Gulf of Mexico
U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy addresses students in two Advanced Placement U.S. government classes at Denham Springs High on Thursday.

USA - Sen. Bill Cassidy urges amending 'Great American Outdoors Act' to provide equity to coastal states

U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA) and chairman of the Senate Energy Subcommittee, addressed the Senate today to urge his colleagues to amend the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) to provide more funds available to Gulf and coastal states to address environmental issues such as land loss and coastal resiliency.

Cassidy wants to include language he authored that amends the GAOA to remove the cap on Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA) revenue sharing funds that Gulf states can receive, and to make certain other leases GOMESA-eligible. In Louisiana, GOMESA funds are dedicated to addressing coastal erosion and improving coastal resiliency.

Cassidy argues that the Gulf is underwriting the GAOA while receiving only a fraction of the funds. Nearly 90 percent – or about $4.3 billion – of total energy revenue that went to the Treasury in 2019 came from the Gulf of Mexico. Under the current GAOA, about $17.66 is spent on inland states per capita while only $7.53 is spent on coastal states.

“My point is these dollars are not spent relative to where people live. We're spending dollars on places where people vacation but not where they live,” Dr. Cassidy said during his floor remarks. “Investing in our coasts not only protects business and communities but also reduces flood risk in these areas, which are also popular regions of our country for outdoor recreation

Read the full story here.

See below for full remarks as prepared for delivery:

Mr. / Madam President.

Thank you, Mr. / Madam President. I am on the Senate floor today to talk about protection and restoration of the Gulf Coast, an issue extremely important to those I serve in Louisiana as well as others in the Gulf Coast region.

Mr. / Madam President, in the coming days the Senate will vote on whether to pass the Great American Outdoors Act. This bill dedicates funding over five years towards deferred maintenance on all federal lands, but mostly at National Parks, and also makes it mandatory to fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million dollars each year.

Many will say that is a good thing … or a great thing.

However, I believe this bill in its current form is not “great” for Louisiana, the Gulf Coast or many other states.

In fact, I will show how this bill actually only benefits certain states at the expense of many.

First, let’s establish where the revenue for this bill comes from. The bill takes up to $1.9 billion of the revenues which go to the U.S. Treasury from energy production and redistributes these dollars across the country for deferred maintenance projects.

Importantly, nearly 90% of the total energy revenue that went to Treasury in the 2019 fiscal year, came from the Gulf of Mexico. That equals more than $4.3 billion dollars, is the primary revenue source for paying for deferred maintenance and the region primarily financing this portion of the bill.

The bill also makes it mandatory to fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million dollars each year. The LWCF receives all of its revenues principally from Gulf oil and gas production. So both deferred maintenance and LWCF both being funded by Gulf energy production. But the LWCF does not function as a true trust fund. There are not billions of unallocated dollars waiting to be spent on LWCF priorities as advocates suggest. Under current practice, each year LWCF is credited with revenues from offshore receipts. This credit to the LWCF cannot exceed $900 million. Then, a percent of those revenues is appropriated by Congress to the Fund and the remainder appropriated to other federal programs. That would change if this bill passes. The LWCF will also continue receiving mandatory funding from GOMESA. That separate amount can be up to $125 million which is in addition to the $900 million advocates seek. Therefore, LWCF could actually receive a maximum of $1.25 billion each year moving forward.

Now, I don’t think LWCF is truly a Fund that functions in practice the way it’s supposed to and only benefits select regions of the country. Here’s why.

In 2015 roughly 40 percent of the nation’s population lived in counties or parishes located directly along coastline according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Additional data from the Congressional Research Service, shows 82 percent of Americans lived in states with coastlines. Data from CRS also showed, that on a per capita basis, from 2011 through 2020, LWCF dollars were spent at rate of two and a half to one on projects located in inland states when compared to coastal states. In dollars and cents, that’s $17.66 spent in inland states and $7.53 in coastal states, per capita. From 2011 to 2015, the rate was eight to three. My point is these dollars are not spent relative to where people live. This disparity disproportionally impacts states such as South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina, Maine and other coastal states. I’ve worked with my colleague Senator Whitehouse on a bipartisan solution to address this inequity which I will outline shortly.

As it pertains our National Parks, we also need to look at where there are the greatest deferred maintenance needs. As of the end of Fiscal Year 2018, the overall deferred maintenance backlog at our National Parks was estimated at $12 billion.

According to the Parks Service’s own data, California, Washington D.C, Virginia, New York, North Carolina, Wyoming, Arizona and the State of Washington make up nearly 60 percent of the deferred maintenance needs at National Parks. While it’s true funding will be distributed based on project priority, there is no mistaking that many of our top national parks are in these regions, a large percentage of the deferred maintenance backlog is situated in these states and this is who stands to most benefit.

On the other hand, Midwestern states such as Kansas, Iowa, and Nebraska will see almost no benefit from this section of the bill. Collectively, the deferred maintenance in these states is 0.2 percent of the total deferred maintenance backlog. The same holds true for states like Connecticut, Delaware, Minnesota and New Hampshire to name a few. And again, while there is deferred maintenance in Gulf States, the real benefit to our states is from investing in our coastline which has direct impact on the overall sustainability of this bill.

I will also briefly point out that a similar story is true for deferred maintenance at our National Forests. According to data from USDA, as of fiscal year 2018, roughly 71% of the Forest Service’s deferred maintenance needs resided in the Western region of our country. This comes as no surprise since the federal footprint is greater, but I highlight to further drive home the point that many of the dollars in this bill are again going to benefit select regions of the country.

Ironically, several of these states where Park needs are greatest oppose oil and gas production yet stand to benefit most from the oil and gas revenues used to pay for this bill. Incidentally, I also briefly note that that the most frequent criticisms lobbed at GOMESA states are it incentivizes drilling or incentivizes states to support drilling or that we’re spending money in a revenue sharing program funded by oil and gas. The bill we’re now considering does all of that AND is supported by anti-fossil fuel environmental groups and recent presidential candidates serving in this body.

How do I believe we can address this inequity I’ve highlighted? I put together a bipartisan bill called the COASTAL Act. We worked with other colleagues and passed it out of the Energy Committee with a bipartisan vote. The junior Senator from Alabama is a cosponsor. His state would benefit exponentially more from greater investments in his coast than anything the Great American Outdoors Act offers. My friend, the junior Senator from Maine, told me he wants to be helpful in advancing our interests and supported the COASTAL Act in the Committee. As the region underwriting the bill we are debating, the Gulf Coast is not asking to be treated differently; we want to be treated fairly.

Colleagues have heard me talk about the importance of revenue sharing for environmental protection. Again, the COASTAL Act passed out of the Energy Committee with bipartisan support and commits more dollars towards environmental protection for vulnerable communities and businesses across the country threatened by rising seas and coastal erosion. Its goals are consistent with those of the Great American Outdoors Act – to protect our environment. The COASTAL Act commits more dollars to environmental protection by making targeted changes to GOMESA. For example, I propose removing an existing cap on how much the GOMESA states collectively share and making additional leases eligible for revenue sharing. Investing our coasts not only protects business and communities but reduces flood risk in these areas, which are also popular regions of our country for outdoor recreation. The bill does not cut in to dollars for the Great American Outdoors Act. I’ve filed provisions from the COASTAL Act as an amendment to this bill and also included language to direct dollars to all coastal and Great Lakes states for coastal resiliency.

When the COASTAL Act was passed by the Energy Committee, environmental organizations such as the Environmental Defense Fund, the National Wildlife Federation and Audubon Society and other Louisiana based organizations such as the Lake Ponchartrain Basin Foundation and Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana signed a letter saying, “As we move to address the significant land, water, and wildlife conservation funding needs in our nation, it is important that our coastlines are also equipped to confront the unique challenges that climate change presents. GOMESA has been a critically important funding stream for Louisiana and the other Gulf Coast states, and expanding upon this success will protect national economic assets, provide better protection from storms, and enhance coastal habitat.”

Bill sponsors will rightly say the Great American Outdoors Act does not impact revenues that flow to GOMESA states. However, the bill cannibalizes dollars at the expense of the region. In Louisiana alone, there is a $50 billion master plan to protect the State’s coastline and reduce flood risk to communities and assets so important to the rest of the nation. The Great American Outdoors Act makes it harder for us to secure future dollars for Gulf restoration.

Data from the Census Bureau shows America’s coastline counties and parishes contain some of nation’s largest centers of population and activity between 2000 and 2016 the Gulf of Mexico region grew by almost 25 percent, more than any other coastline region. Harris County, Texas and areas in both Florida and New York accounted for substantial growth along our nation’s coasts. Again, the proposal I’ve filed commits dollars to all coastal states so that they too have a sustainable revenue stream now and in the future to make needed investments. These are regions also battling rising sea levels, and I am mindful about their concerns and how we address those to degree we can. A few weeks ago I spoke with our House colleague Donna Shalala (Shuh-lay-luh) who represents the Miami-Dade region. Her region comes to mind when I think about the impact of rising seas and the investments they need to make around South Beach. It is something I know she is very concerned about now and in the future.

Madam/Mr. President, to pay for this bill we are taking from an unsustainable source and using dollars to make other areas around the country sustainable. That is unsustainable.

While the current funds the Gulf region receives plays a crucial role, much more will be needed.

My state’s land loss has been highlighted in countless feature stories including in the New York Times and National Geographic to name a few. In fact, Google Maps cannot even catch up. When looking at the Louisiana coastline, Google Maps will show areas with land that we know are gone and now are replaced by open water. Not only does this land loss pose a risk to the energy assets and ports but also presents a significant flood risk to communities.

Folks in my state look at this and say, “Hold on a second. How does this help us? We’re going to work to produce this for you and yet we see a minimal amount of the benefits.” Senator Kennedy and I had a call recently with more than 20 Louisiana Parish Presidents, and they are understandably very concerned about the lack of equity. In fact, to say they are concerned is diplomatic. Ticked off is how I’d better describe it. I had another call with close to 100 businesses. They too are pleading for equitable treatment along the Gulf.

Again, in order to pay for this bill, we are taking from an unsustainable source and using dollars to make other areas around the country sustainable while not taking further steps to protect the region underwriting this bill. We believe that is fundamentally unfair.

Why is this important? My state and the Gulf region are dealing with a land loss crisis that is threatening ecosystems, communities, their economies and way of life. The Gulf Coast is the poster child for coastal restoration. Many of the communities located along the Coast are at risk of flooding, not just because they are near water, but because the land around them is eroding. Investing in these regions not only reduces flood risk, it has a direct impact on the federal response from FEMA, other federal agencies, and Congress following landfall of a hurricane or tropical storm. Folks will recall the images we saw in Houston after Hurricane Harvey, or New York after Superstorm Sandy or at the Superdome and Convention Center in New Orleans or neighborhoods in coastal Mississippi following Hurricane Katrina. Investing in America’s coastal communities, reduces risk of flooding, potential loss of life, and of course a more costly intervention because we didn’t do more.

In addition, the associated infrastructure to provide the necessary revenues for the Great American Outdoors Act are scattered throughout Louisiana and the Gulf states. Important energy assets such as pipelines, refineries, oil import sites, natural gas market centers and processing facilities, LNG export facilities, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, major ports such as Port Fourchon, and many associated businesses are spread throughout the region. In total, these assets and the companies operating them employ hundreds of thousands of men and women and contribute billions of dollars in government revenues with an even greater impact on our annual GDP. This is what helps power our nation, fuel our growth and sustains the Great American Outdoors Act. But right now, this revenue stream is unsustainable.

This map of the Louisiana coastline from the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority modeled the future flood risk to the State from a 100-year flood and the potential damages from inaction.

The lighter shades represent up to five feet of flooding in these areas from a 100-year storm. The darker shades around the City of New Orleans, down around Barataria Bay, and along the Mississippi River represent anywhere from 10 to 25 of flooding without further action. Throughout these region, are small communities and families supporting America’s energy production and helping feed Americans fresh wild caught Gulf seafood. This is also a region popular for outdoor recreation. Sportsmen who enjoy hunting and fishing and boating trips all have camps throughout coastal Louisiana. One of the primary reason folks stop hunting is lack of access. The land loss I’m describing will lead to lost access.

One of our nation’s most valuable Ports is located in this region. Port Fourchon services more than 90 percent of the Gulf’s deepwater oil production and plays a significant strategic role in American energy security. More than 250 companies utilize Port Fourchon as a base of operation. Over 1.5 million barrels of crude oil per day are transported via pipelines through the Port. LA-1 is a two-lane highway that most certainly flooded this week from Tropical Storm Cristobal’s landfall. It is an incredibly important highway that runs through this region and to Port Fourchon. Truck traffic studies have shown that up to 1,200 trucks per day travel in and out of Port Fourchon.

According to data from the Port, each day LA-1 and Port Fourchon are closed costs the U.S. $46 million in oil &gas production and $528 million in total GDP. On Friday Port Fourchon issued a mandatory evacuation temporarily shutting down operations at the Port. Also near Port Fourchon is one of two import-export terminals in the Gulf where oil from across the world is unloaded and sent to refineries throughout the Gulf Coast. However, the deepwater port off coastal Louisiana is the only U.S. port capable of fully loading a large crude oil carrier, which helps optimize America’s energy supply chain by enabling inbound vessels delivering foreign crude oil to leave with domestic crude oil, rather than returning empty.

Now let’s turn the page and look at the reverse. Rather than looking at how investing in the coast impacts delivery IN TO our country, let’s look at how investing in our coasts impacts delivery of goods OUT OF IT.

In moving goods across our country for export, one coalition committed to ensuring future navigation of the Mississippi River the Lower Mississippi River has an estimated annual impact of $735 billion on the nation’s economy and is responsible for 2.4 million jobs. That starts with being able to navigate goods through various locks and port complexes located near the mouth of the River. According to a 2019 USDA report on the importance of inland waterways, “farm products” are 14 percent of the total commodities moved along inland waterways in our country. Further processed “flour, animal feed and milled grain products” and fertilizers add another 5 percent to agriculture related products.” It is important to remember the Mississippi River valley encompasses more than 60 percent of our country so many major rivers in our country connect to the Mississippi River to deliver these agricultural commodities around the world. In order to ensure that remains sustainable, a reinforced coastline and port complex is paramount.

In my state, we have some of the largest barge and container ports in the country. The Port of South Louisiana is the largest grain exporter in the country and the Port of Baton Rouge is home to the largest grain operator in the State. Ports further south and to the east and west of the Mississippi River in Mobile or in Texas are all critical economic drivers for this country moving fertilizers, chemicals, steel, and other agriculture products to help strengthen America’s global competitiveness. We must protect these regions to the greatest extent we can so our farmers in the Midwest remain globally competitive.

According to data from the Port of South Louisiana in 2005, following Hurricane Katrina, there was a 23 percent decrease in corn exports in the third quarter of that year when compared with the third quarter of 2004. Barley exports were down 100 percent; wheat exports down 54 percent, and soybean exports down 25 percent. Total grain exports were down 24 percent and in total there was a five percent decrease in the third quarter of 2005 following Hurricane Katrina compared to the previous quarter and an eight percent decrease from the same time period in 2004 at just this port. That equated to a $200 million dollar decrease. Not investing in these regions hurts American farmers and American competitiveness.

That same USDA report also highlighted the consequences of inadequate infrastructure along our waterways. It says inadequate infrastructure leads to reduced transportation capacity which raises shipping rates. Higher rates means less income which leads to reduce U.S. economic activity and a loss of global competiveness for our soybean, wheat, corn and other farmers. For example, in Iowa, corn produced for exports via inland waterways contributed more than $222 million in output and sustained more than 800 jobs. Associated industries impacted by Iowa corn exports include support business from agriculture and forestry, real estate, restaurants, and pesticides to name a few. Keep in mind this is just in one state.

Madam/Mr. President, to summarize, my colleagues and I are here fighting for fairness and equity. That’s what this is all about. I’ve highlighted obvious inequities both in how the Gulf region is treated in this bill and also how other States are treated in this bill. I’m pointing out what the consequences could be to Midwestern farmers. I’m pointing out how coastal states do not exactly benefit to the degree they should from the LWCF and we’re pointing out that select states stand to benefit A LOT from having deferred maintenance repaired on federal lands. I believe we have a solution to fairly address this. Again, my amendment, which includes provisions from the COASTAL Act, commits more dollars towards environmental protection for vulnerable communities and businesses threatened by rising seas and coastal erosion along the Gulf and commits dollars to coastal and Great Lakes states to do the same. Again, its goals are consistent with those of the Great American Outdoors Act – to protect our environment.

We have a bipartisan group of Senators supporting, and we’ve got environmentally focused organizations doing so too.

Finally, I’ll add I am not trying to disrupt passage of this bill. I understand all the factors for why we are considering it. As I said, we believe its goals are exactly the same as the ones we have – to protect the environment. I don’t believe addressing our concerns jeopardizes passage or could encourage the House not to take it up. I spoke with President Trump last week knowing he is very supportive of the bill. He said he would be okay with us addressing these concerns in the Great American Outdoors Act.

I urge the bill sponsors and those supporting this bill to join me in bringing equity to the coastal regions of our country, and I look forward to working with them in the coming days. I yield back.