Louisiana Senate Finance Committee actions could derail future coastal restoration funding

A proposed constitutional amendment introduced this week in the Louisiana Legislature that would require fines from the gulf oil spill to go into a coastal protection and restoration fund has been radically changed while under consideration by the Senate Finance Committee. The committee added language in the form of an amendment offered by Senator Edwin Murray in coordination with  Senate President John Alario that would give legislators authority to redirect money to other pursuits, effectively derailing the intent of the legislation, which was to use oil spill fines to repair the damaged wetlands around the Mississippi River Delta.

Louisiana residents should contact their state senator today and tell him or her that the Senate Finance Committee amendment must be removed from HB 812. The committee has burdened the proposed legislation with unnecessary bureaucracy and has broadened the use of these funds beyond the original intention. The oil spill damaged the delta’s wetlands. It’s only right that the fines collected from BP and other responsible parties be reinvested into making the coast whole again. Contact information for state senators can be found here: http://senate.la.gov/senators/CurrentMaps.asp.

Last week, we commended the Louisiana Legislature for unanimously passing the 2012 Louisiana Coastal Master Plan, a bold step forward that outlines a suite of restoration projects that could create up to 800 square miles of wetlands around the Mississippi River Delta over fifty years. With projected costs for the plan totaling some $50 billion, the state must now tackle funding for the projects. One potential source of funding is the RESTORE Act, a Congressional bill that, if passed, would dedicate 80 percent of Clean Water Act fines from the gulf oil disaster to Gulf Coast states for restoration.

More encouraging news came with the introduction of House Bills 812 and 838, the amendments that would go before Louisiana voters to dedicate RESTORE Act fines to the Coastal Master Plan. The idea of a constitutional amendment enjoys wide public support. In a poll conducted in April by Southern Media and Opinion Research, 79% of voters surveyed indicated they would vote yes on a constitutional amendment to dedicate RESTORE Act fines to Coastal Master Plan projects.

The proposed change to the House Bill that the Senate Finance Committee has put forth, however, could disrupt the progress the state has made thus far by allowing legislators to use funds that would otherwise go to coastal restoration for other purposes.

With Congress currently considering the RESTORE Act, which is so close to passage, Louisiana’s message to Congress must be clear — that oil spill penalty money will be spent on coastal restoration and nothing else. Louisiana must show its strong commitment to ease and reverse its staggering land-loss rates through funding the broad-based restoration projects in the Coastal Master Plan.