In a defeat for Louisiana governor, federal judge refuses to stop oil and gas lease sale
NEW ORLEANS – A federal judge dealt Gov. Kathleen Blanco a defeat Monday in her campaign to force the government to give Louisiana a bigger share of royalties from offshore oil and gas drilling.U.S. District Judge Kurt D. Engelhardt turned down Blanco’s request to block Wednesday’s sale of federal natural gas and oil leases in the western Gulf of Mexico. Blanco has not said whether she would appeal.Blanco has threatened to block such sales until the state is given more royalties to help it recover from Hurricane Katrina. She filed a lawsuit claiming the federal government has not done enough to protect Louisiana’s wetlands from damage from drilling.Engelhardt said the state will have a strong case when the dispute goes to trial in November, but allowing the sale to go on would not harm the state.”The court’s decision today will allow MMS (Minerals Management Service) to continue its plans for producing additional energy supplies for the nation,” said Johnnie Burton, director of the federal agency that will conduct the sale, in a statement.The state now receives less than 2 percent of royalties from oil and natural gas produced in the Gulf. Blanco and Louisiana’s congressional delegation are demanding more.Both the Senate and House have passed bills that would give Louisiana and other Gulf states more – 37.5 percent under the Senate bill, 50 percent to 75 percent under the House bill. The differences in the legislation still need to be worked out.Despite the setback, Blanco said in a statement she was pleased the judge found she had a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of this case.Engelhardt said that in light of the damage to Louisiana’s coast from hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the state has a good chance of proving the federal government did not do enough to assess the environmental effects of offshore drilling.”Given the substantial evidence before this court that material changes have occurred since the fall of 2002 with respect to the affected baseline environment … the plaintiffs’ likelihood of success on the merits is strong,” Engelhardt wrote.The hurricanes swamped much of Louisiana’s coast. Louisiana has lost about 1,900 square miles of coast since the 1930s. Some of those losses are blamed on oil and gas drilling both onshore and off.
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