Louisiana at odds with Bush administration again over their disappearing coast

Associated Press Writer

August 26, 2005

State officials are poised to wrestle the Bush administration again over the future of the large-scale plan to restore the disappearing Louisiana coast.

At a Senate committee hearing on Friday convened by U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., a series of officials said the federal government should bear more of the cost to repair the coast.

Louisiana officials want the federal government to pay for 75 percent, or more, of the overall cost of a 10-year plan to stop coastal land loss. But the Bush administration has said that Louisiana should come up with half of the costs.

A lot of money is at stake. The 10-year plan calls for about $2 billion in new work and Louisiana officials worry about coming up with its share of the money. Also, the state is looking at much bigger expenses down the road. Scientists have put the price tag for restoring coastal Louisiana at $14 billion or more over 30 years.

Louisiana officials had hoped that President Bush's interest in energy production would make him an ally in the state's aim of restoring the Louisiana coast for the benefit of oil and natural gas exploration in the Gulf.

Instead, Bush has, at different points, opposed moving forward with ambitious coast-saving projects and giving Louisiana a greater share of royalties from offshore oil and gas revenues. Despite his opposition, Louisiana won a greater share of royalties in the energy bill passed last month.

Now when Congress convenes next month, Louisiana's delegation will fight off administration attempts to get the state to pay half of the cost for future projects in the 10-year coastal restoration plan.

"The federal government should understand that it is in their interest to provide more help," U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said at the hearing.

The hearing collected testimony for the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, which is discussing the coastal restoration plan that is part of a national water resources bill.

Landrieu argued that restoring the Louisiana coast is a national priority because the state is important to American consumers. The disappearing coast is home to oil and gas infrastructure, critical ports and bountiful fisheries.

"We keep the lights on in Connecticut, we keep the lights on in California," Landrieu said, referring to Louisiana's contribution to the nation's energy needs.

Maj. Gen. Don Riley, the director of civil works at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said that the most Louisiana could hope for under the law is a cost-sharing formula in which the federal government pays for 65 percent of the costs. Riley was the only administration official to testify at the hearing.