Gulf states battle for drilling proceeds

Gulf Coast lawmakers are up in arms over an Obama administration proposal to reduce the money that their states receive for offshore oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

President Obama proposed in his budget early in February to roll back a 2006 law that, beginning in 2017, would give the Gulf states up to $375 million a year out of the earnings federal government collects from drillers.

While the water is federal, the Gulf states delegation feels that the money is rightfully theirs, since they provide much of the infrastructure and workforce. They also bear the environmental risk for operations that bring in 17 percent of the nation’s oil and 5 percent of its natural gas, while the region refines more the half of its oil, the states argue.

To be sure, the proposal faces an uphill climb in the GOP-controlled Congress, but Gulf State lawmakers are worried enough to mount a full-scale attack in defense of their share of the money.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) used a Feb. 24 budget hearing to tear into Interior Secretary Sally JewellSally JewellInterior chief reprimands employees on ethics, sexual harassment A way out of Alaska's fiscal hole Obama to take victory lap on conservation MORE for trying to take away money for which he and other lawmakers in the region had fought hard.

“I am incredibly — I can't put enough hyperbole in front of this — opposed to the department's budget proposal to deprive the Gulf Coast states of the revenue promised under the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA),” Cassidy said.

Louisiana’s constitution requires that any earnings from offshore drilling go directly to coastal restoration, repairing damage that Cassidy blames on the federal government for actions like channeling the Mississippi River.

“There is a headline recently I read, ‘Does President Obama hate Louisiana,’ ” Cassidy said. “That's a question you're asking when the money we were going to use to build back that wetlands is being taken away.”

The anger spreads across party and state lines, except for Florida, which doesn’t get money because of a moratorium on offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf.

“The Gulf states provide the personnel and expertise to develop the offshore resources, and more importantly, these states also absorb the potential risk of deep-water oil and gas development,” Rep. Gene GreenGene GreenIn praise of trauma care—dozens saved by heroes of Orlando’s level one trauma center Dems who sat out the sit-in offer array of reasons GOP surprises with push for smaller ObamaCare changes MORE (D-Texas) said in a statement.

“Given all these variables, the allocations devised in GOMESA are there to provide for the environment, economy, and citizens of the Gulf coast states,” he said.

The 2006 law provides for the first-ever state revenue sharing for deep-water oil and gas drilling, directing some of the revenues from leases to states. The Gulf has the only current oil and gas production in federal offshore waters, save for a small amount off the coast of California.

Former Sen. Mary LandrieuMary Landrieu oil is changing the world and Washington Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm Republican announces bid for Vitter’s seat MORE (D-La.), who was ousted by Cassidy last year, counted the revenue sharing law as one of her top accomplishments in Congress.

After the law passed in 2006, revenue sharing started for a single area’s production in the Gulf, which has brought $4 million so far to the states that is divided using a complex formula that accounts for the states’ coastal length and proximity to the wells.

The covered wells will expand dramatically in 2017. The money that goes to states will be capped at $375 million annually out of an estimated $22 billion, though the Interior Department projects that the funding will hit the cap the first year.

Obama’s fiscal 2016 budget request, released Feb. 2, asks Congress to repeal the law, leaving the states with a far smaller fraction of the proceeds.

The administration reasons that federal waters belong to the entire country, and no one area should benefit from their resources more than others.

“Of course I care about those families, as I do about many families in coastal communities that are experiencing dramatic impacts,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told Cassidy at the Feb. 24 hearing.

“The president's proposed budget says we should revisit the revenues from federal waters offshore, beyond state waters, for the benefit of all American people.”

Cassidy was not happy.

“Revisit means take it away from the coastline that will be rebuilt,” he responded.

The Interior Department was not specific about where the money would go, but said it might go to programs involve conservation efforts, grants to states or coastal restoration.

Autumn Hanna, senior program director at Taxpayers for Common Sense, defended Obama, saying the entire country should benefit from offshore drilling.

“For these waters that are many miles offshore, the impacts are spread across multiple states,” she said. “It’s also about that the federal government spends money monitoring and regulating these areas.”

To the lawmakers around the Gulf, it’s only fair that their states get a larger share of the money than others.

“I think it’s a terrible policy,” said Rep. Charles BoustanyCharles BoustanyBoeing tells lawmakers sale of planes to Iran well-known part of nuclear agreement The Trail 2016: Post-Orlando maneuvers Senate campaign posts private conversation on Facebook MORE (R-La.) “And it’s an unfair policy. Louisiana and Gulf coastal states have fought for 50 years to get this revenue sharing, and we finally got the door open on this. It would be a big step backwards in my mind if it were repealed.”

Sen. Thad CochranThad CochranOvernight Finance: Senate sends Puerto Rico bill to Obama | Treasury, lawmakers to meet on tax rules | Obama hits Trump on NAFTA | Fed approves most banks' capital plans Senate Appropriations speeds through spending bills Week ahead: Senators face unfinished defense work MORE (R-Miss.), who chairs the Appropriations Committee, said the revenue sharing law is important for state efforts to restore coasts and similar needs.

“I will actively oppose efforts to take resources away from these critical priorities for Mississippi and the entire Gulf,” he said in a statement.

Michael Rekola, a spokesman for Rep. Blake FarentholdBlake FarentholdIt's not just journalists getting sued for free speech Why we need a free speech law to stop Trump-style legal threats Overnight Cybersecurity: House to offer bill on government hacking powers MORE (R-Texas), said his boss wanted simply to refer Obama to the Gonzales flag, a symbol of the 19th-century Texas Revolution that features only a cannon and the words: “Come and take it.”

Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Ala.) called the proposal “highway robbery.”

“What the president calls for would steal from these states and local communities to be used on other ‘priorities’ that the president sees as more important,” he said in a statement.

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiSenators seek state revenue sharing for offshore drilling Senate panel approves 0M for international climate fund GOP senator praises Supreme Court's abortion ruling MORE (R-Alaska) and Rep. Rob BishopRob BishopWeek ahead: Wait drags on for energy talks Interior ‘strongly opposes’ bill to disarm federal land law enforcement Overnight Energy: GOP chairman ramps up fight with states over Exxon MORE (R-Utah), chairmen of the committees that would have to approve the change, largely agree, and support the law on the books.

Luckily for the Gulf states, lawmakers think Obama’s proposal is doomed.

Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) said the proposal was “dead on arrival,” a sentiment shared by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.).

“Not only is it a bad idea, it’s a non-starter and it’s unrealistic,” said Sen. Roger WickerRoger WickerMenendez rails against Puerto Rico bill for 4 hours on floor Rubio will run for reelection Lawmakers push first responder network on rural service MORE (R-Miss.).