Louisiana officials complain National Parks bill ‘siphons money’ from Louisiana coast

Bi-partisan plan will sends hundreds of millions of dollars annually to America's parks and forests
Updated: Jul. 23, 2020 at 5:02 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) -Billions of dollars will flow to America’s national parks and forests under a bi-partisan plan congress has approved.

However, passage of the Great American Outdoors Act came over the objections of members of Louisiana's congressional delegation, who caution it will make coastal restoration dollars more difficult to obtain.

The bill passed by the House and Senate will solid majorities now heads to President Donald Trump’s desk, where he is certain to sign it.

See more of John Snell’s stories on coastal restoration here.

For all their splendor, America's national parks and forests could use some sprucing up, according to advocates.

The bill sets $900 million in mandatory funding for some of America’s most pristine lands, a major victory for conservationists and Colorado Republican Senator Cory Gardner, the bill’s sponsor.

“By fixing and repairing our public lands and national parks, we have the chance to improve the roads, hiking trails, campsites and visitor centers for generations to enjoy,” Gardner said in a statement after the House vote Wednesday.

The money, from royalties oil and gas companies pay for offshore wells, will flow into the Land and Water Conservation Act.

Louisiana and four other Gulf Coast states already share close to 20% of those revenues annually, but they have been pushing for a higher share.

“I can’t believe that this is happening,” said Rep. Garret Graves, R-Louisiana, on the house floor Wednesday.

While the Gulf states will maintain their share of the royalties, the bill's passage effectively closes one avenue to drawing more money.

"The state that is experiencing the worst ecological loss or challenges because of sea rise is being completely ignored," Graves said.

"Where are the climate advocates right now?"

Chip Kline, Chairman of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, tweeted “Spare me the talk of a conservation win.”

Kline said the state would now focus on drawing an annual appropriation from congress, but conceded that would be a tougher sell.

“I think they real hit is this is just a huge missed opportunity,” Kline said.

Advocates of the bill point out the Land and Water Conservation Act has not been adequately funding for decades.

Louisiana drew a share of federal mineral revenues only a few years ago from the Gulf of Mexico Oil Security Act, GOMESA. However, the anticipated dollars have fallen tens of millions of dollars short of expectations as oil prices have fallen.

“Much of the fight was over just how big a slice of the pie Louisiana should get,” said Mark Davis, Director of the Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy. “Going forward, the question might be how much of the pie there is going to be.”

Davis believes, overtime, oil revenues will prove even less reliable.

Meanwhile, President Trump had already signaled his enthusiasm for the bill.

“We MUST protect our National Parks for our children and grandchildren,” Trump tweeted Wednesday.

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