Louisiana has tapped an $82 million share of federal oil money to help prevent its coastal communities, including Terrebonne and Lafourche, from becoming the next Atlantis.
Its the first major allotment under a 2006 law that increased the amount of revenue coastal states get from drilling in federal waters off their coasts. The Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act will send Louisiana and other Gulf Coast states 37.5 percent of that revenue, billions of dollars in coming years.
GOMESA is a significant source of money for Louisiana's $50 billion, 50-year coastal master plan to deal with coastal erosion, rising seas, sinking land and hurricanes.
In case you haven't heard, not everybody is happy about this deal.
GOMESA proponents contend the federal law gives states a fair share of revenue from oil drilled off their coasts, money they can use to repair environmental damage caused by such activity. Opponents say the money belongs to the federal government, not the states.
Anyone who wants to understand the basic arguments on both sides will get a great primer by watching a replay of Thursday's hearing on the issue in Washington, which I've included with this column at houmatoday.com and dailycomet.com. The points officials made during the House Natural Resources Committee hearing are not new, but both sides articulate their cases well.
Among those testifying were Terrebonne Levee Director Reggie Dupre, Port Fourchon Executive Director Chett Chiasson and former Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, one of GOMESA's chief architects.
Some of the most interesting debate started after John Barry, a former New Orleans area levee board member, told the committee the state and Congress should hold oil companies accountable for damage they caused to Louisiana's wetlands. Barry has led efforts to get levee boards and coastal parishes to sue oil companies for drilling-related environmental damage. Barry said the federal government is also responsible after flood-control levees built along the Mississippi River cut off the fresh water and sediment that built and sustained Louisiana's coastal wetlands.
"It's time for everyone to step up and address the problem -- together," Barry said.
Here are a few of the other points made during the hearing:
"There is ... a fundamental disconnect here,” said Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif., a committee member. “On the one hand, the argument goes that Louisiana needs more money from offshore oil and gas to combat the damages arising from those oil and gas activities. On the other hand, many of the same people making that argument will fight any effort to hold the oil and gas industry accountable for some of the damage and will consistently support that industry's agenda of more access and less regulations."
"Asking Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes to sue the oil and gas industry would be like asking Florida to sue the cruise line industry, asking Las Vegas to sue the casino industry, asking New York City to sue the finance industry," Landrieu countered. "It is really an unfair inference. It infers that the people of Lafourche and Terrebonne don't care about their hunting, their wetlands, their fishing. ... We value our environment. The question is not about, in this committee, what oil and gas is doing. The question is, what is the federal government doing to share these revenues fairly?"
"The efforts and sacrifices of the people of coastal Louisiana have paved the way for the economic expansion of this country," Dupre told the committee, referring to the oil and gas the area supplies. "The delta region of Louisiana has been sacrificed to accommodate the building of Mississippi River levees in the early 20th century. The rates of subsidence and coastal erosion were exponentially advanced, and the problems that we are facing today are the result. Navigation and commerce throughout the country has been saved, the heartland has been spared flooding of the mighty river, and the positive economic impact of this work to the country is immeasurable. But my region is gasping for survival as a result."
One of the most refreshing things about Thursday's debate was that it focused on important ideas and convictions rather that partisan bickering. Both sides make a convincing case, and there is plenty of middle ground and room for compromise. Barry makes that point clearly: "It's time for everyone to step up and address the problem -- together."
-- Executive Editor Keith Magill can be reached at 857-2201 firstname.lastname@example.org.