Around Washington for July 29, 2013

Delta Queen could cruise again

By Jordan Blum

Advocate Washington bureau

Washington Bureau writer Jordan Blum
Washington Bureau writer Jordan Blum

The historic Delta Queen steamboat again could cruise New Orleans and up the Mississippi River if Congress acts this year. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed legislation this month that would put the steamboat that can carry 174 passengers back into action. Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and David Vitter, R-La., are teaming up with Ohio’s senators to push a similar bill this fall in the Senate.

The Delta Queen was a river fixture for more than 80 years. It was taken off the river in 2008 after former Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., cited safety concerns in not continuing to exempt the vessel from a 1966 law that prohibits wooden boats from carrying more than 50 overnight passengers.

Since then, the boat has been a floating hotel in Chattanooga, Tenn.

If the legislation is passed through the House and Senate, the Delta Queen will be permitted to travel along the rivers once again.

Congress needs to pass an exemption to the Safety of Life at Seas Act, which mostly applied in the past to ocean vessels. Congress had approved the exemption from 1966 to 2008.

The Delta Queen is operated under a lease agreement from the owners by DQSC, Inc., and DQSC’s New Orleans president and CEO, Cornel Martin.

The company plans to buy the steamboat and return it to plying the Mississippi if Congress passes the exemption, according to the Delta Grassroots Caucus.

Similarly, the younger and larger American Queen paddlewheel steamboat was docked in 2008, but it was returned to the Mississippi River in 2012 and is making trips from New Orleans to Minnesota.

Reactions to Halliburton plea

The Justice Department announced late Thursday that Halliburton Co. had decided to plead guilty to destroying evidence in the aftermath of the 2010 BP oil leak, but there was little reaction to the news because it came so late in the day.

However, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., and Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, were among those who jumped on the news Friday.

“Considering that 11 people died and the Gulf’s ecosystem was seriously damaged as a result of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, we deserve to know all the facts about what went wrong,” Scalise said in a prepared statement.

“It is reprehensible that anyone would destroy evidence in this investigation, and Halliburton needs to be held fully accountable for this act as well as its role in the Deepwater Horizon disaster. I encourage the Justice Department to continue aggressively pursuing this investigation.”

“Tragically, 11 men lost their lives in the 2010 oil spill, and there is no excuse whatsoever for withholding evidence on exactly what happened,” Vitter added. “Along with the fines, Halliburton owes the families of the victims a huge apology.”

Halliburton is expected to pay up to just $500,000 in criminal fines, along with a three-year probation.

The oilfield services giant also agreed to contribute $55 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Challenging White House

Scalise and Rep. John Fleming, R-Minden, both succeeded in attaching amendments to the House’s defense appropriations bill opposed by the White House.

Scalise tacked on a measure to prevent the Defense Department from entering into potentially more costly contracts for alternative energy providers, such as biofuels, that are better for the environment. The amendment maintains that contracts stick with petroleum energy.

“It only makes sense for the U.S. military to use the most cost-effective fuel options available, but unfortunately that has not recently been the case within the Department of Defense,” Scalise said in his announcement.

“In tough economic times, every dollar counts, and it’s only common sense for DoD to start saving hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars by ending costly biofuel procurement and securing less expensive conventional jet fuel instead.”

Fleming’s amendment would ban the Defense Department from appointing any military chaplains who do not have an endorsing agency. Or, as Fleming put it, the amendment would ban the potential appointing of “atheist chaplains.”

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