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Blanco wins insignificant, even pyrrhic, victory on suit

A win’s a win for Gov. Kathleen Blanco, even if it is insignificant and may actually help her political opponents more than she.

Louisiana reached a settlement with the U.S. Minerals Management Service over leases of tracts in the Gulf of Mexico for oil extraction purposes. The state had sued, claiming the federal government did not adequately take into account the environmental impact of the hurricane disasters of 2005 when it approved the sales, over Blanco’s objection. Federal law allows a governor to object over the sales, triggering an agency review which must come back as positive before the lease sales can occur.

Months ago when the state sued, Blanco tried to create the impression that this action of hers was a vital step to getting a greater share of royalties from production on these leases into state coffers. The reality, of course, which she appeared to acknowledge during the announcement of the deal, is that it has nothing to do with any such efforts. Rather, increasing Louisiana’s take is up to the majoritarian branches of the federal government.

The leading House of Representatives proponent of getting a law passed to allow Gulf states to get a larger piece of the pie is none other Rep. Bobby Jindal who, if one can trust polls a year ahead of an election, would swamp Blanco out of office faster and more powerfully than a levee breach can offload a ship into New Orleans East. It’s almost certain this legislation will pass before the 2007 election, perhaps by as early as the end of this year. If so, Jindal (along with Sens. Mary Landrieu and David Vitter), can take most of the credit for sending the state billions of dollars.

Blanco, on the other hand, can be credited for delaying lease sales which could have brought more money to various government treasuries (including Louisiana’s) and will keep gas prices higher than they should be by postponing supply increases down the road. All she succeeded in doing was to get the federal government to re-study the environmental impact question. Nobody seriously suggests that any such study would conclude that lease sales must stop to preserve Louisiana. Blanco’s move was just a tantrum masquerading as a consequential policy option.

(The state is trying to argue that some funds might come Louisiana’s way as a result of this settlement, that, in their words, an “honest” assessment would produce funds for “mitigation” of environmental problems. This is wishful thinking: activities occurring as many as a couple of hundred miles have had and are going to have no impact on Louisiana’s land. Actions taken by companies on Louisiana soil are just that, not as a direct result of drilling and, in any event, the companies would be responsible for compensating the state, not the federal government which only leased the tracts.)

Jindal (or others) can remind the electorate of this next year during the gubernatorial campaign, that while he (or others) did some something constructive on this issue, if anything, Blanco acted destructively. All in all, the episode turns out to be another demonstration of Blanco’s inabilities to provide leadership or sensible policy prescriptions, and helps to explain the low esteem with which she is held by the citizenry.

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