On the premier environmental problem facing Louisiana, the president of the United States is exercising a profoundly negative influence.
The proposed federal budget for 2017 seeks to repeal a landmark 2006 law that would provide greatly increased government funding for coastal protection and restoration.
President Barack Obama’s budget urges repeal of the law — dubbed GOMESA — that shares some offshore drilling revenue with four states on the Gulf of Mexico that bear the principal burden of energy production in the region.
This is wrong, not only on grounds of equity but because of the pressing need for new sources of money to fund large and expensive environmental restoration projects.
Louisiana would get the bulk of the $500 million allowed under the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act, although that figure is the top limit. The budget estimate for 2017 is $375 million from offshore drilling, with Louisiana due about $176 million.
The White House proposed repeal of the payments as “unnecessary and costly” to a “handful of states.”
As the people of Louisiana see the shrinking of our coastal wetlands, in part because of the environmental consequences of energy production, we wonder why the U.S. government should not share some of its wealth with this particular state.
Restoring Louisiana’s coastlands to stability, much less repairing damages of the past few years, is certainly going to be costly. But the cost will be far less than hundreds of billions of dollars in property damage suffered from hurricanes. The giant storms of the past decade also cost more than 1,000 lives along the Gulf Coast.
A coastal buffer against hurricanes is just one benefit. The wetlands of Louisiana are vital contributors to fisheries and recreation, renewable and sustainable resources for the entire nation.
A current estimate is that 17 square miles of the state are lost every year. That will be only worse during violent storms battering the barrier islands and environmentally sensitive wetlands.
Louisiana has worked hard to develop a master plan for coastal restoration. Revenues for coastal protection are not to be raided for other state purposes but are to be dedicated to the plan.
It is a high priority for the Louisiana delegation in Congress to preserve the funding under GOMESA.
“We are very vigilant about that,” U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, told editors of The Advocate on Monday. “We feel we can ward off attacks on it.”
Boustany and U.S. Sen. David Vitter, of Metairie, are the two members of the delegation remaining from the original group that passed the revenue-sharing bill. Louisiana’s representatives are generally a conservative bunch, but in this fight, they can join with major environmental groups that want to fund the restoration of the Louisiana coastline. Elizabeth Weiner, an ecosystems senior policy manager at the Environmental Defense Fund, told The Associated Press that Louisiana has a good plan in place to stem land loss and that the offshore revenues are critically needed.
We commend the delegation for its vigilance on this issue, where the president is failing in his promises to the American people to be a proper steward of the environment of this country.