Washington Briefs for Nov. 5, 2012

Washington Bureau writer Jordan Blum
Washington Bureau writer Jordan Blum

S .en. David Vitter, R-La., seized on the 2012 inspector general annual survey report in the Interior Department as evidence of bias in the department.

The survey involved the 2010 Gulf of Mexico drilling moratorium after the BP oil leak.

Vitter, Sens. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, and the House Natural Resources Committee have all attacked President Barack Obama and the Interior Department for allegations that a draft report was improperly modified to justify the drilling moratorium.

The Interior Department has maintained that the error suggesting a panel of experts backed the moratorium was a typo that was quickly corrected in the final report.

Vitter and the Natural Resources Committee have specifically targeted the acting inspector general for the Interior Department, Mary Kendall, who investigated the matter and deemed it was an accidental mistake in the draft report. The Republican politicians have argued Kendall did not properly pursue the matter and that she was biased in favor of the White House.

The 2012 inspector general survey shows the employees’ beliefs that the office acts independently of the Interior Department has dipped from a mean score of 3.76 — out of a possible 5.0 — in 2011 down to 3.60 in 2012.

Out of the employees who responded confidentially, 19.65 percent “strongly agree” the office acts independently, 39.3 percent “agree” and 26.2 percent “neither agree nor disagree.” On the other hand, 10.92 percent said they “disagree” and 3.93 percent said they “strongly disagree.”

“The moratorium crushed thousands of jobs — many of which left Louisiana still suffering — and it’s pretty outrageous and offensive to know that politics were more of an influence than sound science,” Vitter said in a prepared statement. “When there is widespread distrust within the organization in charge of investigating inappropriate political influence, we’re looking at a huge problem. It’s my hope that the ongoing investigation can help us get to the bottom of this political cover-up.”

Lafayette radio offers time

Incumbent Reps. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, and Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, held a final debate on Wednesday for the 3rd Congressional District race.

But left out of the KPEL 96.5 FM radio debate in Lafayette were the other three candidates for the congressional seat — Democrat Ron Richard, Republican Bryan Barrilleaux and Libertarian Jim Stark, all of whom are from Lake Charles.

Richard objected to his not being invited to debate, and wrote to KPEL asking for equal airtime in the name of fairness.

Now, Richard will get that time at 9 a.m. Monday on KPEL.

“My intent all along was to ensure that everyone’s voices in this campaign got heard,” Richard said in a prepared statement. “KPEL’s original decision to confine participation in the debate to the two Republican incumbents created a cloud of bias about the station. The campaign is happy to accept their offer to correct that initial error.”

KPEL General Manager Mike Grimsley said the station also will interview Stark and Barrilleaux, if they request airtime.

Two incumbent congressmen are running against each other to represent southwestern Louisiana because of congressional redistricting. The state is losing a seat in Congress because of a lack of population growth.

The open primary election is Tuesday.

Lake Charles port expansion

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., praised the announcement this past week from Lake Charles Clean Energy that it has secured long-term contracts with several energy companies to buy products from its project at the Port of Lake Charles.

The project will produce clean industrial products — including methanol, argon and hydrogen — and capture its carbon dioxide to be sold for use in oil production. The project represents an investment of more than $2.5 billion and is expected to provide up to 1,500 construction jobs over three to four years.

“This is a smart project that is expected to create 1,500 construction jobs and is showing tremendous potential for Louisiana’s energy sector,” Landrieu stated.

Under the long-term contracts announced today, BP Products North America Inc. will purchase the majority of the methanol production and Air Products will purchase all of the hydrogen and argon. Denbury Onshore will buy the carbon dioxide.

Compiled by Jordan Blum, chief of The Advocate Washington bureau. His email address is jblum@theadvocate.com.