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|Red-hot oil patch reminds us of Tidelands|
(Editor's Note: The following column was first published the week of Dec. 11, 2006. It is timely as sky high oil and gas prices fuel a flurry of activity in the energy sector in Louisiana and beyond. The column also is timely in light of Sen. John McCain's visit to Louisiana this week.)
Was it too little too late?
Are Louisiana's wetlands diminished to the point that there's no hope of restoring the thousands of acres of land which have vanished largely because the oil and gas industry raped it for the sake of a quick buck without regard for the long-term effects the exploration would impose upon the state's landscape, including it's ability to weather Katrina-like hurricanes?
Why did it take the efforts of a first-term member of the U.S. House to convince a president of the United States to support legislation that would somewhat compensate Louisiana for the economic and ecological losses the state has endured for years from oil exploration off the state's coast?
Those are a few questions to ponder in light of the Congress including a provision in legislation it passed late last week that will direct billions of dollars to Louisiana and three other Gulf Coast states as part of a last-minute deal to bring closure to the 109th Congress.
First, let's briefly refresh our memory about the history of Louisiana's struggle to secure more money in severance taxes from the feds for oil and gas exploration beyond the state's coastline in the Gulf of Mexico.
Back in 1948, President Truman offered then-Gov. Earl K. Long a deal to settle the state's long-running dispute with the federal government over how much money the state was owed in severance taxes for oil and gas exploration off Louisiana's coast. The issue was commonly referred to as the Tidelands.
Truman agreed to give the state some 38 percent in royalty payments from federal taxes collected on oil and gas exploration beyond the three-mile limit off the state's shores. Those are federal waters.
Long rebuffed Truman.
Exactly why Long said no to the deal that would have paid Louisiana tens of billions of dollars through the years isn't known. Some people have speculated that Leander Perez, the "boss" of Plaquemine Parish, leaned on Long to reject Truman's offer because the deal would have cut into profits Perez was getting from arrangements he had worked out in the oil patch, down on the bayou and beyond.
Long listened to Perez, who threatened to sabotage the U.S. Senate campaign being waged by Russell Long, Earl's nephew. Perez was the head of the state Democratic Party back then.
At least that's the story William J. "Big Bad Bill" Dodd, a former lieutenant governor and on-again, off-again supporter of the Longs, told in his book "Peapatch Politics." It's a must-read if you're remotely interested in politics in Louisiana.
How it all played out back then, the deal making among Long, Perez and Truman, is irrelevant today.
The bottom line is Earl Long snubbed Truman, and Louisiana lost billions of dollars in severance taxes collected from oil and gas exploration off the state's coast.
For years, though, members of Louisiana's congressional delegation argued to no avail in the halls of Congress that the state should receive a larger percentage of those severance taxes the feds were collecting. And for years, the Congress and president after president turned deaf ears to the state's wishes, even when Russell Long, as chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, waged a fight to garner more money for Louisiana.
For the past 10 years, or ever since she took her seat in the Senate, Mary Landrieu has fancied herself as the chief advocate for Louisiana in its ongoing campaign to squeeze more severance tax dollars from the feds. Landrieu, like her predecessors before her, hasn't had much luck. More to the point, Landrieu rolled a snake eyes.
Landrieu, though, and many members of the media, would have us believe that she was responsible for Congress finally agreeing to give Louisiana a larger share of those royalty payments from oil and gas exploration in the Gulf.
They've got it wrong. Bobby Jindal deserves the credit for the most part.
It was not until Jindal became a member of the U.S. House that the state enjoyed any progress in convincing the Congress Louisiana deserved more money from drilling beyond the three-mile limit.
Jindal's relationship with the Bush administration -- Big Oil friendly that it is -- probably played a significant role in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas being given the royalty payments the states deserve. In Louisiana's case, it will mean $200 million per year, beginning next year, until 2017. After that, Louisiana will land some $650 million each year in royalty payments.
Not bad money, and that money will go a long way toward restoring some of the wetlands the state has lost through the years.
We would be remiss if we didn't give Hurricanes Katrina and Rita their credit as well.
The catastrophic losses Louisiana suffered because of the storms forced the country to pay attention to the state's plight, a plight furthered along because of the damage the oil and gas industry caused our wetlands. Meanwhile, the media exposure the state received in the wake of the hurricanes certainly created some sympathy among members of Congress to come to Louisiana's aid.
Or open its checkbook.
Roughly one year ago, Sam Hanna Sr. wrote one of his last columns from a hospital bed at St. Francis Medical Center in Monroe. He hand wrote it on a legal pad. I took it home and type-set it for production.
Wondering what the topic of that column was?
You guessed it.
The headline for that column, published Dec. 1, 2005, was "Louisiana lost billions."
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