By PHILLIP RAWLS
Alabama’s and Mississippi’s governors got no commitment Monday from Obama administration officials as they pressed for Gulf coast states to get a larger share of money from Gulf oil wells to help cover the risk of spills.
But they were told that some drilling rigs might be allowed to return to work before a moratorium on deepwater drilling ends Nov. 30.
Alabama Gov. Bob Riley and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour used the Southern Governors’ Association convention in suburban Birmingham to press the funding issue with two officials of the Obama administration: senior adviser Valerie Jarrett and assistant secretary of Interior Wilma Lewis.
Riley said states should share in more of the federal revenue because the massive BP PLC oil spill was a wakeup call about what could happen to the states’ economies. “I’m not sure any of the Gulf coast states had any idea of the risk we were taking,” Riley said.
Gulf coast states get a small share of the revenue from federal leases for Gulf oil wells and are scheduled to get more in 2017, but state officials are supporting bills in Congress that would accelerate that to 2010. That would mean millions for Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.
“I am sure the administration is hearing your voices,” Lewis said. But despite repeated prodding by Riley, that’s as far as she would go.
North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue told the administration officials that her state would oppose drilling off its coast unless it gets a share of the revenue and is convinced the drilling is safe.
“We understand the risk-rewards system. And we would be willing to take the risk for the country if the supply is there, but only if there is some potential reward for the people of my state,” she said.
The convention offered Barbour an opportunity to air his frustration with the administration’s moratorium on deepwater drilling, particularly after President Obama did not discuss it Sunday in his visit to New Orleans.
Lewis said people must remember that 11 workers lost their lives in the April accident. She said a six-month pause to Nov. 30 was needed to make safety changes and make sure a future spill can be contained. But she said some rigs that are deemed to be safer than others might be allowed to return to work before Nov. 30.
Barbour said the moratorium had worsened the spill’s economic impact on the Gulf states and caused oil companies to increase their interest in drilling in areas far beyond the Gulf. “I don’t know how to describe it other than pouring salt in a wound,” he said.
Barbour and Riley also complained about a lack of information about the administration’s recovery plan for the region, headed by former Mississippi Gov. Ray Mabus.
Jarrett said the structure of the recovery plan will be shaped with input from state and local officials and will be unveiled in the fall.