Healthy coast, industry can coexist

Published 12:01 am Monday, May 2, 2011

Last year’s disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico introduced the rest of our nation to a truth that Louisianians have known for decades: that our fishing and recreational industries along the Gulf Coast have long thrived in a symbiotic relationship with our vital domestic oil and gas industry.

It’s difficult to imagine Louisiana without both of these components of our culture, and our economy absolutely depends on a thriving energy industry and a healthy Gulf Coast.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill was a terrible tragedy and we must first and foremost remember the 11 men who lost their lives. This catastrophe caused extensive damage to our coast, but it was an infrequent failing for a domestic energy industry that, by and large, drills efficiently while producing much of the natural resources that fuel America’s economic engine.

Email newsletter signup

Unfortunately, for many on the environmental left and in the Obama administration, the oil spill was just one more crisis they couldn’t let “go to waste.” It wasn’t long before the green movement was calling for an absolute end to all domestic drilling and the Obama administration had taken the ill-advised step of issuing a blanket moratorium on all deepwater exploration activity.

That decision led to the loss of thousands of jobs directly and indirectly related to the energy industry in south Louisiana. Even worse, for all of the left’s efforts to demonize and punish “Big Oil,” it was the small businesses and working families who live along and maintain our coast who were most hurt by the moratorium and subsequent “permitorium.”

The big oil companies just began packing up their assets and moving them overseas to places like Brazil.

In south Louisiana, where we live in reality and not in some dreamland where the economy is powered by heavily-subsidized “green” technologies that don’t yet exist, can’t yet compete, or aren’t affordable enough for most Americans, we understand that our fisheries and recreational industries that depend on a healthy Gulf Coast can flourish alongside our offshore energy industry.

I’ve spent many hours meeting with Louisiana fishermen, shrimpers, oystermen and fisheries industry leaders to get a firsthand look at the damage caused to their industries by the spill. Yet even as they struggle to recover and receive proper compensation from BP, none of them would argue that Louisiana can afford to lose our offshore energy industry.

These Gulf Coast residents understand more than anyone how important our energy industry is to our future.

No one wants to see a repeat of last year’s oil spill, and we can and should take steps to force BP to remedy the damage. That’s why I recently introduced the Natural Resources Restoration Act of 2011, which would require BP to fund expedited coastal and fishery recovery and restoration efforts immediately, rather than waiting for a decades-long damage assessment process to run its course. U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry, who represents some of the coastal parishes hit hardest by the spill, is sponsoring the House version of the bill.

BP shouldn’t shy away from either the responsibility or opportunity to negotiate in good faith and begin early restoration. And just this week, partly because my bill served as a vital negotiating chip, BP agreed to pay $1 billion up front to begin the process of restoring the parts of the Gulf Coast damaged by the spill.

When oil companies are responsible for accidents that cost lives and cause damage to our environment, they should certainly be held accountable. But that’s not enough for many on the left who would rather shut down our offshore industry and force our energy producers out of business.

America’s economy, especially with the current pain at the pump, depends on the energy produced off our Gulf Coast, and thousands of Louisianians depend on the energy industry for a paycheck.

On top of that, energy production is the second-biggest source of revenue to the federal budget — behind only our tax dollars.

In our dire fiscal situation, we simply can’t afford to shift away from a revenue-producing energy economy that develops our own resources toward massive subsidies for unproven energy sources and further dependence on foreign sources of oil and gas.

In south Louisiana, our coastal fisheries have thrived alongside our energy industry for decades. Those who don’t believe that’s possible need a reality check.

They need to pay a visit to south Louisiana to see how things work in the real world.

Sen. David Vitter is a Republican representing Louisiana in the U.S. Senate.