By Mark J. Clayton
Reprinted with permission from May 6, 2006 New Orleans Times-Picayune
Copyright © 2006, The Times-Picayune. All rights reserved.
In the aftermath of the 2005 hurricane season, many of us feel
a sense of foreboding, because we suspect that the devastation
is merely a harbinger of things to come. What will be the consequences
of the next hurricane? How can we set aside the resources to
recover from another such blow?
The devastation wrought by Hurricanes Dennis, Emily, Katrina,
Rita and Wilma is consistent with what scientists have warned
is a consequence of global warming. Coupled with rising sea levels,
longer, stronger hurricane seasons threaten to make much of the
Gulf Coast inhospitable to civilization.
Abandonment of Gulf Coast cities, however, is not an option.
The Gulf Coast ports are of critical economic importance to the
nation. Using 2003 statistics, of the 10 largest U.S. ports for
foreign trade, only New York and Long Beach are not on the Gulf
Coast. That year, well over 1 billion tons of shipping passed
through Gulf Coast ports.
This shipping benefits the entire nation. All agriculture and
manufacturing products throughout the vast Mississippi basin
are dependent on the Gulf Coast ports for export. The entire
nation depends on the imports that enter through these same ports.
Although the risk of utter catastrophe in New Orleans is perhaps
most obvious, all Gulf Coast ports share vulnerability to hurricanes,
and the destruction of any of them could cripple the U.S. economy.
It makes sense to pool our resources across the nation to secure
the Gulf Coast ports. A Gulf Coast Renewal Fee on all shipping
that enters or exits the nation through Gulf Coast ports would
be a fair, broad-based way to protect this critical region from
The amount of a fee must be set by economists, politicians,
and development experts. However, with 1 billion tons of shipping
annually through these ports, a $10 per ton fee would raise $10
billion annually. When considered over the decades that recovery
will require, this fee could provide an enormous fund for recovery.
It could also be a very significant resource for funding prevention
and preparation actions.
The funds would then be spent to strengthen the municipal infrastructure
of the cities.
The federal, state and local governments would build levees,
river outlets, port structures and other public works directly
affecting the security of shipping. However, the ports are not
merely docks, cranes, railroads and highways, but are communities
of people. The people needed to serve the ports require housing,
shopping districts, water, electricity, sewerage, transportation,
and recreational facilities.
They also require top-flight schools; they must be well-educated
so they understand the complex ecological and engineering principles
needed to sustain the fragile Gulf Coast environment.
It would be utter folly to entrust stewardship of this vital
region either to absentee rulers or to a poorly educated, desperately
poor local polity. Care must be taken to assure that funds raised
for Gulf Coast security benefit the people of the Gulf Coast.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and "Rising Tide" author
John M. Barry have suggested that a fee be assessed on Gulf of
Mexico oil production. Their idea is to use the funds to pay
for improvement to New Orleans levees and to preserve South Louisiana
wetlands that serve as a natural cushion to storm surges.
In my opinion, however, we should address security throughout
the Gulf Coast region, rather than just New Orleans. We should
employ a broader base for revenue generation, and, because of
our collective dependence upon the Gulf Coast ports, spread the
cost indirectly across the entire nation.
Such a fee should be applied at a federal level. No port could
then obtain an unfair competitive advantage by ignoring its share
of recovery costs. Every port would receive increased security
against a danger that is highly unpredictable in the short term
but inevitable in the long run. In some sense, the fee is not
a tax but an insurance premium.
Economically, securing the Gulf Coast is imperative. Politically,
the states of the Gulf Coast constitute a tenth of the senators
and over a sixth of the representatives. Most importantly, achieving
sustainable communities in the Gulf Coast region is the right
thing to do. With a Gulf Coast Renewal Fee applied to shipping
throughout the region, we can collect funds to reduce the adverse
impacts of climate change. We would then have a chance to produce
Gulf Coast communities that will be a shining example of civilization
in harmony with nature.
. . . . . . .
Mark J. Clayton is executive associate dean of the College of
Architecture at Texas A&M University and a native of New
Orleans. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.