Congress could give Louisiana's oil industry a huge gift

Congress could give Louisiana's oil industry a huge gift

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - A lot of people in Louisiana are paying attention to budget negotiations underway on Capitol Hill. That's because a huge government funding bill Congress is working to pass before a Friday midnight deadline includes a measure to end the nation's ban on crude oil exports.

Louisiana's economic health remains tied to the oil and gas industry, and the persistent low oil prices have state government's budget in a tailspin. So the idea of doing away with the 40-year-old ban on oil exports garners a lot of support. Still, environmentalists remain against the idea.

"It would be critical for Louisiana's economy," said Caitlin Berni of GNO, Inc., which focuses on economic development.

The ban came about in the 1970s in response to an export embargo to the U.S. by OPEC. Since then, the U.S. has made up tremendous ground in producing oil, now rivaling Saudi Arabia.

Republican House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana said the ban needs to go.

"We'll create thousands of good jobs in south Louisiana. It'll be good for the whole country, but clearly something good for Louisiana," said Scalise.

"This would represent an increase of over 5,400 new jobs in the state of Louisiana alone, and an increase of our annual GDP by about $299 million," said Berni.

Don Briggs, president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, likens the current situation to a basketball player with one hand tied behind his back.

"You're right there on the court but it's hard to play with just one hand," he said.

Briggs said erasing the ban would result in opportunities to sell good quality oil from this area to European and Asian markets at higher prices.

"And sweet crude that we have here in Louisiana," he said.

Opponents fear that without the ban, there will be even more fracking and more crude will be transported by train through residential communities.

"If we see this export ban lifted here in the Gulf of Mexico, a lot more of us are going to be in the path of oil and infrastructure," said Raleigh Hoke of the Gulf Restoration Network.

"The oil and gas industry pays a significant portion of taxes to the state every year, this would increase production and new revenues would be going into the state's budget," said Berni.

But some said despite all of the talk about jobs and increased tax revenue, it's a bad idea for the environment.

"Also puts our coastal wetlands at further risk. We already see that a lot of these facilities are directly impacting the coastal wetlands that Louisiana is spending so much money, and so much energy trying to restore," said Hoke.

"It's going to be critically important if we're going to restore our wetlands that the energy industry is healthy," said Berni.

The White House opposes doing away with the ban, but congressional republicans are negotiating with some democrats who want more green tax credits in exchange for their support.

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