Florida Everglades would be a winner, Louisiana coast a loser under proposed Obama budget

Florida Everglades would be a winner, Louisiana coast a loser under proposed Obama budget

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - For centuries, long before hotel resorts sprouted along the Florida Keys, Florida bay was a wonderland.

The Everglades fed the blue green waters of the bay just enough fresh water to create a world-class estuary between the Keys and the mainland.

"It's in sick shape," said Dr. Jerry Lorenz of Audubon Florida, as he took FOX 8 on a tour of the bay last April.

The state of Florida, local water districts, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and environmental groups have worked for years on ambitious plans to rescue The Everglades.

Just as man sought to improve on nature, building levees to tame the Mississippi River, he also rearranged nature's plumbing in central and southern Florida.

Historically, fresh water flowed south, beginning not far from Orlando, on a slow trek to the Gulf of Mexico, slower than the slowest Louisiana bayou.

As cities and farms sprouted, sticking more and more straws into what Floridians proudly call their "river of grass," the system starved for fresh water.

"From that point on, things really deteriorated in Florida Bay," Lorenz said.

However, Florida has a jumpstart on rescuing this wonderland and friends in powerful places.

Last week, President Obama proposed spending $195 million in the coming fiscal year for the Everglades through a series of projects aimed at restoring more of the nature water flow.

At the same time, the Obama budget would scrap plans to share half-a-billion a year in offshore oil royalties with Louisiana and other gulf coast states beginning in fiscal 2017.

Louisiana, home to much of the nation's offshore oil and gas infrastructure, would tap into roughly one third of that money under the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA).

Instead, the president's proposal would sprinkle the GOMESA funding onto conservation programs around the country.

"I mean, Chesapeake Bay and the Everglades don't compare in terms of productivity," said Jerome Zeringue, outgoing chairman of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

Zeringue noted Louisiana voters changed the constitution to dedicate the GOMESA funds solely to coastal restoration projects and hurricane protection.

The state's estimated $170 million annual take represents one-third to one-half of the anticipated funding for the state's Coastal Master Plan, Zeringue said, and the largest continuing source of revenue.

"What's even more insulting is the fact that it's even proposed," Zeringue said.

While many observers believe the Obama budget will meet an early death in the Republican-controlled House and Senate, the president may have opened up a discussion in cash-hungry Washington about the use of GOMESA funds.

"When Louisiana loses guaranteed money, other states benefit with the chance to get that money," said Tulane University Political Analyst Mike Sherman. "So, we're going to see some strange coalitions probably on this one.'

Geologists estimate Louisiana is at risk of losing another 1,700 square miles of its coastline in coming decades. However, the issue may have more to do with another kind of map, an electoral one.

"Listen, most states in the country, we know how they're going to vote for president in 2016," Sherman said. "There's just a few battleground states and then, there's one super battleground. That's Florida."

Even without Barack Obama on the ballot 2016, Sherman said electoral politics still matter in Washington.

He believes the issue marks an early test for Louisiana GOP leaders, including Majority Whip Steve Scalise, the third-ranking republican in the House.

"Do they have the clout to stop President Obama from taking away this dedication?"

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