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Ready 4 Takeoff Coalition 

  U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu joined Congressman Charlie Melancon and other Gulf Coast leaders last Thursday, Aug. 26, to launch the "Ready 4 Takeoff Coalition," a broad-based lobbying and PR effort to attract federal compensation and defense spending to the region in the wake of the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

  "We've been hit and hit and hit and hit again," Landrieu said. "By storm after storm, flood after flood, and now the BP oil spill, and also the six-month moratorium on offshore drilling, which may cost us more jobs than the oil spill itself."

  In prepared remarks, Landrieu said, "There's going to be a significant amount of money paid to the federal government in the aftermath of the spill. And our congressional group is claiming that 80 percent of that money be spent in the Gulf of Mexico region. Whether it's $5 billion or $20 billion, depending on if the courts find BP simply or grossly negligent, we're going to spend that money from Florida to Texas. BP is going to replace every blade of grass, every fish destroyed, every pelican oiled, and we are going to hold BP accountable."

  The senator was ushered off to her next appointment without taking questions. The press kit for the event was short on details but said the coalition was "committed to building a better tomorrow for the innumerable families, workers, suppliers, manufacturers, and small and large businesses within the region." Its economic development initiatives include securing a $40 billion federal government contract for EADS North America to build a KC-45 Real Tanker — a fighter jet refueling plane — in Mobile, Ala.

  The other politicians and business leaders from Mississippi, Florida and Alabama talked in similarly broad terms about BP being made to pay, but likewise were short on specifics when it came to defense spending, even though the coalition's members include Airbus Americas, which is owned by EADS North America and stands to benefit directly from the tanker contract.

  In addition to the refueling jet, the initiative seeks to push the federal government to purchase more Gulf Coast seafood for military and school contracts, accelerate revenue sharing from offshore oil and gas development, and devote federal money to projects like the U.S. High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program in Alabama and Mississippi.

  The roundabout nature of the rhetoric stood in contrast to the specific request for a $40 billion defense contract. "We're talking to each other, building relationships and coalitions," Mobile Mayor Sam Jackson said after Landrieu left.

  "People are scared of what they can't see, and what they don't know," Melancon said. "It's important the message gets out to people that the beaches are open and the seafood is safe to eat."

  The group is asking citizens to sign an online petition (www.ready4takeoff.org) in support of its efforts. — Matt Davis

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