La. lawmakers hope Obama’s speech will address Gulf drilling


WASHINGTON — Louisiana lawmakers hope President Obama will talk about spurring energy production in the Gulf of Mexico when he delivers his State of the Union speech today.

They say the issue is critical to creating jobs and improving the region’s economy.

“As far as Louisiana is concerned, that would be the most pressing issue for us right now,” said Rep. Rodney Alexander, a Republican from the 5th District and the delegation’s senior member.

Today’s speech will mark Obama’s second State of the Union speech and the first since Republicans took control of the House. Some lawmakers say they will break with tradition and sit together, Republicans next to Democrats, rather than segregating by party.

Obama is expected to talk about the BP oil spill that devastated the Gulf region’s environment and economy. The disaster sparked increased debate about whether to expand offshore drilling as a way to rely less on foreign oil.

Obama should address this “whole issue of getting our American energy producers back in the Gulf drilling and getting the barriers out of the way so we can continue to provide safe American energy production for this country,” said Rep. Charles Boustany, a Republican from the 7th District, who called energy production a national security issue.

Gulf Coast lawmakers have complained the administration’s six-month moratorium on new permits for deepwater drilling after the oil spill cost the region jobs. Administration officials said they imposed the ban last May while they reviewed safety regulations. Environmental groups supported the moratorium.

Federal officials lifted the ban early, but Gulf Coast lawmakers said it slowed drilling in shallow waters. They said only a few drilling permits have been approved since the ban was lifted.

The permit process “is being slowed down to the point of dragging along,” Alexander said. “As far as Louisiana is concerned, we’d sure like to see a better attitude toward drilling.”

GOP Rep. John Fleming from the 4th District said he doubts Obama will talk about offshore drilling in his speech.

“It’s one thing to say that he’s lifted the moratorium. It’s another thing to be honest and admit that he’s not allowing the permits,” Fleming said. “He’s escaping the political pressure, but he’s still achieving the same result.”

Louisiana lawmakers said they also hope Obama will support letting Louisiana have most of the money BP will pay in fines related to the spill.

“I want to see 80 percent of that money coming back to Louisiana to help us repair our coastline and provide hurricane protection,” Boustany said.

Louisiana lawmakers also want Obama to talk about the economy, how to control federal spending, and reducing the deficit.

Rep. Jeff Landry, a Republican freshman from the 3rd District, said Obama should announce “practical, common-sense policies that will put Americans back to work. The time for political rhetoric has long passed.”

Fleming said Obama probably will address the need to reduce spending.

“He knows it’s a concern of the American people, but I don’t offer much hope he’s going to follow through unless we drag him kicking and screaming to such a bill,” Fleming said.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

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