Washington Briefs for Dec. 10, 2012

The U.S. House approved Senate amendments to the Coast Guard reauthorization with several tweaks that the Louisiana congressional delegation considers favorable to offshore industry.

Among the new provisions are measures like the “Notice of Arrival” so domestic ships will not have to inform the United States Coast Guard as much as they do now while moving from different oil rigs. The provisions could make Louisiana-based vessels and companies more competitive for offshore energy projects.

In another provision, U.S. Reps. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, and Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, claimed joint victory for a change they authored to eliminate burdensome Transportation Worker Identification Credential, or TWIC, rules.

The goal is to ease the application and renewal process for the Transportation Worker Identification Credential that must be obtained by thousands of merchant marines and other similar professions. The issue is that workers must often appear twice in person at regional offices in order to complete and renew the credentials. This is particularly problematic, Scalise said, when people involved are on ships far overseas and cannot immediately return to the country.

While U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, helped push for several of the successful changes, one of his key amendments was opposed by the oil and gas industry and was stripped off.

In the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and resulting BP oil leak, Landry had tacked on an amendment requiring secondary “standby” vessels a certain distance from oil rigs to more quickly rescue workers in the event of a disaster.

But the oil-and-gas industry opposed such measures as too costly and as unnecessary overregulation.

Vitter opposes carbon tax

U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., teamed up with U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas, this past week to file concurrent resolutions stating that Congress opposes a carbon tax.

The Obama administration has denied any plans to propose such a tax, which is a fee on corporations that release greenhouse gases. The president has previously supported an alternative “cap-and-trade” plan, which allows companies with emissions below their permitted cap to sell the extra capacity on their permits to companies releasing more pollutants.

“There’s a lot of talk in Washington about raising taxes, and finding ‘revenues’ in creative ways, to avoid going over the fiscal cliff,” Vitter said in the announcement. “But a carbon tax — which would force more financial hardship upon family budgets, energy consumers and job seekers — needs to be completely taken off the table. Our resolution would enshrine that.”

The resolution comes in response to growing pressure for Congress to consider a carbon tax. At a recent press gathering, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said there was no intent to propose any such fees.

Some groups with environmental ties are already pushing back on Vitter’s resolution.

Manik Roy, vice president of strategic outreach at the non-profit Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, said closing the door on any revenue-neutral carbon tax swap is wrong.

“Our country faces huge fiscal challenges and can’t afford to take options for meeting those challenges off the table,” Roy said. “One option would be to reduce taxes on things we want more of, like hard work and investment, and pay for those tax reductions with a tax on something we want less of: pollution. A revenue-neutral carbon tax swap could be designed to boost the economy, protect working families, and safeguard the environment.”

Fleming introduces resolution

U.S. Rep. John Fleming, R-Minden, introduced a resolution this past week that would reject any efforts of the executive branch to remove the necessity of congressional approval on federal debt ceiling increases.

The resolution comes in the wake of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner arguing that Congress should not have debt ceiling authority. President Barack Obama, meanwhile, has warned congressional Republicans not to use the debt ceiling as leverage in the so-called fiscal cliff negotiations.

Fleming said many Republicans would support raising the debt ceiling if Democrats make key sacrifices on “entitlement reform.” But Fleming said he would still oppose any debt ceiling increase even in such a compromise.

The federal debt ceiling has been raised more than 70 times in the past 50 years, including 18 times under President Ronald Reagan and three times under Obama thus far.

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