River diversions, river flooding and seafloor erosion: The week's coastal roundup

Satellite view of the lower Mississippi River Delta. (NASA)

WASHINGTON — Members of Louisiana's congressional delegation continue to push for the state to receive a bigger cut of the revenues from oil and gas produced in the Gulf of Mexico. 

Under current federal law, Gulf states like Louisiana get about 37.5 percent of the money made from offshore energy, while states that have energy production sites on federal land get about half. About 12.5 percent of offshore revenues are dedicated to the Land and Water Conservation Fund to provide money for national parks and forests but there is no such requirement for inland energy revenues.

That’s prompted repeated calls for parity, and more bills in the House and Senate, both efforts led by Louisiana lawmakers, have been filed in recent weeks.

By law, any federal dollars the state gets for offshore energy production goes to Louisiana’s coastal restoration efforts.

“Louisiana is battling the largest historical, ongoing and prospective loss of coastal wetlands we’ve ever seen, and it’s a national crisis,” U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, a Baton Rouge Republican who has sponsored a House bill addressing the issue along with U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans.

The Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006 was adopted to distribute some federal revenue collected from energy-related drilling off the coasts of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas back to those states.

The U.S. government makes billions off Gulf oil and gas production royalties each year.

Louisiana officials have long pushed for an update that would address the disparity in how much of that money trickles down to Gulf states.

Congress currently is on its annual August recess, but members of the Louisiana delegation and their lawmakers from other Gulf Coast states have identified the GOMESA push among their priorities heading into the fall.

“Louisiana’s coastline infrastructure is critical for America’s energy and economic security,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Baton Rouge Republican who is sponsoring legislation in the upper chamber along with U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, R-Madisonville. “This legislation creates equal treatment for Louisiana’s offshore revenue sharing and secures the funds needed to strengthen our state’s coastal restoration efforts.”

Louisiana received nearly $95 million in GOMESA revenue from the U.S. Department of the Interior earlier this year — about $12 million more than it received a year earlier in its first large-scale payout of outer-continental shelf revenue in GOMESA's scheduled phase-in.

Aside from being one of the largest offshore energy producers, Louisiana is faced with catastrophic land erosion that threatens coastal communities.

Louisiana voters in 2006 decided that any GOMESA revenue would go the state's Coastal Trust Fund to bolster coastal restoration and protection efforts.

Louisiana loses about 16 square miles of land a year to coastal erosion, according to expert estimates. 

Environmental advocates have pointed to climate change and oil and gas production as factors, but most members of the Louisiana delegation lay blame on the levee system that has prevented the Mississippi River from flowing into the affected areas. Scientists generally agree that it's a combination of all those factors.

“It’s a national tragedy that we’ve lost miles and miles of land in Louisiana going back to when the decision was made by the federal government to put levees along the Mississippi River to control its flow through the Port of New Orleans instead of allowing all that sediment to be dispersed,” said U.S. House Republican Whip Steve Scalise, of Jefferson Parish.

Each year, Scalise brings a group of House members from other states to Louisiana to visit an offshore oil rig to see energy production first-hand. He said he also shows them the effects that coastal erosion has had on the state.

Scalise said he supports the continued push to grow the share Louisiana receives. 

“I want to continue to see us expanding the opportunity for our state and any other state to receive the same amount of money that everybody else gets,” Scalise said. “This has been a long-time problem and we finally found a solution. We’re going to keep working to make it get parity with every other state."

Chip Kline, the coastal chief and chairman of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority board, said he's appreciative of the Louisiana delegation's legislative push for more federal dollars for Louisiana's coastal efforts and believes its a sign of "incredible momentum" to increase the GOMESA share.

"The entire nation relies on the health and resiliency of our coastal ecosystems and communities, and revenues derived from those resources should absolutely be reinvested into our working coast and its future viability," he said.

Restore the Mississippi River Delta — a broad coalition of conservation groups that includes the National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, and the Environmental Defense Fund — also backs the latest round of parity proposals.

"Land loss in Louisiana is a truly existential crisis for the communities and wildlife that rely on this vital coastal ecosystem. With a comprehensive coastal restoration plan in place and projects underway, Louisiana needs the resources to address this crisis for the generations to come," the group said in a statement.

Email Elizabeth Crisp at ecrisp@theadvocate.com and follow on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.