Sen. Chris Elliott said earlier this year that his top priority was to keep federal money distributed to the state through offshore oil and gas lease revenues in Alabama's coastal …
Sen. Chris Elliott said earlier this year that his top priority was to keep federal money distributed to the state through offshore oil and gas lease revenues in Alabama's coastal communities.
That bill has passed the legislature and is now headed to the governor's desk. "I think we can all be very proud that the members of the Alabama legislature I think realized, at least with this vote, how important the Gulf Coast is and that we need to put the money where the benefit is coming from," he said.
The Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006, better known as GOMESA, is collected through offshore oil and gas lease revenues. Federal law requires that the money be used for environmental projects, land acquisition and water access initiatives but never stipulated that those projects must be in coastal regions, where the money comes from.
Local leaders have been frustrated in the past when the GOMESA money was divvied up by politicians in other parts of the state. Elliott has spent three years explaining to his more northernly colleagues why the money needs to be spent in Baldwin and Mobile counties.
"It's really, really hard to cajole and arm twist your colleagues to make sure that 35 to 40 million dollars a year is going to come only to Mobile and Baldwin counties. That's a big concession," Elliott said.
For the senator, whose district stretches across much of that coastal region, from Spanish Fort to Gulf Shores and east to Perdido Beach, the argument was clear. A healthy coastal community, from successful businesses to good public access to excellent water quality, would pay dividends for the entire state.
"To have that senator from Guntersville or Florence listen to you about why this is really important and have them show me that respect and show our area that respect is something that's just been lacking," he said. "I think we should all be very proud that the Alabama legislature I think realized at least with this vote how important the Gulf Coast is and that we need to put the money where the benefit is coming from."
The bill unanimously passed the Alabama Senate on Feb. 8 and 102 to 0 the Alabama House on Feb. 24.
Elliott praised the House for taking action on his bill this year and thanked Rep. Chip Brown (R – Dauphin Island) for his help in shepherding the bill in the House.
"In years past, this bill has somehow always managed to get caught up in the whirlwind of chaos that can sometimes accompany the later parts of our legislative session in Montgomery," Elliott said. "I am thankful for the actions taken by the House this year, especially my friend Rep. Chip Brown from Mobile County, as he and his colleagues in the House recognize and agree that this money needs to be held and protected for the people of Coastal Alabama."
The governor retains the discretion to choose the projects the money is spent on.
Elliott said his office will continue to lobby the governor's office to fund projects submitted by the cities and counties.
Federal statute only allows the funds to be used for projects that are environmental in nature and address water quality issues or mitigate the impacts of offshore drilling.