WASHINGTON — From the global warming debate, to reform efforts in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., is set to become the top GOP member of the Senate’s primary environmental committee.
Vitter, one of the Senate’s staunchest conservatives, becomes the ranking GOP member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in January, when he will have to work closely with Sen. and committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.
“I’m very excited about the new challenge and the new opportunity,” Vitter said. “It’s very well suited to me and the issues in Louisiana.”
Vitter is moving up on the committee because his predecessor, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., is becoming the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. In doing so, Vitter for the first time will become the top Republican in a major Senate committee.
While Vitter said he fully expects to butt heads with Boxer on environmental and industry regulations issues, he said they actually have a solid working relationship already, and that they are partnering on the next Water Development Resources Act bill that is expected to be filed in the coming months.
“I think I’ve developed a good working relationship with her,” Vitter said.
One of the top priorities, Vitter said, he is pushing for in the WRDA bill is an effort to streamline the Corps of Engineers bureaucracy for flood protection project and to reduce the corps’ massive backlog in Louisiana and nationwide.
Vitter said he also wants to ensure that the RAMP Act, originally by 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.
The model for working on the WRDA bill with Boxer, Vitter said, is the federal transportation bill that was signed into law this summer.
Because the committee covers infrastructure, Boxer headed the bill, and Vitter and Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and others contributed to it. Vitter also served on the bill’s conference committee.
The transportation bill included Vitter’s extension of the National Flood Insurance Program and Landrieu’s RESTORE Act to direct billions of dollars in BP oil disaster fine dollars to Louisiana and other Gulf Coast states.
“That’s very much the same model and approach we’re taking (for WRDA),” Vitter said.
Of course, the federal transportation bill only lasts two years, so Vitter said a new bill also will quickly become a priority.
Boxer agrees that she and Vitter are working well, thus far in the bill drafting process. “I think we’ve made a very good start on working together on the (WRDA) bill,” Boxer said.
Boxer said she hopes the legislation is filed within the first few months of the year.
Of course, on environmental matters, Boxer knows she will have opposition just as she did with Inhofe.
“I think he (Vitter) will be difficult on that,” Boxer said. “But you’ll have to ask him.”
In that same spirit of cooperation, Vitter agrees they will disagree, especially when it comes to Environmental Protection Agency regulation on industries.
“I have a very different view than Sen. Boxer, so we’re going to be pushing back on that,” Vitter said. “We’re going to have clearly different viewpoints.”
Vitter said he will make every effort to fight “clear over-regulations by the EPA.”
Despite mounting scientific evidence to the contrary, Inhofe is maybe the Senate’s loudest voice in arguing that humans do not contribute to global warming, or climate change.
While Vitter said he “shares the skepticism” with Inhofe, Vitter added that he does not plan to be as vocal on the issue.
“I don’t think I’m going to spend the same amount of time … debating the theoretics,” Vitter said.
While he knows climate change is occurring, Vitter said, he continues to question the human impact on such changes.