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January 2011 Issue


Justice for the Gulf


By Sen. Mary Landrieu
Louisiana (D)
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Member
The April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon took the lives of 11 hard-working American men and unleashed an enormous and uncontrolled flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, forever changing the national dialogue concerning domestic offshore drilling. From that moment forward, our countryís leadership has been faced with difficult decisions surrounding the next steps forward for domestic oil and gas production, struggling to find the delicate balance between the safety of our nationís rig workers, the prosperity of our environment and the energy needs of our nation.

We can all agree that it is imperative to require more robust safety measures for offshore drilling, both for the safety of the workers and for the delicate gulf ecosystem. The magnitude of this spill was alarming, far surpassing any other our nationís waters have seen. I wholeheartedly support the investigations currently under way to pinpoint the errors that occurred during this spill so that we may learn from our mistakes and ensure that similar ones are not repeated.

However, where the people of the Gulf Coast and I disagreed with the administration was in its decision to impose a six-month deepwater drilling moratorium and a de facto shallow-water drilling moratorium. For a region already hard-hit by the economic strife associated with the spill, the moratorium only served to exacerbate that pain. It was for this reason that I decided to temporarily block the nomination of Jack Lew as the administrationís director of the Office of Management and Budget. It seemed clear that although he has the expertise necessary to serve as one of the presidentís economic advisers, the administration lacked sufficient concern for the economic challenges confronting the Gulf Coast, namely those that resulted from the administrationís drilling moratorium. Once I received a commitment from Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to provide a clear path forward for the oil and gas industry, I felt that the administration had heard my call and I decided to drop my hold on Lew.

RESPOND Act: Restoring the Gulf
In the wake of this unprecedented and terrible disaster, we must find a way to move forward from the damage to bring justice to the Gulf Coast. In August, I introduced the Restoring Ecosystem Sustainability and Protection on the Delta (RESPOND) Act to promote the long-term economic, environmental and human recovery from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. This bill includes provisions to pay the civil and criminal penalties charged to BP to the Gulf Coast, accelerate the sharing of oil and gas revenues, and start new construction of coastal restoration projects.

President Barack Obama made a commitment to leave the Gulf Coast better than it was before the BP oil disaster. To achieve this goal, our Gulf Coast needs a dedicated and robust source of funding for critical restoration projects. Under the Clean Water Act, BP will be charged with civil and criminal penalties for the damage caused by the spill. This is funding owed to the Gulf Coast so that we can rehabilitate and fortify our environment.

Under the RESPOND Act, no less than 80 percent of the civil and criminal penalties charged to BP would be returned to the Gulf Coast for its economic and environmental recovery. In his recent report, ďAmericaís Gulf Coast,Ē Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus echoed this provision, calling on the president to urge Congress to dedicate to the Gulf Coast a significant amount of the Clean Water Act penalties incurred by those responsible for the spill. Mabusí report also calls for Congressional action to create a Gulf Coast Recovery Council to manage the dedicated Clean Water funds. This council would work closely with the officials conducting the ongoing Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) and would be comprised of representatives from the federal government, state governments and tribal organizations.

In addition, the RESPOND Act calls for the money paid by BP under the NRDA to be used to fund critical coastal restoration projects. These sources of funding are critical to the perseverance and recovery of the Gulf Coast.

Oil-Sharing Revenue for Recovery
Louisiana has hosted offshore drilling since 1933. Since then, offshore oil and gas leases have generated more than $165 billion in revenue for the federal treasury, the second largest source of federal revenue after income taxes. However, these revenues have largely bypassed Gulf Coast residents, even as their environment has been severely impacted by the energy development taking place off their shores. Coastal states bear a disproportionate share of the responsibilities—and risks—associated with offshore drilling, yet they are not receiving a comparable share of the revenues. By sharp contrast, onshore energy-producing states have been receiving 50 percent of the revenues from production since the 1920s to help mitigate the environmental impact of these activities.

In 2006, then Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and I worked together on the Domenici-Landrieu Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006. The act, which was signed into law in December 2006, dedicates 37.5 percent of new offshore oil and gas revenues to coastal protection and restoration in the four Gulf Coast energy-producing states: Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Alabama. This dedicated stream of revenue was set to begin in 2017. However, it is now clearer than ever that our Gulf Coast simply cannot afford to wait that long for a dedicated source of funding for coastal protection in light of the environmental crisis that resulted from the BP oil spill. That is why under the newly introduced RESPOND Act, the revenue sharing would begin immediately instead of 2017.

Opportunity From Tragedy
In Louisiana, we have found the strength to view the tragedies that hit our shores as opportunities, a chance to learn from our mistakes and to improve. The recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is no exception to this mindset. Although we will never forget the lives of those men who were tragically lost on April 20, we will move on from the environmental and economic crises. The RESPOND Act includes provisions that could continue us on the path toward recovery.




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