Does President Barack Obama hate Louisiana? Citing a newspaper headline asking that question, U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, at a recent budget hearing, seemed to think the answer is yes.
While we cannot know what is in Obama’s heart, it would be reasonable to assume that Louisiana is not his favorite state. We don’t vote for him, Gov. Bobby Jindal insults him at every turn and, except for New Orleans, this a no-go zone for Democrats.
Cassidy, remonstrating with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, suggested the animus against Louisiana is such that the White House doesn’t care about families that will be flooded out as our wetlands continue to slide into the Gulf.
Cassidy’s outburst was in response to Obama’s proposed budget, which would yank oil royalties from federal waters that have for the last few years been handed out to Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. The proposal comes just when Louisiana’s share, which is earmarked for coastal restoration, is scheduled to increase to about $200 million a year.
What strikes Cassidy as punishment for Louisiana is portrayed by the White House as a plan to promote the general good. According to the official statement, “Funds will instead be directed to 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.”
Evidently, our message has not been getting through. Whether Obama hates Louisiana or not, the disappearance of the Louisiana coast is an American crisis. We lead the nation in shipping tonnage, and provide 18 percent of its oil and 24 percent of its gas. Our commercial fisheries are the richest in the country and what is left of the wetlands teems with wildlife. The current rates of land loss spell disaster for the national economy by 2050. The smart move by the federal government would be to invest more in our salvation, yet Obama proposes the opposite.
He is unlikely to get his way. Even the lobbying group Taxpayers for Common Sense, which supports the administration proposal, concedes that the Gulf states have enough clout to hang on to the money. In any case, none of Obama’s causes elicits much sympathy in this Congress.
We get a share of the offshore revenues under the terms of the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act, which, largely thanks to Mary Landrieu, was passed in 2006. The rationale was that the states deserved compensation for the environmental damage caused by drilling off their coasts. That made plenty of sense in Louisiana, which is sliding under the waves at a rate traditionally measured in football fields. The current rate is one an hour. The oil and gas industry, according to its own studies, has caused 36 percent of the loss by dredging canals and installing pipelines all across the marshes.
The Energy Security Act has brought relatively modest returns so far — $30 million in total — but phase two, scheduled to start in two years, brings rigs from a much wider field area into its ambit, yielding $375 million a year for the four states to divvy up.
Whatever gratitude voters felt to Landrieu was not enough to overcome the Republican surge in last fall’s elections and Cassidy took her place in the senate. His current efforts to sustain her handiwork suggest she did a better job than he gave her credit for during the campaign.
If the $200 million a year remains available, it will go toward the state’s 50-year master plan for the coast, which also will be boosted by fines collected from BP for the Deepwater Horizon spill. That will amount to a tidy sum — certainly several billion — but that will be nowhere near enough to fix the subsiding Louisiana coast, which, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is more vulnerable to the rising seas than anywhere else on the planet.
The cost of the master plan — $50 billion — would have been well beyond Louisiana even if Jindal had not stripped the treasury bare.
Meanwhile, Cassidy’s fury over the proposed raid on our offshore money is evidently shared by the congressional delegations of all four states. Yet nobody wants to make oil and gas atone for its transgressions by contributing an appropriately fat sum to the master plan.
And there is scant support for any move to curb the carbon emissions that scientists blame for the climate change that will be partly responsible when those Louisiana families are flooded out.
Imagine how much worse it would be if these legislators hated Louisiana, too.
James Gill’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.