Feb. 21, 2014 11:00 AM

Chair of the energy committee, Mary Landrieu (discussing the urgency of Keystone with Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird) should get the respect she deserves in Louisiana.

Our senior senator is now the chair of the Senate's powerful Energy and Natural Resources Committee. That's a good thing for Louisiana, a good thing for the oil and gas industry, and some environmentalists say it's a good thing for their agenda, too. But Democrat Mary Landrieu is up for re-election, and politics can temper what would normally earn a senator an easy high five in her home state.

Lafayette oilman Mark Miller is chair-elect of the Independent Petroleum Association of America and a longtime Landrieu supporter. During a recent trip to D.C., Miller witnessed first-hand Landrieu working her Senate colleagues. "Her leadership and background in oil and gas can only produce good things for Louisiana," he says. "She really is the thought leader when it comes to the future of the industry, and I think her chairmanship reflects that. I think she'll accomplish a whole list of big things, including opening up more of the East coast and California coast for exploration."  

You might also expect the president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association to be wildly enthusiastic at the news, but LOGA President Don Briggs says simply, "Her position as chairman of the committee can certainly help the Louisiana oil and gas industry." He adds that Landrieu, as Louisiana's top Dem, should have stepped in recently to prevent a state party vote in support of the lawsuits filed against the industry's operations in coastal Louisiana. (He notes that she attended the national trial lawyers convention in New Orleans instead.) Although LOGA's charter prohibits the group from endorsing candidates in federal races, Briggs has contributed personally to Landrieu's opponent, U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, for this election (he supported Landrieu in 2008) and senses that LOGA members are split on the race.

In addition to serving as president and CEO of MidSouth Bank, Rusty Cloutier is also a well-known political observer. "Committee chairmen get to set the agenda, and that is huge for Louisiana," he says. "Not like it was before Congress did away with earmarks, but that wouldn't be any different if David Vitter was chairman." Cloutier predicts that Landrieu, as a longtime supporter of the Keystone pipeline, will likely get that project through her committee just before the fall elections, meaning an even greater boom for southwest Louisiana. Her rival Cassidy, he adds, will need to counter with a big win in the House for flood insurance relief, which the Senate has already approved: "If the Rs don't get that passed, the stakes are much bigger than Landrieu."

Landrieu and Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird, right, discuss the urgency of constructing the Keystone XL Pipeline

Given her support of the energy industry, it is little surprise that some on the left have dubbed Landrieu "an environmentalist's nightmare." But voters at home are more likely to focus on the accolades she has earned from The Environmental Defense Fund, The National Wildlife Federation and the National Audubon Society for working to fix the eroding Mississippi River Delta. Landrieu passed The RESTORE Act, ensuring that 80 percent of the fine money from the 2010 BP oil spill will help restore impacted areas along the Gulf Coast. She also co-sponsored the Gulf of Mexico Security Act (GOMESA), which both opens up 8.3 million new acres for offshore drilling and redirects federal taxes on such activity to coastal restoration in energy producing states on the Gulf. She has since turned her efforts to lift the bill's arbitrary $500 million annual cap per state by filing The FAIR Act to add even more to the restoration resource pool.

Landrieu may be a lone Blue Dog in a very red state, but she's top dog now on a powerful Senate committee that is key to protecting both Louisiana's economy and its coast - a fact that deserves an "Amen!" even in the most partisan times.

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