U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, offered an amendment Wednesday with Senator Luther Strange (R-AL) that would increase the money that coastal states like Louisiana are able to receive through revenue sharing under the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA).
The committee passed Cassidy’s amendment, which will restore nearly $100 million in funding for coastal restoration projects in Louisiana. Cassidy’s effort comes after the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority’s recent announcement that it faced an unexpected shortfall in GOMESA revenue that jeopardized coastal restoration projects scheduled to start in 2019.
“This is an important step in restoring Louisiana’s coastline,” said Dr. Cassidy. “Our state has worked carefully to come up with projects to protect critical habitats, fisheries and communities. I will continue working to see this measure is passed by the full Senate and signed into law.”
Separately, during the committee’s deliberations Cassidy opposed Democrats’ attempt to gut offshore oil revenue sharing for Louisiana and other Gulf states entirely. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) offered an amendment to end the federal government’s GOMESA revenue sharing with Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Alabama. The committee voted to reject Cantwell’s amendment after Cassidy spoke against it.
SEN. MARIA CANTWELL (D-WA): The Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006 directed federal revenues for offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico to four states to incentivize and promote offshore oil and gas drilling. Under current law, those coastal states get 100 percent of oil and gas revenues for the first three nautical miles from their shores. The oil and gas revenues beyond three nautical miles belong to the people of the United States as a whole, not the adjacent coastal states.
In my opinion, GOMESA was a terrible idea for the nation as a whole. … [We can] raise $3 billion by eliminating these GOMESA giveaways of federal revenue[.] … We can make a decision now not to keep drilling and putting more into our environment and instead protecting the adaptation and mitigation that has to happen. …
CASSIDY: First, I totally agree with Senator Cantwell and actually with Senator Sanders when they mention we have to add resiliency to our coastline, we have to mitigate the impact of rising sea levels. …
And by the way, developing off the coast of Louisiana, we don’t get the 50 percent revenue share that other states get, for example New Mexico. We don’t. We get 35 percent up to and its capped at $500 million split between four states. But if we have that, under our constitution, we have to put it towards coastal restoration projects.
Now the money doesn’t start until 2017, so Senator Cantwell’s observation is that she hasn’t seen these projects occur. That’s true, because we’ve gotten two or three million dollars, which is helpful for planning but certainly not for construction.
But we are having a comprehensive plan to begin to restore that coastline, which by the way helps project federal assets such as the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and also mitigates the risk that a future hurricane would hit a city like New Orleans and cause billions of dollars of damage, which federal taxpayers step in to help. Lots of benefits there. …
So the issue is whether we should not give Louisiana and the other coastal states … less of a consideration but at least some consideration that states, the western states receive. And whether or not we shouldn’t have the money kind of directly going to protect those federal assets, or whether it should come through the federal government with all the friction that that then takes off.
I think that it’s in the federal taxpayers’ interest to do something for that coastline, because we’re either going to pay now or pay later, to quote an old commercial. In fact, I will have an amendment which says that we should allow one day’s worth of reserves from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to backfill this.
The reason why federal policy has actually decreased the revenue available for GOMESA by about $300 million over two years, and the absence of that, means that restoration will not occur, they will cancel projects, and all of those federal assets will stay at risk that much longer.
So I agree with your concern that we need to mitigate coastline, I just think the effect of what you’re suggesting, Senator Cantwell, would work against that to the area which is most vulnerable in our nation. So of course I oppose it.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): If I may very briefly, in response to Senator Cassidy, mitigation is one issue, and we can talk about it. But the essence of today’s debate is not mitigation, it is whether the United States tells the world and our own people that we’re going to go forward and increase our dependency on fossil fuel, or get to the root of the problem, and that is that climate change is devastating to Louisiana, to Vermont and to every other state in this country, and the time is now—now—to make the bold decision for our kids and our grandchildren that we’re going to break our dependency on fossil fuel and move to sustainable energy. So I would say to my colleague from Louisiana, mitigation is an important issue, not the issue of today. The issue is the fundamental decision, which way forward this country goes in terms of energy and drilling for more oil is not, in my view, the way it should go forward.
CASSIDY: Senator Sanders, just to speak to that… I don’t know though if the way you make a statement is to allow the washing away of a coastline—I’m speaking specifically to Senator Cantwell’s amendment—the washing away of a coastline which will not only destroy federal assets, but the most productive fisheries in the lower 48 [states]—I emphasize the lower 48—as well as other natural resources.
We’re talking about preserving an ecosystem here, in terms of this particular amendment. … [I]f you want to preserve that ecosystem, actually create the opportunity to replace coal with natural gas, and complement and enable renewables, we need that natural gas. But by the way we also need the ecosystem which allows it. And all I’m trying to do is defend the restoration of that ecosystem.
CASSIDY: Western states get 50 percent of the revenue from offshore lease, the GOMESA set up about 10 years ago gave coastal states 35 percent up to a max of $500 million. It’s to begin this year. There’s been a decrease in the amount of receipts because of federal policies and that decrease will persist for a couple years. This is Louisiana’s coastal loss. [chart] This is the flood risk that increased the impact of Katrina upon New Orleans, which cost federal taxpayers $20 billion. This is the Strategic Petroleum Reserve assets which are all at risk because of this. [chart]
By our state’s constitution, any revenue we get from GOMESA has to be used to restore this coastline, which in turn protects these assets and well as the communities that live there. …
[My amendment] takes one day of Strategic Petroleum Reserve assets and sells it and uses the money to backfill over the next two years the revenue lost because of federal policies to allow restoration of our coastline.
SEN. ANGUS KING (I-ME): Would the senator accept an additional cosponsor?
CASSIDY: I would love it.
STAFF: By this vote the yays are 13, the nos are 10, the amendment is agreed to.
SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R-AK): The amendment is agreed to.