Landrieu Vitter
Louisiana Senators Landrieu,
Vitter pushed for plan which
would provide $135 million a year
to restore state's coast.

After adding a batch of amendments, the Senate was poised to approve a sweeping energy bill on June 28. Working into the night on June 23, lawmakers passed more than 20 riders, including a plan to divide $1 billion in federal oil and gas lease revenue over four years among Louisiana and five other energy-producing coastal states, with the money to be used for environmental restoration.

Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) tried to block the coastal amendment, which was offered by Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-N.M). Gregg contended that the rider would set up "a new entitlement" for a few states and that the funding would push the underlying bill over its budget allocation. But lawmakers voted 69-26 to waive the budget restriction, comfortably above the 60 votes needed to do so.

States benefiting from the amendment are Alabama, Alaska, California, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, all of which have energy production off their coasts. Funding would be based on each of those states' shares of Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) energy production. The yardstick would be the amount of OCS energy leases within 200 miles of each state's coast.

Louisiana's senators, Mary Landrieu (D) and David Vitter (R), who pushed for the amendment, estimate that their state would get $135 million a year from the program. That would be a big boost for a $1.9-billion plan to arrest Louisiana's major loss of coastal wetlands.

Under the Louisiana restoration plan, which Army Corps of Engineers chief Lt. Gen. Carl Strock approved in January, the federal government would contribute $1.2 billion of the total cost and the state would supply the rest.

Landrieu said, "Louisiana has contributed so much to the energy independence and security of our nation" adding that with the amendment's passage "we have begun to reinvest some of these contributions back into preserving what is truly America's Wetland."

Vitter said, "This is a historic moment in Louisiana's fight against coastal erosion. It is the first time that the U.S. Senate has passed mandatory spending to address our eroding coast."

In other energy-bill action, the Senate defeated an amendment from Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) to raise the federal automobile fuel-economy standard in stages, to 40 miles per gallon after the 2016 model year. Durbin's proposal was turned down on a 67-28 vote.

The final vote on the overall energy bill was deferred past the weekend because Domenici and his New Mexico colleague Jeff Bingaman, the top energy committee Democrat, were traveling to their home state for a meeting of the independent panel evaluating military base closures.

After the Senate passes its energy legislation, it would have to be reconciled with the House version, which has major differences. The House bill does have a provision that provides oil and gas lease revenue to coastal states for environmental projects, but the mechanism is different from the Senate's, and it wouldn't start until 2016, says Adam Sharp, a spokesman for Landrieu. He says the Louisiana lawmakers are "fairly confident" that the final bill will have some version of the restoration plan, either the Senate or House approach, or a combination of the two.

(Photos by the office of Sen. Mary Landrieu and the office of Sen. David Vitter)