On Monday, January 28, Governor Bryant released the Go Coast 2020 Final Report, a blueprint for how Mississippi will spend its share of RESTORE Act fines from the BP disaster. Over the last few months, GRN has been working with our partners in Mississippi to make sure that this report truly benefits Mississippi’s coast and communities. We worked to ensure it reflects the needs of the low-income and minority communities most impacted by the BP disaster, and prioritizes ecosystem restoration over pork-barrel projects that only line the pockets of well-connected individuals and companies.
The Go Coast 2020 report isn’t perfect, but there are some things to praise in it. The report is largely lacking in specific proposals, instead focusing on big-picture concepts, principles, and criteria for choosing future projects to be funded under RESTORE. It’s broken down into eight sections that cover a variety of topics, including Eco-Restoration, Economic Development, Seafood, and Workforce.
The Eco-restoration portion of the report does a good initial job of surveying restoration needs on the Coast, and existing programs, like the Mississippi Coastal Improvement Program, that could help drive restoration. It also identifies the following four priority issues: healthy water resources; habitat conservation, restoration, and enhancement; sustainable living coastal and marine resources; and resilient coastal communities. However, we believe ecosystem restoration must be central to all the Go Coast 2020 goals, and many sections of the report fail in that respect.
For example, the Workforce section completely ignores the Mississippi Jobs First Act and barely mentions emerging opportunities for local workers in coastal and marine restoration. The Jobs Act is designed to give local workers a leg up in finding employment from work financed through BP fines and other disasters, and clearly needs to be incorporated into the workforce section of the plan. Studies show every million dollars invested in ecosystem restoration creates between 17-36 jobs, on par or greater than the direct impact of many road, port and energy infrastructure construction projects. How could you talk about Workforce development and BP fines without mentioning basics like that? On the bright side, it does highlight the need to provide workforce training opportunities for Asian-American and Hispanic-American communities struggling with language barriers, as well as seafood workers.
Above and beyond the content of the report, it’s essential that the Governor and other state leaders make a commitment to transparency and public involvement in the disbursal of RESTORE Act funds. One of the agency heads that played a role in drafting this report was former Department of Marine Resources (DMR) Executive Director Bill Walker, and DMR will also play a lead role in spending RESTORE dollars. Dr. Walker was recently fired due to questionable practices at DMR, including the potential misuse of federal Coastal Impact Assistance Program funds meant for restoration and habitat preservation. Considering this ongoing controversy, special attention must be given to agency transparency and accountability when spending the Clean Water Act fine money provided by the RESTORE Act.
Moving forward, we hope that the Governor and other state leaders will work with Coast residents and the public to improve the Go Coast 2020 blueprint. There’s still a long road to travel together to ultimately build a healthier and more resilient coastal ecosystem that supports a vibrant economy for generations to come.
Click here to read the full Go Coast 2020 Final Report.
Raleigh Hoke is GRN’s Mississippi Organizer.