Delta Dispatches Podcast – Funding Coastal Restoration
This week’s episode is dedicated to just one thing: funding! Simone and Jacques will talk to their guests about the complex realities of funding coastal restoration in Louisiana. In the first half the show, Jacques will speak with Elizabeth Mabry, Senior Policy Manager, Ecosystems, Environmental Defense Fund to talk about the opportunities and challenges in securing funding in today’s political realities.
On the second half of the episodes, Simone welcomes Chip Kline, Executive Assistant to the Governor for Coastal Activities, Chair, Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority to talk about funding from the government’s perspective including how the CPRA funds the master plan.
Below is a transcript of this week’s Delta Dispatches Podcast. Listen to the full recording here or subscribe to our feed in iTunes and Google Play.
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Jacques: Hello. You’re listening to Delta Dispatches. We’re discussing Louisiana’s Coast: It’s people, Wildlife, and Jobs, and why restoring it matters. This is Jacques Hebert, and I’m here with Simone Maloz, and Simone, you’ve been spending a lot of time on the coast recently. Is that correct?
Simone: I am. I am. Hey, Jacques. We are on our way up from the coast right now. We hosted a field trip over the past few days, so we’re on the move, coming up from the coast.
Jacques: That’s great. How’s it looking?
Simone: It was a beautiful day. We actually did a flyover this morning and got to see the coast from New Orleans, all the way to the beautiful Wax Lake outlet, and then we made a pit stop in Galliano and went down to Port Fourchon, so it was a very happy Friday Junior for us today.
Jacques: That’s great. Today, we’re talking about an incredibly important topic, as it relates to coastal restoration, and that is funding for coastal restoration.
Simone: Absolutely. We talk about a lot of projects, and we talk about things that happen on those projects, including fisheries and some of the other factors, but we also wanted to cover how we pay for them. I think we have some very good guests lined up to start discussing that today.
Jacques: Absolutely, and before we dive into our guests, we have some fast facts for you, based on a recent poll that was conducted by Applied Technology Research Corporation. It was a statewide poll of likely voters across Louisiana. On the topic of funding, 67% of likely voters say they don’t believe there’s currently enough money available to do what needs to be done to protect and restore coastal Louisiana. At the same time, an overwhelming 86% said the State Government should work to identify and secure additional funding for restoration, and then the stat that we like to see is an overwhelming 91% said the state government should ensure that funds currently dedicated to coastal restoration and protection are not spent on something else.
We’re going to talk a little bit today about what those funds are and why it’s so important to protect what we have.
Simone: Yeah, sounds great, Jacques. I’ll join you in just a little bit.
Jacques: Okay, talk to you soon, Simone.
Simone: All right. Bye, Jacques.
Jacques: First on the show, we have with us Elizabeth Mabry. Elizabeth is a Senior Policy Manager for Ecosystems with Environmental Defense Fund. Elizabeth, welcome to the show. I know you’re based in D.C., even though you’re a local girl, so are you getting your poboy fix while you’re here back in Louisiana?
Elizabeth: I am, and also I am getting gumbo and barbecued shrimp and redfish and just about everything you can imagine.
Jacques: I don’t blame you. I was away for a while, and so you definitely miss the staples of Louisiana. Elizabeth, we’re talking about funding today, and this is an issue that you have worked on for quite a while, particularly garnering and funding for coastal restoration in Louisiana and trying to make the case for it in our nation’s capital. As we pointed out from our poll, most people believe there currently isn’t enough funds to do what needs to be done to restore the coast, and at the same time, we want to make sure that the amount of funds that we do have are put towards the best restoration products that exist in the 207 Coastal Master Plan. Could you give us a little bit of a characterization of the funding that exists, particularly in the near term, over the next 10 to 15 years? Is it enough?
Elizabeth: Given where we are at this juncture with our master plan, moving into a 2017 plan and really getting into implementation of cornerstone projects that need to get on the ground now to have enough time to accrue the benefits that we want them to accrue, it is enough in the short term for the next 10 to 15 years, but this is at least a 50-year effort, not to mention ongoing maintenance requirements, and so we have to keep working together as a state with federal partners, with nonprofit partners, with foundation partners, with the private sector to look for additional funds.
Jacques: That’s absolutely right. You know, we have to kind of protect what we have, but we all know this issue is not one that’s going away anytime soon. Looking at recurring revenue sources is hugely important, and we’re going to talk about some of those specific funds that aren’t recurring, but in terms of near term funding, there’s a significant amount of money coming to Louisiana over the next 15 years, as a result of the settlement from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Can you give us a little bit of a breakdown of that settlement and how it goes towards funding restoration and repairing the damage that was done by the spill?
Elizabeth: Sure. You have the Clean Water Act penalties, which, before the United States Congress passed the RESTORE Act, that funding would have just gone to the general U.S. Treasury, but as a result of having passed the RESTORE Act in advance of the Deepwater Horizon settlement, 80% of that funding goes back to the Gulf Coast states, and it’s distributed in three major allocations and two minor allocations.
The first allocation goes directly and equally to the five gulf states. The second allocation, which is 30% of the funding, goes to the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council for the purposes of ecosystem restoration, and that’s determined by the council, which includes all of the states, as well as six federal agencies. Then the third major allocation, which also is 30% of the funds, goes to the states based on an impact allocation formula.
Then there are two minor allocations, 2.5% each, that goes to Centers of Excellence and then also to a NOAA Fisheries program. Then there’s also the NRDA settlement, which is the biggest part of the settlement, that’s Natural Resource Damage Assessment, and about five billion of that, including some early restoration money in advance of the big settlement, goes to Louisiana specifically for natural resource damage. Then there’s also the criminal part of the settlement, which are fines that were paid because, unfortunately, 11 people lost their lives. That settlement came after the RESTORE Act had passed, so we kind of believe, because of the precedent set by the RESTORE Act, the Department of Justice decided that it was also fair for some of those criminal penalties to go back to the Gulf Coast states. That funding is for natural resource restoration, but in Louisiana, it’s specifically for diversion projects and barrier island restoration.
Those are the big oil spill funding sources. Then, also, later this year, the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act is going to come online in full force. It’s already been implemented to a smaller extent, but what’s called Phase 2, kicks in this year, and that will bring an additional steady source of anywhere between 140 and 170 million dollars per year to Louisiana’s coastal restoration effort.
Jacques: Getting back to the settlement, you mentioned there were some early settlement dollars that came in. Is that money starting to come to the state now, and what’s the timeline on that?
Elizabeth: It is starting to come online now. They have a process that includes what they’re calling Trustee Implementation Groups, and each state has a Trustee Implementation Group, and then there’s also a region-wide Trustee Implementation Group and an Open Ocean Group. They actually all have different timelines, but, yes, money is in fact starting to flow, and projects have been selected and even constructed with some of the early dollars.
Jacques: Great. Getting into some of the specifics, kind of going a little deeper, you were involved in helping to pass the RESTORE Act when you were with Senator Landrieu’s office. Why was the RESTORE Act so significant at the time and why, even now, is it kind of an important precedent that was set?
Elizabeth: Well, I think the last several years in Washington, D.C., have been hyper-partisan, a lot of gridlock, and there were very few large bipartisan legislative accomplishments. This actually was passed as part of a transportation bill. It also included a flood insurance bill, and so there were a lot of moving pieces and different processes between the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House, and the RESTORE Act actually came to a floor vote in the Senate, and it passed with 76 bipartisan votes, and so I think the reason why that was so significant is just because of how partisan the climate was, that members could work across state lines and across interests, both environment and economic, to come together and rally colleagues to pass what is really one of the great environmental funding bills that we’ve ever had, especially in the context of the spill being 20 times larger than the previous most serious oil spill, which was Exxon Valdez.
I think that’s why it was significant, why it continues to be significant. The tides turn very quickly in Washington, and so we shouldn’t take for granted the fact that we were able to do that, and, in order to secure additional funding, there’s going to be ongoing education effort needed and just ongoing advocacy to make people understand not only what we’re dealing with, but why it’s so significant for the entire country.
Jacques: Great. We’re about to head into a break, but when you come back, I definitely want to talk about the climate currently and what it’s like, in terms of working to build support and generate funding for additional restoration and just restoration here in Louisiana. Before I let you go, would you say that some people might hear all those different funding sources that you just outlined and think that it’s a significant amount of money, but would you say that that isn’t the case necessarily, that we definitely need to secure more over the long term?
Elizabeth: Yes, absolutely we need to secure more funding. I think that when we talk more about the climate, we can talk about why it is especially hard now to secure additional federal dollars. That’s why we just need to look for synergies and opportunities to leverage what we have and bring in other sources, so I’ll be glad to give more details on that.
Jacques: Okay, well we’ll talk about that after the break. You’re listening to Delta Dispatches on WGSO 990 AM.
Jacques: Welcome back. This is Delta Dispatches and I’m Jacques Hebert. We are here today talking about coastal funding, funding for Louisiana’s coastal restoration and protection efforts, and I’m here with Elizabeth Mabry, Senior Policy Manager with Environmental Defense Fund.
Elizabeth, before the break we were talking a little bit about the political climate in D.C. at the time that the RESTORE Act was passed, but I’d like to talk about the current political climate, particularly as it relates to funding for restoration. How has it been in Washington, D.C., and how does that affect our ability to secure funds and move projects forward to restore the coast?
Elizabeth: Well, unfortunately, I think it’s only become even more partisan in recent years, but fortunately for us, this is one of the few issues that really is a bipartisan issue. We may have disagreements politically about exactly how we do what we do, how we get money, but everybody agrees that we need to restore the coast across industry lines, across party lines, people who live here, and so that is really positive for our efforts.
We have some really great bipartisan leadership in Congress. Obviously Congressman Graves, and his background, and then also Congressman Scalise and Congressman Richmond, who were lead sponsors of the RESTORE Act and have consistently advocated for additional funding for the Louisiana Coastal Area program, and then, of course, our two senators, who came in and have important committee assignments, both on Appropriations and Energy and Natural Resources. I don’t want to leave anybody out, because I think that really it is a collaborative effort, and our delegation is committed to it, and that those are all things that, despite the climate, would be good for us to be able to address policy challenges and possibly secure additional funding when opportunities arise.
Jacques: Yeah, that’s great. I mean, obviously here in the state it’s another issue that really crosses boundaries, crosses political lines. Everyone recognizes the importance of coastal restoration here in Louisiana. I want to talk a little bit outside of the congressional delegation. As more areas along the coast – coast meaning the coastal United States – see the effects of sea level rise, are you seeing more competition for this type of federal funding, and what does that mean for Louisiana.
Elizabeth: You know, I don’t know if there’s more competition, but I will say that I actually think it’s positive for collaborative efforts to meet these challenges, and that’s because it’s really hard when you’ve got a Senate of 100 members and a House of 435 for members to make the case that their area and state should have special circumstances; whereas, when you have problems on the West Coast, the East Coast, the Gulf Coast, the Great Lakes, people are a lot more inclined to just all agree that we’ve got to do something and that something has to collectively address all of those challenges, and that’s just a lot easier of a case in the Congress.
Jacques: Yeah. Beyond challenges, I want to talk a little bit about opportunities. The current administration has discussed infrastructure spending at great length, and I know Steve Cochran, who’s the Campaign Director up there for Restore the Mississippi River Delta and also with Environmental Defense Fund, recently wrote about the opportunity to restore natural infrastructure like wetlands and barrier islands. Are there opportunities to fund and prioritize restoration and protection work as infrastructure.
Elizabeth: I think so. I think it would be a mistake not to, and it’s not just about the fact that these are important projects and they have great environmental benefits. It’s also about if you’re investing in roads, bridges, and airports, you want to make sure that, especially in coastal areas, those investments have protection. By restoring our coastal wetlands, we are also protecting those other more traditional infrastructure investments in our economies and our communities.
Jacques: Absolutely. I mean, we often interact with, as I’m sure you do, business leaders and other, who recognize the importance of restoration in protecting their existing infrastructure and also in creating jobs in the future, because that’s something that really resonates, as well, with policy makers.
Elizabeth: Absolutely. I think it does. I think that the challenge with the infrastructure discussions is going to be: how do we pay for it? Everybody agrees that we need to invest in our infrastructure, and we’ll certainly make the case if this is part of that conversation, but there’s a lot of disagreement about spending additional federal dollars, given the deficit under which we’re operating, and the unified Republican government is very focused on cutting spending.
Jacques: On that note, in state, and I know kind of at the federal level, too, our groups work a lot on making sure that we’re protecting funding that exists for restoration. As I said before, 91% of likely statewide voters want the state of Louisiana to not spend funding on coastal restoration, protection, or anything else. At a federal level, why is that so important?
Elizabeth: If we’re going to go to the Congress and advocate for additional dollars, which we know we need to do, it would be extremely important to demonstrate that we have used what we’ve got in the best possible way and not diverted those dollars for other purposes. I just can’t stress that enough, because credibility really matters, and we want to make sure that we protect ours. I think we do have good credibility because after GOMESA passed, they actually constitutionally delegated those dollars to our coastal fund and took the federal commitment for those eligible uses to a higher level than in the other states. I think we have that credibility, and it’s just really important that we maintain it.
Jacques: Yeah, and you mentioned GOMESA in the first segment, and so I want to dive a little deeper into that and why it’s significant. I know that in 2017, this year, the second phase of GOMESA is kicking in. Is that correct? Can you talk a little bit about GOMESA and why it’s an important revenue source for our state?
Elizabeth: Sure. I think the most significant thing about GOMESA is that it’s the most substantive, long-term, dedicated funding stream that we’ve had. Before GOMESA, and we may talk about this in a bit, we had the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act, which is very helpful and brings anywhere between 50 and 90 million dollars per year to the state, but GOMESA could be double that, so I think that’s very significant, especially as we look beyond the next 15 to 20 years of implementing Deepwater Horizon funding. Also, I think it was significant because it was something that the state of Louisiana and the other Gulf producing states fought for, for quite some time, and there was a disparity between what states were getting from onshore production versus the states that harbor offshore production, and so it really was the culmination of a long-term effort to create a little bit of parity there.
Jacques: Yep, and you did mention the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act or CWPPRA, sometimes referred to as the Breaux Act, so that is another federal revenue source. Is that also significant and something that you think we can rely on in the future?
Elizabeth: I think that we can. I hope that we can. I do think it’s significant because, as we’ve been discussing, we don’t have enough to get the job done, even though we’re well organized. We have good science-based projects. We know what we’re doing. We have the will, just not all of the money, and so, yes, every little bit matters, and I do hope that we can continue to depend upon that. The program is subject to reauthorization by the Congress, and so again, just another place where we have to work together across stakeholder interests to advocate and make sure that that funding for us continues.
Jacques: Great. Well, Elizabeth, we’re almost out of time for this segment. I really appreciate your coming on and, hopefully, if folks want to get more insight into funding, they can go on our website, mississippiriverdelta.org. Before I let you go, I was in D.C. a few weeks ago, and I went to the Spy Museum. It was pretty cool. Have you ever been there?
Elizabeth: I have, but I’ll tell you what. I’d much prefer to be outside on the Mall, especially this time of year with the cherry blossoms.
Jacques: Oh, yeah. I can imagine it’s pretty beautiful and you guys have suffered through a winter, and you’re deserving your springtime. Thank you so much, Elizabeth, for being on. I hope you enjoy the rest of your time back in Louisiana, and we hope to have you on again soon.
Elizabeth: Thanks so much for having me.
Simone: Hey, everybody. We’re back. This is Simone Maloz with Delta Dispatches. We’re here today to talk about Louisiana’s coast, culture, and why it matters. We are lucky to have on the phone with us Chip Kline. Chip is the Deputy Director for Coastal Activities in the Office of the Governor. Chip is a native of East Louisiana Parish and a graduate of the Louisiana State University. He spent some time on the Hill working for Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, and then he came back to Louisiana to work on our coastal program, so welcome to Delta Dispatches, Chip.
Chip: Thank you, Simone. I have to say, as an avid listener of your show every week, it’s a real treat for me to be on with you.
Simone: Thank you. Thank you, Chip. Elizabeth talked about a lot of things related to federal financing, but we definitely wanted to get into the State’s perspective on it, so let’s just re-cover a couple of things that she talked about, from your perspective.
Simone: One of the things that she hit on, certainly, was RESTORE Act funds and how they had those different pots of money, so let’s talk about that a little bit, Chip, if you want to talk about pot one, pot two, and how pot two is so important because it’s a competitive pot. Why don’t you tell us a little bit, from the State’s perspective, about RESTORE Act and how that’s important moving forward.
Chip: Sure. The RESTORE Act is one of the three main funding sources that are coming to the State as a result of the BP oil spill settlement, and what the State is trying to do with the dollars that are coming to it is to be really responsible and to ensure that the dollars are going to address specific injuries associated with the spill and to ensure that the dollars are going to the overall restoration and protection of our coast. Specifically to the RESTORE Act that Elizabeth mentioned in the previous segment, there are various buckets there. Bucket one is split equally among the five Gulf states. Bucket three … I’m going to skip over bucket two, but I’ll come back to it. Bucket three is the other bucket, which is based upon the impact that each state received as a result of oiling as a result of the spill.
Bucket two is the only unallocated source of BP funds that are still up for grabs, if you will. It is a competitive bucket of money, so Louisiana is competing against the other four Gulf states, as well as the other federal agencies that have oversight of these types of projects. In that specific bucket of money, you’re looking at about 1.4 billion dollars that is still unallocated. What the State has done, over the last several years since the spill, is to be very responsible with the dollars that we have control over in buckets one and three. If you look at the projects that we’re funding there, for example HNC Lock Complex in Houma, which is a restoration project with protection components, as well as economic development components, as well. Then in bucket three, the Calcasieu Salinity Control Structure, which goes to address one of the fundamental causes of land loss in coastal Louisiana, and that’s saltwater intrusion.
Those are two cornerstone projects of the master plan, which are really large-scale ecosystem restoration projects. We hope by being responsible with our buckets one and three dollars, that we are positioning ourselves for a better outcome in the bucket two negotiations as we move forward. Bucket two is overseen by the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, which is made up by the five Gulf states and the relevant federal agencies. We will begin work on the next funded priorities list sometime, I believe, early next year or by the end of this year. We’re hoping that, by using the other dollars in other funding sources associated with the BP oil spill responsibly and ensuring that those dollars are going to their intended purposes, that we are positioning ourselves very well for bucket two negotiations.
Simone: Yeah, well that’s well said. There’s a lot of complexities in how the money comes to Louisiana, but in your description of pot two, there’s no guarantee that that money will come to Louisiana, although we think that we had the majority of the effects of the oil spill. That’s important for people to know, but it’s also important to also explain leveraging those funds. We also have another pot that Elizabeth describes in GOMESA, which is outside of the BP response, so why don’t you tell us a little bit, from the State’s perspective, how important GOMESA is to the State’s overall funding strategy and how you’ve basically been planning for this day for a while, right?
Chip: Sure. GOMESA is a revenue stream that we, the state, have been anticipating for quite some time. It is a revenue stream that we have largely planned our efforts around, if you will. There are only two recurring sources of revenue that come into the Coastal Trust Fund on an annual basis. One is from state mineral revenues on the state side, and then GOMESA, of course, is from offshore oil and gas production off of the outer continental shelf in federal waters. We have been anticipating this. It is the only recurring source from the Federal Government that is coming to the Coastal Trust Fund. These dollars come directly into our trust fund, so it’s a revenue-sharing program. It’s not grant-based, so the dollars are deposited directly into our trust fund and are available for immediate use.
As Elizabeth and Jacques talked about in the previous segment, phase II begins in 2017, which is where some of these larger revenues, that we’ve really been anticipating, start to kick in, so the state is anticipating receiving anywhere from about 120 to 130 million dollars every year, based upon the latest projections that we have from the Department of Interior. Several years ago, after Hurricane Katrina, the Louisiana Legislature did a very responsible thing, and they passed a constitutional amendment through the legislative process, and then it was voted on at the time and passed by the citizens of Louisiana by the largest margin in the history of constitutional amendments in this state, which allocates the GOMESA dollars into the Coastal Trust Fund to be specifically used for hurricane protection and coastal restoration.
The GOMESA funds have been anticipated for a long time. I think that they’re really going to serve as the backbone of the coastal program, moving forward for several years to come. We hope to be able to tap into the GOMESA dollars even after the BP oil spill dollars are paid out over the next 15 years. It really is probably the most critical annual source or recurring source of revenue that comes into the coastal program.
Simone: Yeah. It was so important that all those years ago, they had the foresight to protect those funds, because they did give us a lot of ground to stand on when we asked for additional dollars, that we were willing to commit those dollars to our coastal program. There’s an infrastructure component to that, right, Chip, that in that constitutional amendment the infrastructure could be up to a certain percentage?
Chip: Yeah. There is an allowable use for GOMESA dollars, that 10% of the GOMESA dollars the Coastal Trust Fund receives on an annual basis can be spent on infrastructure projects–and there’s a key word here–that are directly impacted by coastal wetland loss, so we cannot use GOMESA dollars to fund, per se, an airport hangar or things of that nature in Calcasieu Parish or in Caddo Parish. We have to be very careful on what types of infrastructure projects we’re funding with these dollar. Again, only up to 10%, so they have to be either complementary or consistent with the master plan and, again, directly impacted by coastal wetland loss.
Simone: Yeah, good description there. Also, we want to talk a little bit about how the money was protected for GOMESA through a constitutional amendment, and largely the money that you receive from state mineral revenues do get deposited into a trust fund. Let’s talk a little bit about protecting some of those funds, and I think that will take us to the break and probably over, but let’s just start talking about the protection of those coastal funds that we do have available.
Chip: Sure. As you know, and I’m sure all your listeners are aware, we just started the 2017 legislative session, and CPRA is one of these agencies in state government that has money coming to it, so we often say in CPRA that the eyes of the legislature are upon us, and one of the most critical things that we’ve got to focus on this session is protecting the dollars that are coming to our trust fund to restore and protect our coast. Specifically on the state mineral revenues, the Coastal Trust Fund receives a statutory dedication from oil and gas revenues on state lands and state water bottoms.
Historically, if you look back at the price of oil, which really determines the amount of money that we get into the Coastal Trust Fund, it’s typically been anywhere from about 25 to 35 million dollars a year. With the decline in oil prices over the last several years, this fiscal year, the Coastal Trust Fund is only anticipating receiving about 13.5 million dollars. Again, that is the only source of revenue that the State is contributing to the trust fund on an annual basis. We did have over 700 million dollars of surplus dollars that were given to CPRA at the end of the Blanco Administration and the beginning of the Jindal Administration, but safeguarding those dollars is going to be critical for us throughout the legislative session.
Simone: Chip, we want to talk a little bit more about safeguarding, not just state dollars, but federal dollars. As an avid listener, you know how this goes. Your first question is what is your favorite fish?
Chip: My favorite fish?
Simone: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Chip: You know, I was recently with a good friend in Washington, D.C., who introduced a new fish to me, and it would have to be a halibut. I’ll talk a little bit later, if I have time, about how it was prepared.
Simone: Yeah. No halibut meets Louisiana Parish?
Chip: Not so much.
Simone: All right. Stay with us, Chip. We’ll be back on with you after the break.
Simone: Hi, everybody. This is Simone Maloz with Restore or Retreat, and welcome back to Delta Dispatches, where every Thursday we talk about Louisiana’s coast, it’s people, wildlife, and why it matters. We are on the phone with Deputy Director, Chip Kline, from the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities. Welcome back, Chip.
Chip: Thanks, Simone.
Simone: Okay, your next question to start this segment: what’s your favorite karaoke song to sing?
Chip: Well, you know, I am known to do an incredible rendition of “Islands in the Stream.”
Simone: Dolly Parton? You’re Dolly Parton or you’re Kenny Rogers?
Chip: Sometimes, the 1970s leisure suit comes out of the closet, as Kenny Rogers, and Mrs. Kline sometimes joins in as Dolly. I don’t know if it’s up to the par of Joni Tuck’s rendition of “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” but it’s pretty good.
Simone: Yeah, Jimmy and I went to the Dolly Parton concert. It was excellent. She’ll be our next guest on, but enough chitchat. I still want to talk a little bit more about money with you. We talked about safeguarding some of those funds. In the past, I want to bring up, there had been some federal effort to make a run on some of those GOMESA dollars and the fact that GOMESA was not included the last couple years in the President’s budget, so it’s not something that we just have to watch at the Louisiana legislative level. You have to be on guard at all times, because sometimes it comes from the federal level, as well.
Chip: That’s right. For the last two years, two remaining years of the Obama Administration, President Obama had called for eliminating the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act revenue-sharing program, which would have scrapped the program completely. We had the opportunity to meet with the President on the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, as well as the former Director of Management and Budget, Shaun Donovan, and really stated the case as to why these dollars are critical to the protection and restoration of our coast. We made every effort and took every opportunity to show the Obama Administration that we were being very responsible with the dollars, and I think some of the concern that was expressed at the federal level was how other states were potentially going to use those dollars.
Luckily, through working with our Congressional Delegation, who has been instrumental in safeguarding the GOMESA dollars, we have been able to fend off attempts at the federal level to redirect those dollars for other national priorities. It’s an ongoing battle. We have to have our radar up and safeguard the dollars at the state level, but also continue to keep the Congressional Delegation engaged to ensure that federal dollars that have been promised year after year after year finally begin to flow and will flow on an annual basis.
Simone: Chip, from what Elizabeth said in the beginning segments and then from what you just talked about, too, it is apparent that we do have a significant amount of money coming our way that we have good plans for and we plan to leverage properly. Of course, we could always use more, but there’s a little trick to how some of that money comes, correct?
Chip: That’s right.
Simone: Some of it, you mentioned, is grant reimbursable, which means that the State has to put the money up first, correct? Some of it, as in GOMESA, just comes to you. It’s a little bit of a puzzle to figure out what piece goes where. Then, also, as Elizabeth mentioned, some of the money can’t be spent on just any project, so the State is managing that situation and has to think about that. Maybe talk about some of the complexities when it comes to some of that money, just because of how it’s colored and how it comes back to you.
Chip: Sure. Funding hurricane protection and coastal restoration in the State of Louisiana is a complex business, and I think you gave a pretty good overview there. There are a variety of funding sources that come into the coastal program on an annual basis. Some of them come, as you mentioned, directly into our trust fund. Some of them are grant-based to where we have to spend first, and typically we are tapping the dollars that we receive from the state mineral revenues, so the only allocation that we get from the State of Louisiana, we are tapping those revenues to really cash flow our entire operation. If you look at programs like CWPPRA or even the NFWF programs or some of the LCA projects that were authorized through congressional authorizations, we are having to spend first, money out of our trust fund, and then seek reimbursement through the Federal Government or through our cost share partners.
The problem is, historically that process has worked well, because historically you’ve seen us focus on some of these smaller scale project, but when you’re looking at a 50 billion dollar program and some of these larger scale projects, say for example the HNC Lock to the tune of about 350 million dollars, it’s hard to cash flow that type of project with only about 13.5 million dollars coming from the State, so until GOMESA kicks in, which is another source that comes directly into the coastal program, we’ve got to manage our money very closely and wisely on which projects move when, when money is going out of the door as to when it’s coming back in, because, as you said and noted that our projects are very complex, the funding streams are very complex. Some are a little bit more broad in eligible uses. Some are a little bit more restrictive. Luckily, we have a great financial team on staff. Our Chief Financial Officer, Janice Lansing, does an outstanding job on managing the dollars and cash-flowing this entire operation, but no doubt, a very complex business.
Simone: One thing I want to be sure to hit on before we have to break up here is parish funding. Not only does the State get funding for both RESTORE and GOMESA, but the parishes also get direct allocations of funding. To be able to help them best use their money and leverage their funds –sometimes, in the case of RESTORE, that’s spread out over 15 years – the State’s offered a match program as part of their initial proposal. Do you want to talk about that a little bit and how you’re trying to help the parishes spend their own money?
Chip: Sure. First of all, look, the master plan, we say, is not a perfect plan, but it’s the best plan that we have right now. We very much recognize, as the state, that there are viable and valid projects, good projects that are out there that are not included in the coastal master plan. Some projects may be priorities for parish governing authorities across the coast. What we have said, as a result of the dollars that we’re going to be getting through the RESTORE Act, that the state of Louisiana will be setting aside a hundred million dollars of our money to either match or leverage additional money with parishes to help fund potentially some of those parish priorities that are priorities for parish governments that sometimes may not be included in the master plan, but if there is a project in the master plan that they would like to see funded or moved up on the priority list, if the parish is willing to contribute some of our dollars, then we will absolutely come to the table with some of ours to get those priorities moving.
Jacques: All right. Well, thank you so much, Chip, for being on the show. That is our episode for this week. It was really substantive conversation on an incredibly important issue, funding. Be sure to go to mississippiriverdelta.org/DeltaDispatches to catch up on previous episodes, subscribe, and rate the show.
Simone, hopefully we’ll have you back in studio next week. All right, and we’re also having a Concert for the Coast coming up on April 22nd. It’s going to feature a number of musicians, and you can go on our Restore the Mississippi River Delta Facebook page to register. Thanks for joining Delta Dispatches.