Jordan's Column for Monday, Jan. 14, 2013

by jordan blum

Advocate Washington bureau

Washington Bureau writer Jordan Blum
Washington Bureau writer Jordan Blum

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., made some waves on Capitol Hill last week by purging all but two minority party staffers of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

While some staff turnover is normal when a new senator takes over as the ranking member of a committee, the National Journal, which first reported the changes, made sure to point out that Vitter was causing more of an overhaul than is usual. Vitter is the ranking Republican on the committee after Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., switched committees.

What may be bad for some Inhofe staffers is good news for several people with Louisiana ties moving into new jobs. Roughly 10 new staffers are from Louisiana or have worked with Vitter previously.

For instance, Vitter’s new committee staff director is Zak Baig, of Pontchatoula, who was Vitter’s former legislative director. Bryan Zumwalt, Vitter’s former energy and environment counsel, is taking over as chief counsel on the committee. Charles Brittingham, a longtime staffer who served as Vitter’s grassroots re-election director in 2010, is on the committee staff as the expert on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issues.

Vitter declined an interview on the issue, but his spokesman, Luke Bolar, said the changes did not stem from any antagonism between Vitter and Inhofe.

They “get along great,” Bolar said. As for Bolar, he also will assume the communications duties for the committee.

FEMA grant to help pumping

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is funneling $19 million to New Orleans for enhanced flood protection at nine pumping stations.

The dollars relate to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and come from FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Program. The grant will fund the elevation and hardening of nine sewage pump stations to prevent future damage from conditions similar to those during hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Where possible, the structures will be elevated to the 500-year flood level to reduce the infiltration of floodwaters and the possibility of submergence of electrical components, pumps and motors. In addition, mitigation measures include reinforcing the stations by “hardening” structures around electrical components to protect vital equipment.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, teamed up to announce the new grant funding on Friday.

“Improving our sewage infrastructure is critical for protecting the health and safety of the residents of New Orleans,” Landrieu said in the announcement. “We cannot stop a natural disaster, but we can take smart steps to ensure that we are adequately prepared and protected to reduce the impacts on our communities.”

“I am pleased that we are directing our resources towards improving our sewage infrastructure,” Richmond added. “(Friday’s) funding allows us to prioritize the safety and sanitation of our communities, which is essential if we want to continue to thrive as a city and continue our recovery efforts across the board.”

The pumping stations at issue in New Orleans are the SPS-8 Station, at the corner of North Broad Avenue and Toulouse Street; SPS-6 Station, 242 S. Solomon St.; Bullard Station, 5501 Bullard Ave.; DODT Station, 8118 Chef Menteur Highway; Lake Forest Station, 10451 Lake Forest Blvd.; Lawrence Station, 7900 Morrison Road; Plum Orchard Station, 7300 Chef Menteur Highway; Victoria Station, 3620 Victoria St.; and Burke Station, 9001 Morrison Road.

Scalise criticizes Biden

Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, who now chairs the conservative Republican Study Committee, lashed out at Vice President Joe Biden for suggesting the president may take some executive action to help curb gun violence.

President Barack Obama cannot implement weapons bans through executive orders but could enact related measures, including some pertaining to mental health services. Biden did not mention any specifics on potential executive action.

“Vice President Biden would do well to read the Second Amendment and revisit the meaning of the phrase ‘shall not be infringed,’” Scalise said in a prepared statement. “Bypassing Congress to implement radical policies is never acceptable, and it’s particularly heinous when such actions trample on the freedoms guaranteed to all Americans by the Bill of Rights.

“Efforts to restrict the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans will only punish those who play by the rules and will be ignored by criminals who break the law.

“This radical attempt by the Obama Administration to unilaterally rewrite the Constitution will launch our nation down a slippery slope as the White House shows a dangerous disregard for the rights and freedoms guaranteed to every American,” Scalise added.

When Biden recently discussed priorities, he brought up banning high-capacity ammunition magazines and implementing universal background checks but did not mention banning any more weapons.

Biden to visit New Orleans

The vice president is attending a reception Jan. 26, at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in New Orleans.

The reception honors Landrieu and begins at 4 p.m. Landrieu’s Senate campaign is organizing the event and asked attendees to arrive an hour early to allow for security.

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