Study: funding coastal effort would create jobs

by Walter Pierce

A study commissioned by an environmental group says funding the state's multi-billion-dollar, 50-year master plan for coastal protection and restoration would create anywhere from 109,000 to 212,000 permanent jobs while spurring the economy with billions in spending related to the projects.

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A study commissioned by an environmental group says funding the state's multibillion-dollar, 50-year master plan for coastal protection and restoration would create anywhere from about 100,000-200,000 permanent jobs, spurring the economy with billions in project spending.

The study by economist Timothy Ryan - former president of the University of New Orleans - was commissioned by Restore Louisiana Now. That group was formed to support a lawsuit against oil, gas and pipeline companies filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East. The suit, which does not specify a dollar amount, says the companies should pay for damage the industry has done to coastal wetlands that serve as a natural hurricane buffer for New Orleans.

Ryan's study of the 180-page coastal plan adopted by the state in 2012 looks at two 50-year scenarios: funding the plan at the $50 billion level, which Ryan's analysis indicates would slow but not reverse land loss, and at the $100 billion level, which he said would result in a net gain of land.

"A major problem confronts us since even the $50 billion level suggested in the master plan is not funded at this time," Ryan said in his summary.

Ryan only briefly addressed opponents of the suit who say it will result in oil companies moving jobs from Louisiana if it continues. Ryan said that "defies economic logic" because oil and gas extraction will remain profitable in Louisiana even if the suit proceeds.

"However, if such a decision were made, the impact of the spending of $50 million on coastal restoration is still the better economic alternative for Louisiana. Counting all direct and secondary jobs, the oil and gas industry currently accounts for 35,482 jobs in the state of Louisiana," he wrote.

One of the chief opponents of the lawsuit, the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, issued a written response when asked for comment on Ryan's study. It didn't take issue with his job and spending projections, but said the lawsuit was "abusive and frivolous."

"The 1,650 members of the Louisiana Oil & Gas Association continue to tell us that lawsuits are affecting decisions on whether or not companies invest new dollars in our state," said the statement from spokesman Ragan Dickens. "These investments contribute to 310,000 oil and gas jobs in our state."

Ryan said that the $50 million scenario includes spending that would support more than 16,000 construction jobs per year - building levees and freshwater diversion projects aimed at rebuilding the coast with sediment - and create 109,000 permanent science and engineering jobs with $3.6 billion in annual earnings. Spending at the $100 billion level would support more than 33,000 annual construction jobs and more than 212,000 permanent jobs with more than $7 billion in earnings.

Ryan cites the Netherlands as an example of a flood-vulnerable nation that has developed an industry of private businesses doing science and engineering studies aimed at helping vulnerable communities. He said such an industry would likely blossom in Louisiana were the coastal plan fully funded.

"Pouring billions of dollars into this industry over a 50-year period will surely produce significant results," Ryan said. "In addition, it is clear that with worldwide sea-level rise and the fact that an increasing percentage of the world's population will be in harm's way as development continues, the demand for a science and engineering solution to flooding problems around the world will multiply many fold."