Bill would keep GOMESA funds in Baldwin, Mobile counties

Bill would keep GOMESA funds in Baldwin, Mobile counties

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

Earlier this fall, Gov. Kay Ivey announced $41 million from an oil and gas revenue fund for 17 projects in Baldwin and Mobile counties.

While state leaders each year have kept money from the federal Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006 on the coast, state Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Daphne, will try again next session with a bill ensuring future money stays in Mobile and Baldwin counties.

Codifying in state law that the money must stay on the coast will prevent future arguments that “well, this water connects to this water and maybe we could spend the money further north,” Elliott recently told Alabama Daily News.

“That’s not something that we feel is reasonable,” Elliott said.

The 2006 law created a revenue-sharing model for oil- and gas-producing gulf states. Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas also receive a portion of the revenue generated from oil and gas production offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior.

GOMESA funds are to be used for coastal conservation, restoration and hurricane protection. According to the act, money can be distributed to the states and coastal political subdivisions, defined as within a coastal zone and not more than 200 nautical miles from the center of a leased track.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Interior disbursed a total of $249 million in GOMESA funds. The largest amounts go to states, but coastal counties do receive a direct allocation. Alabama received $28 million while Baldwin and Mobile counties received $3.1 million and $3.8 million, respectively.

By comparison, the three entities in 2009 received a total of $.7.7 million in 2009.

The state’s funds are administered by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and Elliott said he thinks it’s Ivey’s intention to always direct the money to Baldwin and Mobile counties. But he also wants it in state law.

Elliott first introduced the bill in 2020. It didn’t get a Senate vote. In the 2021 regular session, it was approved in the Senate and a House committee, but died on the House floor without a vote. Now, Elliott is confident his bill will pass in the 2022 session.

“Anything of this magnitude, I think takes a while for you know, for folks to digest,” Elliott said. “And, (GOMESA funds are) becoming an increasingly decent-sized pot of money and it’s important for us to protect it.”

South Alabama lawmakers and leaders protested the 2016 distribution of the state’s BP settlement money, saying more of it should have stayed on the coast.

Elliott said “that’s water under the bridge.”

“I do think that it’s important to my constituents to know that this is protected under state law and is codified as such,” he said. “I think it’s good for the state to say this money is to mitigate the effects of offshore oil and gas drilling and exploration.”

The money’s uses are largely environmental in nature, including land acquisition and preservation.

“That’s not just to protect our area, but to protect the resources that pay dividends for the rest of the state,” Elliott said.

The legislative session begins Jan. 11.