US President Donald Trump and his cohorts in Congress have vowed to revive rural America by eliminating what he claims are burdensome environmental regulations, but the best that can be said about the initiatives launched so far is that they might boost profits for some of the energy and agriculture interests that support Republicans on the House Resources Committee.
You can't, however, say they'll create more jobs than they destroy, because profits aren't jobs. In fact, they're often the opposite: companies save money by cutting jobs, and in this case, the jobs they cut will be those that pay people to plant trees, restore rivers, and turn soggy, unproductive farms into wetlands that filter water, purify air, and slow climate change.
Those jobs are part of a $25 billion "restoration economy" that directly employs 126,000 people and supports 95,000 other jobs - mostly in small businesses - according to a 2015 survey that environmental economist Todd BenDor conducted through the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
That's more jobs than logging, more than coal mining, and more than iron and steel, as you can see here:
The restoration economy is already providing jobs for loggers across Oregon, and even some coal miners in Virginia, but it could disappear if the GOP environmental rollback continues. Here are 11 things you need to know to understand it.
1. It's not Solar and Wind
2. It's Government-Driven
The demand for restoration, however, isn't as automatic as the demand for electricity is, because most companies and even some landowners won't clean up their messes without an incentive to do so.
Economists call these messes "externalities" because they dump an internal responsibility on the external world, and governments are created in part to deal with them - mostly through "command-and-control" regulation, but also through systems that let polluters either fix their messes or create something as good or better than what they destroy.
Under the Endangered Species Act, for example, a local government that wants to build a road through sensitive habitat can petition the Fish and Wildlife Service for permission to do so. If permission is granted, it still has to make good by restoring degraded habitat in the same region.
3. It's Often Market-Based
These are usually created by green entrepreneurs who identify marginal land and restore it to a stable state that performs ecosystem services like flood control or water purification. They make money by selling credits to entities - personal, public, or private - that need to offset their environmental impacts on species, wetlands or streams.
At least $2.8 billion per year flows through ecosystem markets in the United States, according to Ecosystem Marketplace research.
4. Infrastructure Also Drives Restoration
Government agencies are big buyers of credits, often to offset damage caused by infrastructure projects, but the link between infrastructure and restoration goes even deeper than that. In Philadelphia, for example, restoration workers are using water fees to restore degraded forests and fields as part of a plan to better manage storm runoff. In California, meadows and streams that control floods are legally treated as green infrastructure, to be funded from that pot of money. "Green infrastructure", it turns out, is prettier than concrete and lasts longer to boot.
Trump wants to "expedite" infrastructure roll-outs, and he can do so without weakening environmental provisions by removing unnecessary delays in the permitting process (see point 11, below).
5. Markets Can Reduce Regulations
"They're supposed to prevent erosion, but they often fail or are put in the wrong places," he says. "Markets can simply enact a limit on erosion, allowing the landowner the freedom to be creative and efficient in any way they see fit in order to meet that limit."
Done right, environmental markets can replace overly prescriptive regulations, but they still require government oversight and regulation.
"Markets are entirely reliant on strong monitoring, verification, and enforcement of limits," says BenDor. "Provisions must be made to ensure that, but in reality it's often a problem."
6. Restoration Stimulates Rural Economies
By their very nature, restoration projects are located in rural areas, and a study by Cathy Kellon and Taylor Hesselgrave of EcoTrust found that Oregon alone had more than 7,000 watershed restoration projects, which generated nearly 6,500 jobs from 2001 through 2010. Many of those jobs went to unemployed loggers.
"The jobs created by restoration activities are located mostly in rural areas, in communities hard hit by the economic downturn," report authors wrote. "Restoration also stimulates demand for the products and services of local businesses such as plant nurseries, heavy equipment companies, and rock and gravel companies."
7. It's been Mapped
8. The Jobs are Robot-Proof
BenDor's research shows restoration jobs are evenly divided between white-collar planners, designers, and engineers and the green-collar guys doing the actual earth moving and site construction.
Almost all involve time in the great outdoors, and they can't be exported or done by robots.
9. The Jobs are Cost-Effective
10. It Doesn't Stifle Business
Even proponents of the system concede, however, that the permitting process is slow and tedious.
11. It Can Be Improved
Delays are so costly, they argue, that companies in the restoration sector might be better off paying 50-fold higher permitting prices that would give the agencies the staff needed to properly process permits, akin to expedited building permits, rather than paying banks the interest on loans for land where environmental improvements are being held up.