Our Views: A big role for the state

Pronounced “werdah” on Capitol Hill, the Water Resources Development Act is a particularly vital piece of legislation for Louisiana.

We are pleased that Louisiana will increase its clout in this vital area when U.S. Sen. David Vitter becomes ranking Republican on the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee.

The junior senator from Louisiana owes his elevation to another Republican moving to the Armed Forces Committee. And, of course, a minority party member doesn’t have as much clout as a senior member of the majority party.

And also: Vitter comes from another planet as far as his differing views on the environment with the committee’s chairwoman, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer of California.

All that said, we’d note that Boxer, a liberal Democrat, and the conservative Vitter worked well together despite difficult political crosswinds to pass into legislation a two-year highway bill last year.

That’s the model for two big public works measures now on the horizon: the WRDA bill, and a new highway bill, upon which work needs to begin soon. The last one was extended for only two years, when five years is the norm.

In the near term, Vitter seeks a WRDA bill that will streamline the Corps of Engineers bureaucracy for flood protection projects and reduce the corps’ massive backlog in Louisiana and nationwide. Vitter also wants to ensure that the proposal of U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, is included in the WRDA bill to direct more federal funds to river dredging and port projects in Louisiana and the rest of the nation. Such funds are typically raided for other government spending.

While environmentalists may not be happy with many of Vitter’s positions, much of the public works part of the Senate committee’s agenda is based on actual physical projects. That is an area that is less ideological and one in which Vitter can cultivate last year’s talents for compromise.