Louisiana to receive several billion dollars as part of massive BP oil spill settlement with Gulf states _lowres

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell announced Thursday morning that BP has reached an agreement with U.S. authorities on an $18.7 billion settlement in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Much more legal work is needed on the details, but that hasn’t stopped the Louisiana Legislature from spending a good bit of the BP settlement ahead of time. Hundreds of millions of dollars due to the state will go to refill a “rainy day” fund and another trust for the elderly.

Why? Both have been depleted in the past few years because of bad financial management by legislators and Gov. Bobby Jindal. For the politicians, the historic BP settlement is thus a political savior.

That’s why we worry about the bulk of the money, more than $6 billion, coming to the state. It should be spent on coastal restoration and not on political wish lists. Nor should any more of it be used, as the Legislature decided in advance of this settlement, to backfill the holes in the budgets of Jindal and Co., who left our state with recurring budget shortfalls as far as the eye can see.

We think Attorney General Loretta Lynch is right that the BP settlement for the five Gulf states should “bring lasting benefits to the Gulf region for generations to come.” That will require tough management and decisions made with an eye toward that long future.

Advocates across the political spectrum agreed about the need for a true coastal commitment of the money now agreed to in principle with BP and the litigants. Raleigh Hoke, campaign director for the Gulf Restoration Network, said the organization worried how much money actually would go to coastal restoration. “Projects should mitigate future environmental harm by restoring wetlands and barrier islands or ameliorating current environmental harms,” added the R Street Institute, a conservative policy group.

We hope the politicians are listening.

No amount of money, of course, can restore the 11 lives lost in the 2010 blowout. Yet there is a rough justice in the fact that the vast bulk of federal payments are mandated for the Gulf Coast and particularly Louisiana. That is in large part because of aggressive federal and state litigation but also such initiatives as the RESTORE Act of 2012, apportioning Clean Water Act penalties to the affected states.

Amid all the mutual congratulations by officials over the final global settlement, the contribution of former U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., prime mover in Congress for the RESTORE Act, should be remembered. She lost re-election over other issues last year, but this settlement’s aid to the coast happened in large part because of her.

The state has a widely accepted master plan for restoration of the coast, the vessel through which much of this BP money can and should be spent. Recent governors, including Jindal, have pushed for a comprehensive plan for coastal work. Garret Graves, of Baton Rouge, now a U.S. congressman, was deeply involved in the plan’s development as Jindal’s coastal aide.

Now that the spending of this money is in view, we hope that Graves and others will be among the watchdogs of the state’s financial commitment. The estimated $50 billion in long-term coastal restoration projects will need future federal support. We cannot realistically expect Congress to pay unless at the state level we are committed to proper use of the BP settlement money.