"WASHINGTON -- Federal officials want to open part of the Gulf of Mexico to oil drilling this summer. But their plans are being complicated by Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, who says she'll try to derail the effort unless Washington shares the proceeds with her state.
Gov. Blanco is bucking an industry she generally has favored, and risks the ire of Washington, which is providing billions of dollars in reconstruction money to her storm-racked state. Even so, she says she will try to block the August auction of offshore oil properties in the western Gulf unless the federal government agrees to help restore the state's wetlands, which scientists say are disappearing at an alarming rate.
These scientists say decades of oil exploration have taken a toll on Louisiana's marshes, which are seen as the most effective way to combat storm surges that accompany hurricanes, such as those of Katrina and Rita, which hit the state last year. It is a problem Congress began addressing last year, when it agreed to provide some $500 million in restoration money. But with federal estimates projecting the state will need as much as $16 billion to restore the Bayou state's marshes and swamps, Ms. Blanco wants a sustained stream of money to address the problem.
Unlike onshore oil drilling, in which the federal government shares royalties from leased lands through a 50-50 split with the state, Washington has never shared the proceeds from the biggest offshore properties it leases to energy companies. Ms. Blanco aims to change this. 'All we want is what the interior states get,' said Blanco spokeswoman Denise Bottcher, who says Gov. Blanco risks angering Congress and the Bush administration just as Capitol Hill is debating the merits of providing several billion dollars in reconstruction money to the state."