Washington Briefs: Salazar steps down at Interior 

by jordan blum

Advocate Washington bureau

Washington Bureau writer Jordan Blum
Washington Bureau writer Jordan Blum

Outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has had his ups and downs with the Louisiana congressional delegation, including the much-debated offshore drilling moratorium after the 2010 BP oil tragedy.

Before leaving, Salazar had one last online video chat last week with the media before giving way to his successor, Sally Jewell, who is awaiting Senate confirmation.

Salazar bemoaned the impact of federal budget cuts on his agency. He also continued to tout President Barack Obama’s “all-of-the-above” energy production strategy.

He also said domestic oil-and-gas production has increased under Obama. While true, that fact remains a point of contention with the Louisiana delegation because most of the increases have occurred on private lands.

Salazar also took shots at the condition the agency was in when he inherited it from the Bush administration.

“The department was downtrodden. Science was forgotten,” Salazar said. “It was basically a place where oil-and-gas leases were being handed out willy-nilly.”

He also offered some advice for Jewell: “Enjoy the job,” Salazar said. “We get to see the world. … It is truly a joyful journey.”

Vitter balks at EPA nominee

While Jewell could be confirmed soon as the head of the Interior Department, the path appears much rockier for the nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy.

She will have her first nomination hearing on Thursday with the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, where Sen. David Vitter, R-La., is the top-ranking Republican.

Vitter has voiced skepticism about McCarthy, to say the least.

McCarthy has served as the EPA assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation for the past four years.

Last week, Vitter and Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., wrote to McCarthy regarding a proposed rule to modify the ability of manufacturing and other plants to exceed pollution standards during periods of “startup, shutdown and malfunction.”

They expressed concerns that any changes could unfairly increase regulations and that the proposed changes are a result of what Vitter calls the EPA’s “sue-and-settle” practices resulting from a Sierra Club environmental group lawsuit, in this case.

The attorneys general of 17 states, including Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, have requested an extension to the public comment period for the proposed rule change.

Vitter and Sessions said “EPA went out of its way to resolve the SSM (startup, shutdown and malfunction) petition in a coordinated settlement with Sierra Club.”

Vitter criticizes Obama

Vitter is lashing out at reports that Obama is pushing to make home loans available to more people.

Critics such as Vitter say they are concerned that extending more loans to lower-income people could lead to another situation like the 2008 housing market crash.

“You really have to wonder what the administration is thinking on this one,” Vitter said in a prepared statement. “We’re trying to work our way out of the housing collapse and a severe financial crisis, and the president is proposing a plan to do almost exactly what led to the collapse. This is some scary déjà vu. Part of his plan would expand the FHA’s (Federal Housing Administration) lending ability — the problem is they’re broke, and in need of serious reform.”

Obama has pledged to ensure that more people can benefit from the ongoing housing recovery.

The Washington Post reported last week that the Obama administration is trying to utilize more taxpayer-supported programs that insure home loans against defaulting.

The report stated that officials from the FHA are attempting to convince the Justice Department to assure a cautious banking industry that they will avoid legal ramifications if they make loans to lower-income or younger borrowers who meet the proper standards but still end up defaulting.

Vitter has previously filed legislation to keep the FHA more financially solvent and accountable, including instituting budgetary penalties on the agency.

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