Around Washington for July 1, 2013

Washington Bureau writer Jordan Blum
Washington Bureau writer Jordan Blum

U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., and U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., are threatening to take congressional legal action against the Environmental Protection Agency that they argued has not complied with their requests for information and transparency.

While awaiting the information requested, Vitter and other Republicans are holding up the Senate floor confirmation of the president’s nominee to lead the EPA. The nominee, Gina McCarthy, heads the EPA’s air and radiation office.

Vitter is the ranking GOP member of the Environment and Public Works Committee and Issa chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

McCarthy was successfully voted out of Vitter’s committee only after Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., made an appearance to cast the deciding vote just over two weeks before the ailing senator died.

One week prior, Vitter led a successful GOP boycott of the McCarthy committee vote.

Vitter requested — this past Friday was the imposed deadline — more data on the science used to justify EPA rules and more email correspondences from EPA leadership using more secretive, alias EPA emails. Democrats have argued the EPA has complied with hundreds of requests.

“While EPA initially indicated they would cooperate, it appears that these efforts have been abandoned,” Vitter and Issa wrote Thursday. “EPA’s failure to cooperate with the Committees’ oversight effort is unacceptable.”

Now, the question is what Vitter and Issa will do to force the EPA to comply if the agency’s leadership does not do so willingly.

Boustany criticizes IRS chief

U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, lashed out at the new chief of the Internal Revenue Service and called for his removal after testifying last week before the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee.

Danny Werfel, the new IRS head, was testifying after the release of a 30-day report that found mismanagement, but no intentional or politically motivated wrongdoing, in the wake of the controversy about targeting applications by tea party groups for additional scrutiny.

“I have zero confidence in the ability of IRS chief Danny Werfel to lead the organization,” said Boustany, who chairs the Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee. “The 30-day report reflected more of the same behavior the IRS illustrated from the outset of these investigations. In the time Mr. Werfel has served as the principal deputy commissioner of the IRS, he has failed to act in a manner showing me the leadership needed to change the culture at the IRS.”

Boustany also criticized Werfel for failing to stop $70 million in IRS employee bonuses nationwide and for continuing to request more agency funding.

“Mr. Werfel is as out of touch with the American people as his predecessors,” Boustany added. “It’s time for the Administration to appoint someone willing to reform the abusive and bureaucratic culture at the IRS.”

Democrats have contended the IRS controversy had nothing to do with the White House or politicians and that “progressive” groups also were targeted, albeit at a smaller percentage.

The applications for tax-exempt, 501(c)(4) status in recent years have become more controversial because such groups are considered social welfare organizations that are allowed to lobby, but they are not supposed to be politically focused.

FEMA storm grants

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency this past week authorized $11.3 million in disaster response and recovery grants from Hurricane Isaac for the state and to refund work in Livingston and Plaquemines parishes.

The grants include $3.4 million for the Dixie Electric Membership Corporation to pay for the cost of emergency protective measures to restore power in Livingston Parish and part of East Baton Rouge Parish. Another $1.1 million goes to South Louisiana Electric for power restoration efforts.

Plaquemines Parish receives $2.2 million to permanently repair the Scarsdale Pump Station that was damaged during Isaac.

The remaining $4.6 million goes to the state Department of Health and Hospitals for emergency measures taken during Isaac for the costs of labor, materials, equipment and more.

“The storms of the past have taught our state the importance of being prepared and taking extra emergency planning measures,” U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said in the announcement. “These grants make it possible for our communities to quickly restore power, ensure our response efforts were executed efficiently and our communities returned to normal.”

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