Around Washington for Monday, July, 15 2013

Washington Bureau writer Jordan Blum
Washington Bureau writer Jordan Blum

Members of the Louisiana congressional delegation successfully pushed amendments last week to jumpstart funding for coastal restoration projects and to prevent the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Louisiana from using a method of calculating wetlands restoration that critics allege is hampering progress on levee protection and business development projects.

The problems is the amendments are attached to a energy and water spending bill that has little bipartisan support and makes substantial budget cuts to clean energy programs, research funding and more. The Obama administration issued a veto threat on the bill before it was approved on a 227-198 House vote.

U.S. Reps. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson; Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge; and Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, teamed up to jumpstart the Louisiana Coastal Area program with $2 million. The program has lacked funding since its inception.

“The House of Representatives spoke in a rare, bipartisan fashion that the restoration of Louisiana’s coastline is a national priority,” Richmond said in the announcement. “The $2 million in funding ensures that Louisiana will be able to move forward with critical restoration projects that will protect our citizens from hurricanes and flooding.”

But Richmond went on to vote against the overall bill.

Scalise also succeeded in tacking an amendment to stop the Corps of Engineers from using the so-called Modified Charleston Method that went into place in 2011 in Louisiana for calculating wetlands mitigation. Former U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, had a similar amendment added to the bill last year.

The term “wetlands mitigation” is the federally required process through which developers, both public and private, wanting to build in wetlands must buy credits.

The money is then used to create or restore wetlands in another area. The contention is that the credits cost so much that economic development is being delayed or curtailed. Critics of the Modified Charleston Method argue the new rules are stalling projects ranging from business developments in St. Tammany Parish to the Morganza-to-the-Gulf flood protection system plan to build in greater levee protections for Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes.

U.S. Rep. John Fleming, R-Minden, had another amendment attached to the bill to prohibit funding the “green energy” loan program that was first implemented with the 2009 federal stimulus plan.

Cassidy proposal progresses

Legislation by U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, that would give Congress greater oversight of new environmental rules and regulations on industry made its first progress this past week when it was approved in a House subcommittee on a 17-10 vote.

Cassidy’s Energy Consumers Relief Act of 2013, which is expected to move relatively quickly in the GOP-controlled House, would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from issuing any energy-related regulation that is considered to have an economic impact of at least $1 billion without additional congressional and Department of Energy approval.

“There should be transparency for those Americans who cannot afford a lobbyist but whose livelihoods may be impacted by costly new regulations,” Cassidy stated after the vote. “The American people cannot afford to have jobs shipped overseas to countries with fewer environmental regulations. More rationality, transparency and accountability must be brought to the EPA and its rule-making process.”

The legislation that could weaken the EPA is not expected to gain much momentum in the Democratic-controlled Senate, if it passes the House. The legislation could impact rules proposed in the future that are intended to improve air and water quality safety and more.

Centers get federal money

The federal government is sending more than $1.5 million to southern Louisiana community health centers to help assist people in acquiring health insurance coverage as part of the Affordable Care Act exchanges.

Gov. Bobby Jindal, an avid opponent of “Obamacare,” is not agreeing to set up health insurance exchanges in Louisiana and the associated Medicaid expansion, so the burden falls on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Friday’s funding announcements includes $375,000 in outreach and enrollment grants to community health centers in Baton Rouge, Zachary and Clinton; $778,000 in grants in New Orleans, Marrero and Luling; and $442,000 in Opelousas, New Iberia and Lake Charles.

“Our community health centers are critical to helping individuals and families understand their health insurance options and how to enroll into the new health insurance marketplaces,” stated U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who supports the Affordable Care Act. “(Friday’s) funding will create Louisiana jobs and help provide health care to more than 200,000 individuals in our state.”

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