Saturday, February 17, 2007

States may/can divert conservation funds

As always, the devil's in the damn details. And typical of the GOP, what you hear them say ain't necessarily so until you see it down in black and white. And fairly typical of all Congress critters, they often don't really read bills they vote for.
Four lucky states were slated to share billions in potential royalties courtesy of an offshore drilling expansion signed into law last year, money that could help reverse decades of environmental damage from coastal industry. But as budget planning gets under way, the states are beginning to realize that Congress gave them far more freedom in spending the windfall than the political rhetoric in Washington suggested.

Particularly, one little-noticed sentence in the legislation allows the states to use their money on "onshore infrastructure projects" to mitigate outer continental shelf activities. Translation: They can use it to pave roads, erect bridges, lay water lines or finish just about any other public works projects they can link to the coast.

"It is very tempting," said Bill Walker, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources. "I would not be surprised as these funds begin to come in and get larger and larger that there will be people at the state level saying, 'We need to do this or that or the other thing.' We'll try to keep them focused on doing environmental and conservation things, but they make the rules."

Louisiana lawmakers moved last year to bar the state from using the drilling revenues for anything but wetlands and coastal preservation. Voters passed a referendum cementing the arrangement.

But the other three states — Alabama, Mississippi and Texas — have no such restrictions.

The new funding, which could pay for projects such as wetlands restoration and the purchase of sensitive coastal property for conservation, was a strong environmental sweetener that helped push the measure through Congress


For environmentalists, whose criticism of the drilling expansion was somewhat muted, in part because of the new money for goals they support, the uncertainty surrounding the revenues is a bitter pill.

"Call me cynical, but I think if you give these states the opportunity to spend this money on building roads, they'll spend it on building roads," said Aaron Viles, campaign director for the New Orleans-based Gulf Restoration Network.
(read more)

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