Groups decry Trump’s plan to strip La. coastal money

06 12, 2017 by Daily Comet

Oil industry and environmental groups are the latest to express opposition.

Oil industry and environmental groups have joined Louisiana interests voicing opposition to a Trump administration budget proposal that would strip the state of billions of dollars it plans to use to protect coastal communities from hurricanes and an encroaching Gulf of Mexico.

At issue is the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act, which Congress passed in 2006. It allows four Gulf states — Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas — to receive 37.5 percent of federal oil revenue from drilling off their coasts, capped at $500 million a year, beginning this year.

President Donald Trump’s proposed fiscal 2018 budget would eliminate the revenue-sharing, sending the money to the federal treasury rather than the Gulf states.

“Revenues that are shared through GOMESA are vital to the health of Louisiana’s working coast,” Don Briggs, president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, said in a news release. “The oil and gas industry worked hand-in-hand with the congressional delegation to ensure that these shared revenues were made permanent in order to protect Louisiana’s coastal communities. We will continue fighting to ensure that Louisiana and our oil and gas sector remain open for business.”

The group, along with the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, sent a letter to Trump last week urging him to allow Louisiana and the other Gulf states to keep the revenue-sharing money.

“The passage of GOMESA was a long road, which took many years to pass, that spanned over several administrations, said Mid-Continent President Chris John. “These dedicated funds should be used for coastal restoration and protection as intended by the Congress. Louisiana expects these funds to be used as a steady and predictable funding stream. Even hinting at diverting these funds from its original dedication puts meaningful dollars for coastal restoration at risk. We urge the administration to take this into account and confirm the sanctity of this agreement by continuing the funding stream to Gulf states.”

Also last week, a coalition of five environmental groups issued a statement opposition Trump’s proposal to keep the GOMESA money for the federal government rather than the Gulf states.

“It’s easy to miss why these programs matter if your home, family and businesses aren’t on the Gulf Coast, in the regular path of mega storms,” the groups said in a joint statement. “Funding for restoration makes the coast and its communities more secure and able to withstand extreme weather.

“In this proposed budget, the Trump Administration is demonstrating that it does not understand what’s at stake for our region,” the groups said. “We call on the Gulf delegation -- including leaders who have lived through storms like Katrina, Matthew, Gustav and Ike -- to stand up for coastal communities. ... Congressional leaders -- particularly from the Gulf delegation and other coastal areas around the country -- must make good on their promises of restoration.”

Organizations issuing the statement include the Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society, Ocean Conservancy and Nature Conservancy. They released the statement in advance of two budget hearings in Washington, including one with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and another with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
Members of Louisiana’s congressional delegation as well as Gov. John Bel Edwards have already gone on record opposing the budget proposal, released last month. Edwards said the state expects to receive $145 million to $176 million annually in revenue-sharing payments that have already been dedicated by law to coastal restoration and protection.

The money is a critical part of the state’s $50 million, 50-year coastal master plan, which received final approval by the state Legislature during a three-month regular session that ended Thursday.

GOMESA supporters claim the coastal states have for decades received a far lower percentage of revenue from federal drilling off their shores than interior states do from such activity within their borders. They contend the money will help offset damage to the environment and infrastructure caused by oil and gas drilling.

Critics have targeted the law as a giveaway, claiming oil money from the Gulf’s federal waters belongs to U.S. taxpayers. A similar provision was included the Obama administration’s proposed budgets for the past two years but was rejected by Congress.

“The administration proposes to repeal these revenue-sharing payments, set to expand substantially starting in 2018, to ensure the sale of public resources from federal waters owned by all Americans benefit all Americans,” the Interior Department says in budget documents. “Gulf Coast States currently receive significant economic benefits from activity in their states associated with offshore energy development and are further set to receive additional benefits from the payout of the $20.8 billion BP oil spill settlement agreement reached in 2015.”