Committee votes to let states receive more money from offshore drilling

Committee votes to let states receive more money from offshore drilling
© Greg Nash

A House committee voted Thursday to increase the money coastal states receive from offshore oil and natural gas drilling off their coasts.

The bill, from Rep. Garrett Graves (R-La.), would give Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama half of the fee and royalty payments that companies give the federal government to drill for oil and gas in a set of new wells in the Gulf of Mexico.

That would be an increase from the current 37.5 percent, which last year amounted to 0.4 percent of the government’s total income from offshore drilling going to Louisiana last year, or $11 million, Graves said.

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At a meeting of the House Natural Resources Committee, Graves framed the issue as one of shoring up states’ coasts. All of the money Louisiana gets from offshore drilling goes to coastal resilience, and Graves said his bill would mandate a quarter of the money go for that purpose for all four states.

“We’ve got to stop the stupidity of spending billions of dollars after disasters instead of millions before,” Graves said.

The panel passed the bill by voice vote after an intense debate over whether Gulf states should get special treatment for the drilling that occurs off their shores.

In one exchange, Rep. Raul Grijalva (Ariz.), the panel’s top Democrat, wanted the money to go to all coastal states for resilience, not just the Gulf of Mexico ones.

“If we are going to give more money to states for coastal restoration and hurricane protection, we should not limit it to four states on the Gulf Coast. My amendment allows other states to use the additional money from this bill for those purposes,” he said.

Graves raised his voice and accused Grijalva and other Democrats of hypocrisy, since they didn’t vote for earlier measures he had proposed to repurpose money that states get for onshore drilling.

“Why did you not speak in support of my amendment that would take Mineral Leasing Act funds that your state receives, and would provide it to all of these states,” he asked. “This amendment is offensive.”

The committee also voted to pass a bipartisan compromise bill that would indefinitely extend the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The fund gets money from offshore drilling revenues and puts it toward federal, state and local park and recreation costs.

Rep. Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopOne year later: Puerto Rico battles with bureaucracy after Maria Land and Water Conservation Fund is good for business Trump administration weakens methane pollution standards for drilling on public lands MORE (R-Utah) has for years opposed efforts to renew the fund without significant changes to it. In the deal he struck with Grijalva, at least 40 percent of the money spent would have to go to states, and another 40 percent would to go to the federal government.

“I have always been, actually, in favor of the Land and Water Conservation Fund’s purpose and goals,” Bishop said.

“I was opposed to the way it was abused in the past, and I want that reformed, which is the specific reason that we did this.”

Bishop said the bill is “not perfect,” but “an improvement over what has happened in the past.”

The bill also requires that 3 percent of the money pay for increased access to land for hunters and other recreation. Territories and the District of Columbia would also be treated equally to states for funding.

The LWCF’s current authorization ends Sept. 30.

It was the second time in the same day that the Natural Resources Committee voted in a bipartisan fashion for a parks funding bill. Earlier Thursday, the panel passed a bill to use money from energy production that isn’t obligated for other purposes to pay for maintenance at the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management.

Bishop predicted that all three bills passed Thursday would go to the House floor as one united bill, but he has not received commitment from House leaders on timing for the vote.