Louisiana’s coastal program could fall off a fiscal cliff
Billions in oil pollution settlement dollars run dry in 2032
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Louisiana’s coastal program is facing a funding crisis as the big money from fines and settlements associated with the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill runs out in 2032.
Charter boat captain Mike Guidry relies on an outdated GPS map as he heads out of Galliano.
“This is nothing but water right here,” Guidry said. “As you see land, that’s areas I’m fishing. I want to know where canals are, where the land is.”
Guidry intentionally ignores 23 years’ worth of updates to the GPS map, which shows where land existed not so long ago and helps him avoid submerged obstacles such as rocks and pilings.
Hurricane Ida chewed up another 100 more square miles of coast, much of it in Guidry’s home of Lafourche Parish.
“Since Ida, it’s a whole new bayou area,” Guidry said. “It’s not what we grew up in.”
Guidry shares the frustration of many people in South Louisiana, who complained it seemed to take forever for the state to start addressing the problem.
In recent years, Louisiana has spent dramatically more, including $1.7 billion this year, on everything from barrier island and marsh restoration to design work on river diversion projects aimed at building marsh.
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Chip Kline, Chairman of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, describes them as “game-changing projects that are saving lives, they’re saving livelihoods.”
Ironically, most of the money has flowed from an environmental disaster, through fines and settlements associated with the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. However, the big money runs out beginning in 2032 when BP stops paying the claims.
“We’re calling it the fiscal cliff,” said Simone Maloz, campaign director of the Restore the Mississippi River Delta coalition. “We know we need about a billion dollars a year to sustain the program.”
Spending on the coast could easily revert back to the levels of the early 2000s, or roughly, a few hundred million dollars per year.
“That’s why we’re not just sitting back on our rear ends, saying, ‘Well, for the next ten years, we’re on sound financial footing,’” Kline said. “We’re looking off into the horizon at our overall funding portfolio.”
State leaders in Baton Rouge and Washington are eyeing a couple of different options, including a greater share of offshore oil and gas royalties which companies pay the federal government for the right to drill in the Gulf, and a share of the proceeds from future wind energy projects.
House Majority Leader Steve Scalise passed a bill out of the Republican-led House containing that language.
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In February, the Department of the Interior announced the results of the nation’s highest-grossing competitive offshore energy lease sale in history for the rights to build offshore windmills.
The lease sale, for 488,000 acres off the coasts of New York and New Jersey, drew competitive winning bids from six companies totaling approximately $4.37 billion.
“Even if they spent billions of dollars building wind projects in the Gulf, which they’re looking at doing, Louisiana wouldn’t even get any of the shares of the dollars,” Scalise said.
While the bill could die in the Senate, Scalise hopes the language could survive in some form as the House and Senate debate budget issues.
“We actually have some allies in this discussion about reinvesting those dollars,” Maloz said.
Supporters see some the possibility for a rare bi-partisan agreement, from Republicans allied with oil and gas and Democrats pushing for alternative forms of energy.
“We’re already hearing from Senators, both Republican and Democrat, who are very interested in this bill,” Scalise said. “I think this is a bill that, if we keep working at it, could end up on the President’s desk.”
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