Washington unites for the Great American Outdoors Act, Louisiana against

Louisiana delegation says off-shore drilling revenue should stay in Gulf states

WASHINGTON, DC - In this file photo from June 19, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) speaks during a Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing on suicide among veterans. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

The U.S. Senate passed the Great American Outdoors Act June 17, a significant piece of legislation that permanently funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund and addresses the backlog of maintenance projects at national parks and other federally-owned land. Although there are very few bills that bring Republicans and Democrats together, with 73 senators for and 25 against, the bill putting money into the conservation fund and national parks did just that.

However, because the funding for the Great Outdoors Act comes from off-shore drilling revenue and because Gulf States see such revenue as rightfully theirs, Louisiana’s congressional delegation is solidly against the bill. Sen. Bill Cassidy, the most outspoken critic of the bill in the Senate, said in a Monday phone interview that the bill signals the Senate’s misplaced priorities because it diverts money away from the Gulf where people live and diverts it to national parks where they vacation.

Our country has much greater priorities, he said, “than potholes and broken toilets in national parks.”

All 25 votes against the bill came from Republicans, but political observers say passing the bill is a way for vulnerable Republican senators to get a win they can use to argue for their re-election in November. President Donald Trump is expected to sign it.

Now that the bill has moved to the House, 6th District Rep. Garrett Graves is the loudest one speaking out against it, describing the Great American Outdoors Act in a June 17 statement as “a thinly veiled money laundering scheme” and as “textbook doublespeak that will actually accelerate the destruction of four million acres of America’s Mississippi River Delta coastal wetlands.”

Graves said in that statement that he would work with the state’s other six representatives to “fix this injustice.” Rep. Cedric Richmond, of the 2nd District, is one of those other six House members and the only Democrat in Louisiana’s congressional delegation.

“I’m against it,” Richmond said Tuesday. “You’re taking money that could and should go to the Gulf Coast states, and you’re spending it. It’s tone deaf for a lot of reasons. The states that you’re taking it from have real needs.” Then, citing the prevalence of police brutality and the spectacle of people across the country loudly protesting that brutality, Richmond said, “This is where we invest our money? This is where we spend our funds? Parks are a noble cause, but I don’t think that’s the first couple billion dollars you spend when you have unrest in the streets.”

The Gulf Coast states fought for decades to get a share of the revenues that come from off-shore drilling. That battle was finally won, but that revenue is capped at $500 million annually and must be shared by Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. Cassidy was unsuccessful in getting the cap raised, and so, he says, other states will get more money from off-shore drilling revenue than the Gulf Coast will.

Cassidy expressed disdain for environmental groups that he said advocated for the bill and called it hypocritical that groups opposed to off-shore drilling would embrace the revenue from drilling to fund the improvement to parks. “I’m hoping that those same environmental groups will think we should put as much attention on people.”

But Louisiana environmentalists include many of  the same people working to restore the state’s eroding coastline.  Emily Vuxton, policy director for the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana said in a statement, “We were disappointed that the Great American Outdoors Act was not amended to address the concerns of the Louisiana delegation. Our delegation simply wanted to make it fair — that more funds stay in Louisiana to be used for coastal protection and restoration. We need all the funds we can get to fully implement our $50 billion coastal master plan.”

CRCL Executive Director Kim Reyher added, “From a larger perspective the act is a victory. Just not the deal we’d like to see for Louisiana.”