happen in late January with the theme focused on the national significance of Louisiana’s master plan. Between now and then, we can take a cue from Johnny Bradberry, CPRA chair, when summing up the work of coastal leaders at the roundtables. He suggested that Louisiana must immediately explore the possibility of having our coast declared a national emergency in light of dramatic land loss with enormous consequences to the nation. He wants to assess new options to raise funds by carving out demonstration projects for private financing and reviewing the procurement process for private restoration. More than ever, we must make sure that offshore revenue sharing is not lost. In fact, with energy industry support, we should be able to gain a greater share of these receipts. We all know that new financing mechanisms must be found for costly coastal infrastructure repair, and we have a perfect place to start.

America will pay dearly if it ignores its crumbling infrastructure. The largest populations reside along the coast; the bulk of the industrial trade complex is along the coast. The Mississippi River and its fast eroding delta is the nation’s most critical economic asset, impacting a majority of Americans and their livelihoods.

Louisiana is a poster child for energy and environmental progress. It must be a win/win. We have the opportunity to create a positive outcome for two of America’s greatest assets and her potential for the future. We call on our friends in the energy sector to reach out to President Trump and encourage his embrace of coastal restoration for the benefit of all Americans.

Val Marmillion is managing director of America’s WETLAND Foundation.