This year marks the 10th anniversary of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Unfortunately, some lawmakers and the president are attempting to redirect funds aimed at remedying coastal wetland loss and poor hurricane protection that the storms exposed.
In James Gill’s March 4 column (“Louisiana’s coastal decline a national problem; does President Obama care?”), Gill rightly questioned the wisdom and motives of an Obama administration budget recommendation that would redirect Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas revenues currently dedicated to restoring and protecting Louisiana’s coast through the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA).
The president believes those revenues would better benefit “programs that offer broader natural resource, watershed and conservation benefits for the entire nation, help the federal government fulfill its role of being a good neighbor to local communities and support other national priorities.” This begs the question: What about Louisiana’s local communities? What other national priorities?
A March 17 report out of Washington revealed Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee back Obama’s push to redirect GOMESA funds, too. According to a Feb. 20 letter sent to the House Committee on Budget by Natural Resources Committee Democrats, “the Outer Continental Shelf belongs to all Americans” and “coastal restoration efforts in the Gulf are going to be funded by billions of dollars of BP Clean Water Act penalties pursuant to the RESTORE Act.” Certainly the Outer Continental Shelf and its energy revenues belong to all Americans. So does the onshore habitat and infrastructure impacts of that energy development. Also, one would think the Mississippi River belongs to all Americans, as does the enormous toll paid in the loss of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands from maintaining a viable, deep-draft navigation channel all the way to the Gulf.
It’s wrong to assume penalties from the spill, paid in large part to help fix its impacts, will cover damage caused to coastal Louisiana from oil and gas development and channelization of the Mississippi River over the last century. It’s also unwise to assume all oil spill penalties will be available quickly or widespread enough to complete the enormous restoration and protection task, estimated at $50 billion. GOMESA dollars are being counted on as the long-term, sustained funding source.
Louisianans showed a commitment to their coast in 2006 by voting to constitutionally dedicate GOMESA dollars, estimated to provide billions in coming decades, to coastal restoration work.
State residents recognize restoring Louisiana’s coast is a national conservation priority, which is essential to sustaining world-class fisheries and waterfowl habitat, as well as our coastal communities, unique culture and a vital source of energy for the entire nation. It’s perplexing the president and others in Washington don’t recognize that.
Center for Marine Fisheries director, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership