Guest commentary: Our coastal protectection, restoration efforts are making a difference _lowres

Chip Kline

A pair of Congressional bills are in the works that could dramatically change the way Louisiana receives coastal protection funding from the oil and gas industry.

Under the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act — GOMESA — the federal government gives coastal states a cut of the revenue it receives from offshore oil drilling. Washington D.C. politicians are wrangling over the pot, Chip Kline told Louisiana's Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority board this week.

One effort would give Louisiana a boost, while another would divert funds generated from the coast to projects around the country, said Kline, the governor's deputy director for coastal activities.

Congressman Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, has sought to raise the percentage of funds that go to state and local governments, Kline said.

Right now, locals can only claim 37.5 percent of GOMESA revenues. Graves wants a 50-50 split with the federal government. He also wants to eliminate a yet-unmet cap on the amount states can receive.

"Louisiana is battling the largest historical, ongoing and prospective loss of coastal wetlands we’ve ever seen, and it’s a national crisis," Graves wrote in a statement last month. "Diverting Louisiana’s energy revenues away from efforts to improve the resiliency of the people, communities and ecosystems responsible for generating the resources in the first place is a fundamentally flawed approach."

An effort to introduce the measures as amendments to existing bills failed, so Graves has introduced the proposal as a standalone bill, Kline said.

In the senate, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has backed a proposal that would increase the amount of GOMESA funding that could be put toward a fund that maintains national parks around the country.

"That doesn't make sense," Kline said.

The federal government should be pumping money generated on the coast back into restoring the coast, if for no other reason to protect its investment, he argued.

Louisiana authorities have had some promising talks with senate appropriations committee chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala, himself a representative of a Gulf state, Kline said.

Board members offered to lend a hand and make calls on the state's behalf. Board member King Milling asked for a list of names and phone numbers and said he'd add his voice to the contingent.

Kline said it would be especially important for Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana, to vigorously oppose any effort to divert GOMESA money away from the coast because the senator has a seat on the appropriations committee.

Kline hopes to do more lobbying in the lame duck session following November's election and promised to come back to the CPRA board at their next quarterly meeting with an update. 

He and CPRA Chairman Johnny Bradberry also pointed out that every dollar counts because GOMESA collections haven't been as high as originally projected.

With the cap in place, Louisiana could receive a maximum $176 million, of which the state would receive the lion's share, though coastal parishes would get a $36 million cut, the two men said. The actual collection was "substantially less" — about $120 million.

Depressed oil prices mean that number is likely to stay low in the next five years, Bradberry said.

However, long-term projections indicate that Louisiana will be running up against its GOMESA funding cap after that point, Kline said.


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