Starting in the Senate, Mary Landrieu and David Vitter secured bi-partisan support for an agreement that will bring to the Senate floor legislation that shares with Gulf Coast states a portion of the federal revenues generated by oil and gas production in the Gulf.
Landrieu represented Gulf Coast states in the final stages of negotiations with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senator Pete Domenici, R-N.M., regarding the legislation. Those senators -- particularly Domenici -- have not historically looked kindly on Louisiana's bid to increase its lowball share of federal offshore royalties. Though a member of the minority party, Landrieu packs some clout as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which reviews the national budget, and she has used that position since Katrina to help deliver billions to Louisiana.
The revenue sharing agreement hammered out last week will open roughly 8 million acres of the Gulf to energy production, with energy-producing states (Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Alabama) getting 37.5 percent of federal revenues.
Back in 2002, Landrieu and then-Congressman Billy Tauzin led the fight to include offshore revenue sharing in the Conservation and Reinvestment Act, or CARA, only to see it squashed by then-President Bill Clinton in the final days. Last week's commitment from GOP leaders to bring another version of coastal revenue sharing before the full Senate marks a crucial milestone in Louisiana's long-term recovery efforts as well as the state's hopes for a source of funding for coastal restoration and Category 5 hurricane protection.
Meanwhile, Vitter delivered a strongly worded letter to President Bush castigating the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for "bureaucratic incompetence and inertia" that Vitter says "threaten to allow major flooding of southeast Louisiana this hurricane season, which would kill our recovery." Vitter specifically cited "inadequate pumping capacity" in the three canals that normally drain the city and parts of Jefferson during rainfalls. Because each of those canals -- the 17th Street, Orleans and London Avenue outfall canals -- is now getting a Corps-installed floodgate, additional pumps must be installed just inside the gates to make sure the city doesn't flood when the gates are closed.
"Just imagine this scenario," Vitter wrote.Ê"A significant storm heads toward southeast Louisiana.ÊTo avoid the catastrophic breaches of the outfall canals which occurred after Katrina (due to Corps design mistakes, not overtopping), new gates are closed to protect the outfall canals from storm surge in Lake Pontchartrain.ÊBut because the Corps is so behind in installing pumping capacity for this scenario, large areas of Orleans and Jefferson Parishes -- including tens of thousands of homes -- flood."
The letter was hand-delivered to the White House and included a list of dozens of meetings and communications Vitter has initiated regarding Corps-related matters. When a Republican senator raises these kinds of issues as loudly as Vitter has raised these, the White House had better listen.
Over in the House, Congressmen Bobby Jindal and Charlie Melancon helped secure House adoption of a Jindal amendment that they hope will bring up to $9 billion in federal offshore royalties to Louisiana over the next 10 years. Jindal's ambitious amendment is much broader than the language that Landrieu and Vitter won in the Senate, and thus its chances of passage might not be as good as the Senate version. Still, the fact that a bipartisan majority in the House voted to let Louisiana share federal offshore royalties was a great sign for our state's long-term efforts to rebuild the coast and provide real hurricane protection.
All in all, it was a good week for Louisiana in D.C., but the recovery and the fight for offshore royalties are far from over.