President Barack Obama’s 2016 budget and more recently Gov. Bobby Jindal’s midyear budget reductions include plans to swipe funds dedicated to protecting and restoring Louisiana’s coast. Any move to reduce money dedicated to our coast is shortsighted and detrimental to the well-being of our state and our nation.
While it is true that the governor’s proposed $1.2 million reduction does not directly impact coastal restoration projects, it is the wrong plan nonetheless. As a community, we must stand united and send a clear message to Washington and Baton Rouge that saving our coast is a top priority.
Like poison coursing through our veins, saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico flows inland through a web of navigation canals killing our coast. The conversation about Louisiana’s disappearing wetlands began more than 40 years ago, but the political will was not there. Many thought the cost of repairing the coast was too high. It is exponentially higher now, and we continue to lose land at the alarming rate of a football field every hour.
Over time, a groundswell of support for saving our coast has emerged. A recent poll conducted by the America’s Wetland Foundation shows that 74 percent of Louisiana voters representing both political parties say, “Saving Louisiana’s coast is the most important issue of my lifetime.”
The people of Louisiana demonstrated their commitment to the coast in 2006 when they ratified a constitutional amendment to dedicate offshore oil royalties to coastal restoration and protection projects. Armed with our commitment, then U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu fought for and passed the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act, which provides Louisiana and other coastal states 37.5 percent of royalties on new drilling starting in 2017, instead of the minuscule amount that we have been receiving.
With this long-awaited, dedicated stream of funding finally in sight, President Obama has moved to scrap it, citing that offshore waters belong to all Americans and that the money should benefit the entire nation. The president is correct, but his plan is wrong. Indeed, the money should be used to benefit the entire nation, but by shoring up Louisiana’s coast rather than allowing it to disappear. Our state and her people have borne the burden of fueling our nation for generations, and it is long past time Louisiana receives her fair share. States with drilling on federal lands onshore receive 50 percent of those revenues. Gulf states should not be treated differently.
At this critical time when the promise of revenue sharing is being threatened, we must, more than ever, stand united in our commitment to the coast. That includes protecting the Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund and not reducing it by a single penny. Gov. Jindal and my colleagues in the Legislature must guard the fund during what will surely be a difficult budget process. If we waiver, we will be demonstrating to the federal government that coastal protection and restoration is not a priority. It is. In addition to harming the cause, reducing the fund might create a slippery slope that could doom our coast forever.
We need our due share of offshore revenue and money from the trust fund to implement the state’s $50 billion, 50-year master plan to protect and restore our coast. Raiding these funds would be robbing us of our future.
Show your commitment to the coast; visit thirdcoastleadership.com to add your name to a growing list of supporters and tell lawmakers in Baton Rouge and D.C. that our coast is a priority.
Walter “Walt” J. Leger III of New Orleans represents District 91 in the Louisiana House of Representatives and is speaker pro tempore.