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Copyright 1999 Federal Document Clearing House, Inc.  
Federal Document Clearing House Congressional Testimony

May 03, 1999


LENGTH: 2451 words


TESTIMONY TO THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES U.S. House of Representatives Concerning H.R. 701 AND H.R. 798. Submitted by BARRY KOHL, LOUISIANA AUDUBON COUNCIL at Field Hearing Held in New Orleans, LA May 3, 1999 Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee: My name is Barry Kohl and I am a director and a past president of the Louisiana Audubon Council. On behalf of the Council, I would like to express our appreciation to the Committee and Chairman Young for inviting us to come here today. The Louisiana Audubon Council is a not-for-profit organization comprised of local Audubon chapters, affiliates and members of the National Audubon Society. We are dedicated to the protection and restoration of Louisiana's coastal wetlands, bottomland hardwood forests and other critical wildlife habitats of the Lower Mississippi River. We are pleased that the proposals now before this Committee and before the Senate will invest in the management of this nation's natural resources and address the coastal impacts of the production of OCS oil and gas. We also want to thank the Louisiana Congressional delegation for co- sponsoring the Young Bill, HR 701. Certainly we interpret this action as an affirmation that our delegation recognizes the far-reaching adverse impacts of the oil and gas industry on our state's waters, coastal zone, public lands and wildlife. We hope that members of this committee will have the opportunity to fly over our coastal zone to see the damage for themselves. Louisiana has historically had the greatest environmental impacts from the exploration for oil and gas of any coastal state. Presently, the bulk of OCS oil and gas revenues come from the area off Louisiana's coast. We therefore believe that any bill which is to offset states for environmental losses should include, proportionally within its allocation formula, the historical environmental losses inflicted on each state. I want to begin my presentation by discussing the direct and indirect impacts to Louisiana's Coastal Zone from oil and gas exploration and production. Oil and Gas Impacts on the Coastal Zone: The first well drilled in a Louisiana coastal Parish was in 1901. By 1941, over 18,800 wells had been drilled in the coastal marshes. By 1993, 32,000 oil and gas wells existed in coastal wetlands and there were 790 oil and gas fields. Many companies which explored in our swamps and marshes in the first half of this century moved offshore into OCS waters after 1947. According to the MMS, there are now 35,632 boreholes in the Gulf of Mexico OCS. Nearly 85% of these were drilled off Louisiana's coast. There are 3,973 producing platforms and 87% of these are in OCS waters off Louisiana. These platforms producing the bulk of the OCS oil and gas nationwide. Navigation, pipeline and access canals: As of February 1998, 358 pipelines cross the federal/state line from the OCS. There are more than 21,000 miles of pipelines in federal offshore waters and thousands more inland criss-crossing our coastal zone. Many of these lie in dredged canals and continue to alter coastal hydrology. There are, additionally, thousands of oil and gas dredged canals onshore to access drill sites. Navigation canals authorized by Congress and dredged by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have added to coastal loss by introducing saltwater intrusion and secondary impacts. These navigation projects are used primarily by the oil, gas and chemical industries for transportation of commodities or for servicing the offshore oil industry. Though we all benefit from the oil and gas industry, there can be no doubt it has been at the expense of our coastal environments. Infrastructure impacts: There are 21 supply bases in coastal parishes which support OCS activities. one base, Port Fourchon, has converted almost 2,600 acres of coastal wetlands to industrial use. Residential expansion is following this development. I need not remind the committee that this is a hurricane prone area. Because of the demand for larger and larger production facilities, fabrication yards have been sited near major waterways along the Louisiana coast. Thousands of acres of wetlands have been cleared near Houma and Morgan City to build the giant offshore structures used in the deep water OCS. Toxic Chemicals: According to the most recent EPA Toxic Release Inventory report, Louisiana is the nation's second largest polluter after Texas. Most of this pollution is tied to the petrochemical industry. Chemical pollution along the Mississippi River is so serious that nationally the section between Baton Rouge and New Orleans has become known as "cancer alley.,, Toxic releases from petrochemical industries pollute our land, water and air. The Chlor-alkali industry, which produces caustic soda and chlorine gas from brine, is emitting two tons of mercury into our state's air each year. Two plants are still using archaic mercury-cell technology which contributes to the pollution of our streams and lakes. One of these sites has been polluting continuously since 1945! There are presently 17 state mercury-in-fish health advisories for pregnant women and children under 7 yrs of age as a result of past and current mercury pollution. The Audubon Council is actively investigating the sources of this pollution. EPA has designated the Calcasieu Estuary, in southwestern Louisiana, as one of the state's most contaminated waterbodies. Saltwater intrusion from the Calcasieu Ship Channel is causing additional habitat destruction. Drilling wastes: Because oil drilling wastes cannot be discharged offshore they are transported to onshore areas for disposal in open pits. In Louisiana, these disposal areas are mostly located in wetlands which are prone to hurricane tidal flooding. Leakage from these sites has allegedly caused health problems for nearby residents. Permitting: The protection afforded by the Clean Water Act has only affected oil and gas dredging since 1975. And this was largely due to numerous lawsuits which increased the Corps, jurisdiction. Before that date, there were few controls on dredging our marshes and swamps. But during the 1980's dredging permits issued to the energy industry were "fast-tracked" because of "national priorities". Public notice comment periods were reduced to 15 days giving the public and resource agencies insufficient review time. Today's method of reducing the effectiveness of the federal permitting program is to cut the budgets of regulatory agencies. A District Engineer recently wrote that, "the regulatory branch is deliberately underfunded each year as part of the grand game of give and take between private interests and public oversight." Political influence is derailing the intent of Clean Water Act and promoting the conversion of wetlands in Louisiana. This has to change. In the 1980's the federal government considered setting up formal "National Sacrifice Zones" which would be used for national defense or nuclear waste repositories. The concept remains in fact, if not in name, and we believe that Louisiana has become one of these areas. Sharing in Coastal Impact Assistance Funds: There is no doubt that the Louisiana environment has paid dearly to provide the energy for the rest of the nation for almost 100 years. If any state needs Coastal Impact Assistance, it is Louisiana. Presently the bulk of all OCS revenues come from the Central OCS Sale area off the coast of our state. We believe the revenues generated by the federal government from OCS leases and royalties should be shared by coastal states. The money should be allocated to the states based on the present OCS production and the known impacts to the states, coastal zone. Because of the 50 yrs of impacts from offshore oil and gas exploration and production, Louisiana deserves a significant portion of these OCS revenues. Comments on the Proposed Legislation: In Addressing the bills before the committee today I would like to say that the Audubon Council is pleased that there is a wildlife habitat preservation component. To the migratory waterfowl and neotropical birds which depend on hardwoods and wetlands for their survival, the Mississippi flyway and the Mississippi Delta are an international resource. We do ask that the bills be strengthened as follows: Wildlife Conservation and Restoration: We are concerned that HR 701 fails to ensure that federal funds provided to the states under Title III will be used to address the needs of non-game species. None of the bills provide money for non-game species/habitat. Traditionally, 95 percent of the money spent on wildlife conservation has gone to wildlife that is hunted and fished. This funding disparity must be addressed. The Audubon Council has worked hard over the years to assure that non- game species in Louisiana are properly protected. Any new money made available for state-level wildlife conservation should be substantially dedicated to non-game species. Land and Water Conservation Fund: The Audubon Council requests that the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) be fully funded from OCS revenues. The money made available to the LWCF each year must be available on a permanent basis and independent of the annual appropriations process. The LWCF should receive a minimum of $900 million each year. At least half of this money should be allocated to federal land acquisition, with the remainder going to the stateside matching grant program. Further land purchases with LWCF funds should not be restricted to in-holdings and should be available on all current and future National Wildlife Refuges. The Need For Oversight: We are concerned that under HR 701 there is not effective federal oversight over the spending of billions of dollars each year by the states. Based on our experience in Louisiana it would be unwise to give money to the states without some accountability. We have seen the new partnership between state and federal agencies in Louisiana as part of the CWPPRA and Coastal 2050 planning process. we would like to see a similar partnership with federal agencies having input on the use of OCS funds for land acquisition or any other conservation purposes. We ask that there be a strong public component to any planning/task force. Potential Abuse: Money given to local political subdivisions needs to be closely monitored. Louisiana's reputation for corruption is founded on fact. Local sheriffs and assessors consider their parishes to be their personal fiefdoms. We are deeply concerned that 50% of the state's allocable share of OCS funds would be misappropriated or squandered by Parish officials. We are opposed to the provision under Section 104 of HR 701 which would allow states and local governments to use the money for a vast array of purposes, including promoting highway construction, golf courses, drainage and levees, and other non-conservation uses. The money should be used primarily to restore and enhance coastal and ocean resources, rather than to further environmental degradation. We suggest that, since the OCS revenues will decline over the next 10 years, the revenues given to the states should be placed state trust funds to preserve some of the money for the long term. This would also assure a more prudent expenditure of the windfall. New Programs: Any new program should build on existing watershed, coastal management plans, or restoration plans that are already in existence. Considerable time and money have been spent under a multitude of authorities such as the Coastal Zone Management Act, the National Estuary Program, the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA), and others to produce strategies and plans for improving coastal resources and waters. It is sensible that the planning provisions of any new OCS legislation should build on planning that has already been done rather than begin anew. Allocation Formula: Under HR 701, 50% of the Title I funds are allocated to the coastal states on proximity to OCS production. The remainder will be distributed by population (25%) and length of shoreline (25%). We ask that there be a new allocation formula, one that includes as a major factor, the historic oil and gas activities which have degraded or destroyed the coastal environments. This is only fair. Neither HR 701 or HR 798 factor in the historic impacts. Louisiana has paid dearly by allowing the degradation of its coastal ecosystems to maintain the national energy supply. Are we to continue to be a "national sacrifice zone?" When the non- renewable OCS resources are gone, how will the damage be reversed? In considering the bills that are the subject of this hearing, this Committee and this Congress are undertaking the admirable task of determining how best to invest in the future of our invaluable natural heritage--our waters and coasts, our wildlife, and our public lands. Both bills, even with their differences, represent an important step forward in the stewardship of those resources and we commend their authors and sponsors for taking up this challenge. Summary: We urge that in any final bill the following recommendations be considered: That past coastal impacts be used in the formula to allocate coastal impact funds. That there be oversight of local government spending and the creation of a Coastal impact Trust Fund for each state. Money given to the states and local governments should not stimulate more destruction of coastal environments. There should not be incentives to convert wetlands to developments even though they are for recreation. Money made available for the LWCF must be permanent and independent of the appropriation process. Any new money made available for state-level wildlife conservation should be dedicated equally to non-game/ game species. All oil and gas impacts should be fully addressed in any mitigation program. Toxic wastes present an insidious wildlife/human health problem. Cleaning up contaminated waterbodies and reduction of toxic petrochemical discharges should be supported in any future bill. Some funding should be used to expand the National Wildlife Refuges. Mr. Chairman, we believe that all the bills addressing the issues discussed today have merit. we just need to refine the language and reconcile the differences between them. I would like to conclude with this thought. Since Louisiana has suffered the most coastal environmental damage as a result of oil and gas exploration and development and since the majority of the OCS revenues come from leases off the Louisiana coast it is only fair that Louisiana should be given more consideration in sharing these coastal impact funds. Thank you

LOAD-DATE: May 11, 1999

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