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THERE’S A SERIOUS ELEMENT of fairness involved with the proposals from Landrieu et al. Under current law, the federal government shares 50 percent of all royalties from onshore exploration on federal lands with the states within whose boundaries the lands lie. But for drilling in federal waters, the feds share not a penny of the royalties with the states off whose shores the drilling is performed — even though those states bear the brunt, in terms of infrastructure and environmental risks (little though they are), of the drilling. In most states the eco-risks are tiny; in Louisiana, however, which has coastal wetlands covering the entire southern third of the state, the pipelines (and canals through which they are laid) have played a big role in the coastal erosion that so plagues the Bayou State and that now leaves it so much more unprotected from hurricane surges. (Coastal wetlands can act as a sponge that absorbs hurricane surges; the less marshland, the worse the damage to the remaining “dry” land from each storm.)
Sen. Landrieu’s legislation would provide for the same 50/50 revenue sharing for coastal states that the inland states receive.
As well it should. There is no good reason for onshore states to reap a bonanza while Gulf states get no benefit whatsoever from drilling. Moreover, with Gulf states trying to recover from Katrina and other hurricanes, any revenues shared with them could be used for wetland restoration, levee rebuilding, and other projects that will help them recover from the recent storms and protect themselves better from the next ones.
The Landrieu proposals are no mere liberal giveaways, by the way. They are strongly supported by Alabama’s conservative Sen. Jeff Sessions, and no less than former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (who has no real dog in the fight) has come out strongly in favor of sharing the offshore revenues — especially for Louisiana, of which he recently wrote that it is particularly true that production off its shores “puts an infinitely greater burden on it than energy produced from other federal territory puts on any other state.”
And as it was put by Sen. Landrieu — sounding for all the world like a free-market, energy-bullish conservative — “The nation has a need for more oil and gas, and we are the nation’s only Energy Coast. We’ve got to increase our supply, not decrease it; and we also have to conserve more. But the host states along the Gulf Coast are the ones who make offshore energy possible. So particularly after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, we need to use our fair share of these royalties to build better, stronger levees and to restore our eroding wetlands — the first line of defense against oncoming storms. This is literally a life-or-death situation for the people of my state, and it is imperative that this new source of revenue come to help us in the long term rebuilding efforts of the Gulf Coast.”
For reasons of compassion, sovereignty, national security, and economics, more drilling is a vital necessity. For Congress to fail to act, especially in the light of gasoline at more than $3 per gallon and rising, would be unconscionable.
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