The offshore jurisdiction of states in the southeastern U.S. could triple in the relatively near future. Two Louisiana Congressmen, U.S. Sen. David Vitter and U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, recently introduced companion bills styled as the Offshore Fairness Act (OFA), which would extend the offshore jurisdictions of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida (partially), Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia to three marine leagues (nine nautical miles) from their respective coastlines. That amounts to an expansion of approximately six nautical miles from their current jurisdictional limits of approximately one marine league or three nautical miles.
At present, two states in the Union – Texas and Florida (in part) – already have offshore jurisdictions extending 3 marine leagues from their coastlines. The Supreme Court of the United States has held that, upon Texas’s admission into the Union in 1845, Congress affirmed Texas’s boundary of three marine leagues, as established by Texas’s First Congress in 1836, through the Annexation Resolution of 1845. U.S. v. States of La., Tex., Miss., Ala. & Fla., 363 U.S. 1, 80 S. Ct. 961, 4 L. Ed. 2d 1025 (1960), supplemented sub nom., U.S. v. Louisiana, 382 U.S. 288, 86 S. Ct. 419, 15 L. Ed. 2d 331 (1965). The Supreme Court similarly has held that Congress’s approval of Florida’s Constitution in 1868, which was done as part of the implementation of the Reconstruction Act of 1867, affirmed the three league boundary along Florida’s Gulf Coast as set forth in that Constitution. Id. However, Florida’s boundary on its Atlantic/eastern boundary was not defined as extending three marine leagues from its coastline in its Constitution, so its offshore jurisdiction extends only three nautical miles off of that coast.
The major hurdle the OFA will face certainly will be its impact on rights to the massive amount of revenue, actual and potential, generated from resources derived from the submerged lands between the existing and potential boundaries. In its current form, the OFA expressly excludes the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (43 U.S.C. § 1443, et seq.) and the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006 (43 U.S.C. § 1331 note; Public Law 109-432) from its reach, and it would not impact federal oil and gas leases in affected areas on the date of the transfer of jurisdiction from the federal government to the states. However, the proposed bill expressly provides that it “shall not apply to any interest in the expanded submerged land that is granted by the State after the date on which the land is conveyed to the State” by the federal government. It also provides that the states in question may exercise all sovereign powers of taxation over interests in the expanded submerged lands acquired or created after the date the lands are transferred to the states. Whether the states or the federal government should receive the tax revenues generated by such future interests certainly will be a point of contention.
In its present form, the OFA also would grant the subject states exclusive management over the red snapper fish, the lutjuanus campechanus, within 200 miles from their coastlines consistent with the U.S.’s exclusive economic zone. At present, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is responsible for conducting scientifically based fishery stock assessments for the red snapper fish. However, NOAA’s assessments have recently come under increased criticism from states and special interest groups. If passed, the states would remain in charge of red snapper management until each state’s governor certifies to the Secretary of Commerce, in writing, that NOAA’s stock assessments are accurate and based on sound science.
UPDATE: New Orleans CityBusiness has reported that on Monday, April 22, Texas and Louisiana sued to block federal fishery officials from regulating the length of the red snapper recreational fishing season in federal waters off their coasts.