Louisiana Senator Wants to Shut Down Nation's Oil Supply Until Congress Funds Levee Project

| Thu Sep. 12, 2013 10:44 AM EDT
This is a map of the levee project.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said Wednesday that Louisiana ought to shut down all of the oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico until the House of Representatives agrees to fund a much-needed levee project in her state designed to protect against Katrina-type storms.

"If I could, I’d shut down every rig in the Gulf of Mexico until this United States Congress gives the people of Louisiana the money we need to keep ourselves from drowning, from flooding, and I’d turn the lights off in Washington, and in New York and in Maine," Landrieu said on the Senate floor after Republicans on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee introduced a water infrastructure bill stripped of funding for the Morganza-to-the-Gulf levee project.

The Morganza levee system is a planned state-federal project designed to shield 98 miles of Louisiana coast from furious storms and rising sea levels. But when the committee introduced its version of the Water Resource Development Act on Wednesday, it didn't include the $10.3 billion Morganza program that the Senate approved in May.

The extra dollars that House Republicans don't want to spend could end up saving taxpayers money in the long-run. As climate change drastically increases the risk of coastal flooding, the cost of damage will be severe.  A recent FEMA report found that Hurricane Katrina put the $16 billion in the hole; Sandy cost us $25 billion. The Morganza project would cost an average $716 million a year to build and maintain but would prevent an estimated $1 billion a year in flood-related damage, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.

Louisiana produces a huge portion of America's domestic oil supply, but Landrieu's proposal to cut Americans off at the gas pump is not going to work. She acknowledged that she personally does not have the power to "shut down every rig in the Gulf of Mexico until Washington [gives] us what we're asking for." Her suggestion came out of exasperation: "I am tired of begging for nickels and dimes," she said. "The people in our state cannot survive without levees."

Landrieu faces a tough reelection fight in 2014.

The bill is expected to get a vote on the House floor in October. But there's still hope. After the Senate and House iron out the differences between their dueling versions of the legislation, Morganza funding could be forced into a final bill.

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