Bill seeks to increase La. coastal money
Louisiana and several other Gulf states would receive more offshore oil money to help preserve and restore their coasts under a measure headed to the U.S. House.
The bill, introduced Rep. Garret Graves. R-Baton Rouge, won approval Thursday by the House Natural Resources Committee. It would increase the amount of federal oil revenue Louisiana receives from federal waters off its coast from 37.5 percent to 50 percent. The measure would do the same for Alabama, Mississippi and Texas.
“Moving this bill is a big deal and has enormous implications for south Louisiana,” said Graves, whose district includes northern Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes. “Louisiana is battling the largest historical, ongoing and prospective loss of coastal wetlands we’ve ever seen, and it’s a national crisis.”
His measure amends the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act, a 2006 law that also increased the amount of federal oil money Louisiana and other Gulf states receive from drilling off their coasts. GOMESA, as it’s called, is a significant source of money for Louisiana’s $50 billion, 50-year coastal master plan. The collection of river diversions, wetlands rebuilding, levee work and other projects aim to deal with coastal erosion, rising seas, sinking land and hurricanes.
GOMESA proponents contend the law gives states a fair share of revenue from oil drilled off their coasts, money they can use to repair some of the environmental damage caused by such activity.
Graves argues that his measure increases Gulf states’ oil revenue to the same percentage inland states get from production on federal lands within their boundaries. In 2016 alone, he told the committee, oil production in the Gulf’s federal waters generated $2.7 billion for the U.S. Treasury, but Louisiana received only 0.4 percent, or $11 million.
“Our bill ensures that these increased revenues will be committed to projects that restore the coast, protect our coastal communities from hurricanes and other disasters and, ultimately, reduce our nation’s outrageous disaster response costs,” Graves said in a news release.
Gulf states will receive a combined $188 million through GOMESA this year, including $82 million for Louisiana. It’s about half the amount they expected; reasons include low oil prices and a resulting decline in new offshore drilling leases.
Gulf states have received smaller installments under the law since 2007, money derived from a limited portion of the Gulf oilfield. Starting last year, the law expanded the states’ revenue sharing to a much larger swath of federal waters in the Gulf, greatly increasing the amount of money each receives. By law, Louisiana must spend the money on coastal restoration or hurricane protection, with about 10 percent dedicated to coastal infrastructure such as roads and bridges.
Graves’ bill would also eliminate the cap of $500 million that Gulf states can receive under GOMESA.
Louisiana lawmakers have fought for years to increase the percentage of federal offshore money the state receives through the law and eliminate the cap. An amendment to the federal tax reform measure that passed in December, introduced by U.S. Sen Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Metairie, raises the GOMESA limit to $650 million for 2020 and 2021.
The Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana urged Congress to pass Graves’ measure.
“We have always believed that the Gulf states were entitled to more of the revenues than they were originally allocated,” the group’s policy director, Emily Vuxton, said in a news release.
“Coastal Louisiana is disappearing every day and as it does, our communities, our people, our economy and our way of life are put at risk,” she said. “We have a plan to rebuild and restore our coast, but we do not have the funding needed to complete (it). ... This bill will help us plan, design and, ultimately, construct the projects that are vital to our survival.”