To help Louisiana rebuild from Hurricane Katrina’s powerful blows, the state’s senators, Mary Landrieu (D) and David Vitter (R), have proposed a bill to give it $250 billion in federal aid, including about $180 billion in direct spending. The key question is how much of the massive 10-year plan, announced Sept. 22, Congress will approve. "It’s kind of a laundry list," says one industry source. "The basic infrastructure stuff that the economy depends on is the most likely to get favorable consideration." A Senate appropriations aide is noncommittal, saying, "If it gets to the point that appropriations need to be made, then we’ll look into that."

Landrieu acknowledges that the sum she and Vitter are seeking is large. But she says of the hurricane’s aftermath, "It’s a national tragedy and it needs an unprecedented national response."

Louisiana Proposal Includes:
Funding ($ bil.) 
Community Development Block Grants

Corps of Engineers flood control,
coastal restoration, navigation projects

Improving transportation routes
for evacuation, energy supply
Water infrastructure repairs
Road, transit expansion in areas with
influx of evacuees
Emergency relief aid for highways,
other transportation infrastructure
Port of New Orleans
Environmental Protection Agency aid to restore Lake
Pontchartrain, "individual properties and public spaces"
Rebuilding military facilities, including housing
Reconstruct, improve New Orleans VA hospital
SOURCE: Office of Sen. Mary Landrieu

Already, Congress has approved $62.3 billion in post-Katrina aid for Louisiana and other Gulf Coast states. In late October, the White House is expected to ask Congress for additional funds and much of it probably will go to Louisiana. For example, the Dept. of Transportation has not yet put in a supplemental request. But state transportation officials estimate Louisiana highway and bridge rebuilding costs at $1.3 billion.

David Conrad, National Wildlife Federation senior water resources specialist, thinks some items in the bill’s Corps of Engineers section are needed, such as restoring coastal wetlands. But he contends lawmakers threw "everything and the kitchen sink into their proposals, including a whole host of navigation...wish-list projects that they’ve had on the table for years and years and are not relevant to the immediate task of restoring the economy and the environment of southeast Louisiana."

The overall package would draw mostly on appropriations, but its sponsors also seek 50% of the revenue from oil and gas leases off Louisiana’s coast. Under the energy bill enacted in August, Louisiana gets $135 million in annual oil and gas royalties for four years to restore coastal areas. A 50% share would be a big jump. Vitter says that amount recently has ranged from $3 billion to $4 billion annually.

House: Panel Clears Bill to Alter Endan-gered Species Act
Industry officials praised but environmentalists criticized a bill the House Resources Committee approved Sept. 22 to rewrite key parts of the Endangered Species Act. The measure would make federal recovery plans for endangered species non-binding and repeal the required designation of "critical habitat" for such species. Senate environment committee GOP leaders hope to introduce their bill later this fall, says a panel spokesman.

National Association of Home Builders President David Wilson says the House bill drops "outdated and litigation-driven critical habitat provisions...." But Defenders of Wildlife Executive Vice President Jamie Rappaport Clark says it "would deal a tremendous setback to the recovery of threatened and endangered species."

Spending: Stopgap To Nov. 18 Expected
With the Oct. 1 start of fiscal year 2006 looming and few spending bills for that year enacted, congressional appropriators plan to produce a short-term spending bill to keep federal agencies running. Senate and House aides say the expected "continuing resolution" will extend through Nov. 18.

The staffers say the stopgap’s funding levels will be the lowest of three figures: the amount appropriated for a program in fiscal 2005, or the sum provided in the 2006 spending bills that the House or Senate has approved.

As of Sept. 26, only two of the 12 FY 06 spending bills were enacted. There are hopes that House and Senate conferees will agree by Oct. 1 on one more, the homeland security bill, says John Scofield, a House Appropriations Committee spokesman. The others would have to be folded into the "CR."

Corps: Domenici, Reid Want Another $1.7 Billion
Senate energy and water appro-priations subcommittee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and the panel’s top Democrat, Nevada’s Harry Reid, want an additional $1.7 billion for the Corps of Engineers in the continuing resolution expected by Oct. 1. In a Sept. 22 letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Joshua Bolten, they proposed that sum to make sure that the Corps can "award [post-hurricane] reconstruction contracts immediately."

Compiled by Tom Ichniowski