Thursday, July 22, 2010

Recovery toward a green future

For several months the entire focus of the Gulf Coast has been on oil. We have watched black tar wash onto the shores of our white beaches. We have learned a whole new vocabulary and more details about oil rigs than we ever wanted to know. We also look to the future, a future of damaged fisheries, a poisoned Gulf, and a damaged reputation with tourists.

And we have seen firsthand the perils of our national and worldwide dependence on oil.

With the clean-up progressing and hope for an end to the gushing, the talk now is of how to target assistance to rebuilding our economy and our region. It is time for local leaders to come together with one voice to tell the federal and state governments what would help us the most.

Local leaders have begun the process, and many lists have been generated. Instead of a generic wish list of projects, though, we need a driving vision, a focus for how we can emerge from this catastrophe as a better community. Since the challenge has been caused by dirty energy, the rebuilding should target green initiatives, improving our local environment, strengthening our economy, and also giving the Gulf Coast the cache of the “Green Coast”.

Many ideas have been suggested. Some tap existing federal programs, such as
  • Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants
  • EDA grants for infrastructure development at former superfund sites.
Others might be region-wide projects that could make our transportation network more green, including
  • Implementation of a recommended passenger rail service between New Orleans and Orlando
  • A targeted pilot program of the Marine Highways program to encourage shipping through a less energy intensive means.
But if we are to become a greener community we should consider new programs. These programs could be region-wide, including:
  • Support for new, green industry in the area.
  • Assistance in creating in-fill housing to reduce residents’ commutes
  • Grant programs for residents or businesses to improve the energy efficiency of buildings
  • Incentive programs for businesses to encourage employees to use alternative transportation
In addition, communities could create a list of targeted projects unique to their needs. Projects for Pensacola might include:
  • Ferry service between downtown Pensacola, the beach, and NAS
  • Infrastructure for the port of Pensacola to increase the range of materials which may be shipped through the port
  • Improvements to the ECAT bus system to increase ridership
  • Enhancements such as bike lanes and sidewalks to encourage the use of alternative transportation
  • Acceleration of efforts to clean up our bayous, including additional stormwater vaults.
These suggestions should not supplant other proposals which provide traditional incentives and support for small businesses. However, we need to move beyond the idea of business as usual toward a new vision of the Gulf Coast. We also should not count on others to do it all; we need to consider local initiatives, like transportation reduction incentives and green certification, which I will explore in a future blog. Where currently we are so devastatingly impacted by dirty industry, we will emerge as an environmental leader. White (sands) and black (tar) should make green (initiatives).