Okla. Sen. Unclear on Facts While Blocking La. Hurricane Protection
Sen. Landrieu sends letter to Sen. Coburn, calls on Congress to fulfill promise to Terrebonne, Lafourche.
WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., today sent a letter to U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, R-Okla., in which she questioned the Oklahoma senator's mistaken justification for blocking in the final hours of the 109th Congress a multi-million dollar authorization for hurricane protection projects in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes.
Sen. Landrieu and other members of the Louisiana delegation had worked unsuccessfully though the early hours of December 9 to overcome Sen. Coburn's procedural "hold" on legislation, passed by the House, that would authorize substantial parts of the Morganza to the Gulf hurricane protection project. When complete, the proposed series of levees, locks and other systems would serve to protect about 120,000 people and 1,700 square miles of land against storm surges such as those caused by Hurricane Katrina.
"I am extremely disappointed that you refused to lift your hold on H.R. 6428, the legislation that was pending passage in the Senate on Saturday morning," Sen. Landrieu wrote today. "I was also puzzled by the reason your spokesman provided to the press for your continued objection."
In yesterday's New Orleans Times-Picayune, a spokesman for Sen. Coburn was quoted as saying the reason his boss blocked the vital bill was because the senator "believes Congress needs to do a better of job keeping the promises we've already made to the region before we make new promises and new commitments… [He] rejected this request because he did not believe supporters of this provision could substantiate their request or demonstrate how the funds would be used."
In her letter today, Sen. Landrieu noted that Congress, in effect, already promised the Morganza project to Louisiana in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2000. Totaling $841.1 million with 65 percent, or $546.3 million, intended to be funded by the federal government, the authorization included the requirement that the Army Corps of Engineers deliver a favorable feasibility report by December 31 of that year. The Corps eventually submitted its report more than a year late, causing the authorization to expire despite the Corps' favorable recommendation. Though repeated attempts have been made, Congress has been unable to deliver a new WRDA bill since, with the latest negotiations for a bill breaking down in recent weeks.
"I agree 100% that Congress must keep the promises already made to the region -- which is just the point," Sen. Landrieu wrote in her letter. "In 2000, Congress authorized the Morganza to the Gulf project and effectively made a promise to the people of the region that it would be built at a 65/35 cost share… As a result of your objections, Congress is not, in fact, 'keeping the promises' it has made to the region -- it is breaking them. "
The specific bill Sen. Coburn blocked had been passed shortly after midnight December 9 by the House of Representatives after having been introduced Friday by Congressmen Charlie Melancon, D-La., and Richard Baker, R-La. The Baker-Melancon bill, H.R. 6428, would have authorized more than half of the project, including two reaches of levees, totaling 76,000 feet, tying into the already existing system from Larose to Golden Meadow, as well as a lock complex on the Houma Navigation Canal to protect against devastating storm surges. In addition, Houma would be protected from salt water intrusion in their drinking water.
Sen. Landrieu, accompanied by staff members from the Environment and Public Works Committee and the office of Senator David Vitter, R-La., made a final push to secure support for the Baker-Melancon bill in a 4:30 a.m. Saturday meeting with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn. Despite phone calls from Sen. Landrieu and other colleagues, Sen. Coburn refused to release his "hold" -- a procedural tactic nearly impossible to overcome with mere minutes left in the Congressional session.
Sen. Landrieu had earlier introduced S. 4105, a Senate bill to fully fund the Morganza to the Gulf project, and had secured both the unanimous support of her Democratic colleagues as well as the endorsement of key Republican leadership.
"The key point here is that the Morganza to the Gulf flood control project is the only project in the WRDA bill that had already won authorization from Congress," Sen. Landrieu wrote in her letter. "It was on this basis that members of the Louisiana House and Senate delegation felt justified moving forward with legislation to authorize this project at the end of the session when it became apparent that WRDA was not going to pass.
"I intend to work with our colleagues to push legislation through the 110th Congress that will reauthorize this project and allow the Army Corps of Engineers to finally move forward on it… I admire your tenacity to eliminate unnecessary, unwarranted, and unwise government spending. However, this project is does not fall in any of the above categories."
A copy of Sen. Landrieu's letter is available here.