Washington Watch for Feb. 10, 2013

Washington Bureau writer Jordan Blum
Washington Bureau writer Jordan Blum

Watching the unlikely duo of conservative Republican Sen. David Vitter and liberal Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer lead the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in a true bipartisan fashion thus far this year has been entertaining.

Boxer, D-Calif., has so far called two committee hearings Vitter, R-La., requested in consecutive weeks — on the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — and the pair have been all jokes and smiles with each other thus far in the beginnings of the 113th Congress.

Let’s just say a reality TV show where the staunchly conservative Vitter and the diminutive but strong-willed Boxer are forced to live together may be more watchable than the upcoming, “The Governor’s Wife,” starring former Gov. Edwin Edwards and his young wife, Trina.

In the most-recent hearing, Boxer had to leave early and she joked, “Sen. Vitter and I have a deal. He’s definitely not going to repeal any environmental laws while he has the gavel.”

In January, Vitter became the ranking Republican member of the committee that Boxer chairs and the two are working closely on drafting new Water Resources Development Act legislation, which is an omnibus infrastructure and environmental bill expected to be filed in a few weeks.

Boxer went out of her way to note that she and Vitter work well together on infrastructure projects like flood protection and more.

“It’s a little different when dealing with climate change,” she said. “But we’re starting with things where we agree.”

But there’s the rub.

Boxer and Vitter will inherently clash repeatedly on environmental and industry regulation issues. Vitter, for the most part, wants to further deregulate government standards on industries, and Boxer, obviously, does not. The only question is whether they can play nice while bickering.

In his new role, Vitter has wasted little time in just the past two weeks sending out a slew of missives criticizing President Barack Obama and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on environmental and regulatory issues. He also did not hesitate to call outgoing EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson — a New Orleans native, like Vitter — the worst to ever hold the job.

Vitter quickly took aim at the EPA for “ignoring reality” on Renewable Fuel Standards.

He even delved into the Migratory Bird Treaty Act when he criticized the U.S. Justice Department for showing an “apparent bias” in targeting oil-and-gas producers for violations of the law instead of wind energy producers.

Vitter criticizes Obama for what he calls “sue-and-settle” tactics. As Vitter wrote this past week in The Washington Times, “Specifically, I’m talking about Mr. Obama’s assault on private property rights through the abuse of the Endangered Species Act.”

The argument is that environmental groups are suing the federal government for a failure to adequately protect endangered species and that they are reaching court settlements that Vitter claims are going way beyond what is necessary to protect animals. In doing so, Vitter contends the settlements are blocking economic development and limiting property rights in areas, such as reducing oil-drilling opportunities and more.

In opposing the “far-left environmentalists,” Vitter is quick to note, “I strongly support protecting endangered species.”

In other issues, Vitter also is criticizing the EPA regarding regulations addressing sulfur content in gasoline, potential “hasty” changes from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and EPA air quality standards for fine particulate matter, such as diesel exhaust emissions and concentrated airborne particles.

All of these issues warrant their own debates, but this just goes to show that the potential 2015 gubernatorial candidate has been a very busy man of late.

Regardless of Vitter’s strong push, don’t expect Boxer to back down.

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., was quickly reminded of that last week when he and Boxer exchanged some words on federal budgetary matters.

“Somehow, I don’t think I’m going to get the last word in,” said a resigned Wicker after some back and forth.

“Well, you know, elections have consequences,” Boxer responded.

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