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Congressman Garret Graves (R) hosts a town hall on Thursday night at the Central Library.

Advocate photo by CAROLINE OURSO

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke vowed to use his clout to fast-track coastal restoration projects during a Saturday visit to Louisiana.

"Louisiana and the coastline are important, and we're losing too much of it. ... There's a lot of things that Interior can do," the secretary told reporters at the Water Institute of the Gulf where he began the day.

The U.S. Department of the Interior oversees the nation's natural resources. Members of the Louisiana congressional delegation invited Zinke to the Pelican State to demonstrate current restoration efforts and ask for federal assistance.

Zinke said he's in a position to work with other federal agencies like the Army Corps of Engineers to "get the bureaucracy out of the way."

He turned to Congressman Garret Graves, a Baton Rouge Republican, for an example of how bureaucratic red tape poses problems.

The state is ready to spend a billion dollars on South Louisiana coastal projects like the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, Graves said, and can't wait the five years the federal government has estimated it will take to perform all the required studies and permitting.

The federal government has become an impediment to performing necessary work that's been vetted and peer-reviewed by scientists, the congressman continued. He said the state needs someone to "grease the skids," and Zinke appeared to be ready and able to help.

Coastal restoration is important to protecting Louisiana residents from hurricanes and storm surges, Graves noted. The secretary and delegation members also framed restoration as an economic issue. Louisiana's oil, gas, shipping and other industries are reliant on a healthy coast, Zinke said.

"No one does energy production better than the U.S., and no one does it better than here in Louisiana and the Gulf," he remarked.

Graves hopes Zinke's visit underscores the importance of coastal erosion not just ti Louisiana but to the nation.

"This really helps to highlight the national significance of this (to the energy sector,)" he said.

The Department of the Interior also oversees offshore oil drilling.

Under the Obama administration, Interior ceased new development in the Gulf of Mexico, said Louisiana Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy.

Zinke came to Louisiana at the invitation of Cassidy, who wasn't able to make the morning event at the Water Institute because he was delayed in Washington for the tax reform vote. However, Cassidy hooked up later with Zinke on his tour of Louisiana.

Cassidy said in a telephone interview that he hopes the interior secretary will open up more drilling opportunities. He said that's desirable both for the jobs they will provide and because those companies pay leases that fund coastal restoration projects.

"I'm glad (Zinke's) down here to see it first hand," Cassidy said by phone from Thibodaux.

During Zinke's morning visit to the Water Institute with state policymakers and researchers, he viewed the new Mississippi River model on display there, calling it phenomenal.

Zinke praised local scientists and said he will look to them to determine how best to "do the right plumbing for the basin."

His Saturday schedule also included private events at the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve near Thibodaux and an airboat tour of a freshwater diversion in St. Charles Parish.

Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.