Around Washington: Legacy bill seeks new sponsor

U.S. Sens. David Vitter, R-La., and Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., teamed up last month to announce what they called a “huge breakthrough” proposal — with large bipartisan support — to update the nation’s chemical safety laws for the first time in decades.

But Lautenberg, who was battling health problems for months, died just two weeks later and his potential “legacy” bill is mired in infighting between Democrats.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, through which the measure must travel and on which Vitter is the ranking GOP member.

Boxer has been critical of the bill because she is concerned that a broad federal policy on chemical safety regulations would override the more-stringent existing laws in California.

Roll Call is reporting Boxer did not even know the Vitter-Lautenberg bill was in the works, and she was surprised by it.

Roll Call also reported that there were questions about whether Lautenberg, who had futilely pushed for tougher chemical laws in the past, was actually very involved in the drafting of the bill, given his health issues.

His staff and his widow have fought back against such questions.

So, now the question remains which Democrat will lead the bill with Vitter and whether Boxer will be able to tweak the bill enough to her liking.

Vitter, for his part, is staying mum — except to note Lautenberg was very involved — and he is letting the issue play out among the Democrats without getting publicly involved.

The bill seeks to “modernize” the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 to create a true federal framework for the first time for the federal government to regulate chemical products while still allowing private industry to keep trade secrets private.

The current law gives the Environmental Protection Agency relatively little oversight over approving or restricting products while leaving much of the work to individual states to the point that private industry has sought a more uniform framework.

Flood insurance increase in limbo

The financial fates of thousands of southern Louisiana residents with federal flood insurance are still in limbo with potential premium rate of up to 20 percent or more falling upon them in the not-so-distant future.

The House earlier this month in an effort led by Reps. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge; Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans; and others helped pass an amendment to delay by one year the rate hikes on “grandfathered” properties that have National Flood Insurance Program accounts.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., had a longer, three-year delay amendment blocked by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., on another piece of legislation in the Senate, where obstructionism by a single person is allowed.

So, this past week, 13 southern Louisiana parish presidents sent a letter to Landrieu and Vitter, urging them to pass the “Cassidy amendment.” Vitter similarly wrote to Landrieu asking her to back the Cassidy amendment.

Cassidy, of course, is challenging Landrieu for her U.S. Senate seat next year.

The “Cassidy amendment” is part of the House’s Homeland Security appropriations bill.

Landrieu just so happens to chair the Senate Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee and she has already said she plans to attach her three-year delay amendment to the bill. A one-year fix is not enough, she has said.

As the letter from the parish presidents states near the end, “While we are not insensitive to bi-partisan politics and upcoming campaigns, we urge you to include the amendment or a similar provision providing relief from the rapid, unanticipated and exorbitant flood insurance rate increases as the Senate begins to consider … Homeland Security appropriations.”

Vitter troubled by regulation

As President Barack Obama’s administration moves toward examining tough carbon regulation on industry, Vitter led a group of seven senators to write to the administration to say they are “troubled” by such a direction.

The argument is that the administration will allegedly used skewed data and its so-called “social cost of carbon” to justify tougher EPA carbon standards and their economic benefits.

The senators contend that such potential regulation would lead to jobs losses and hurt the economy.

“We are troubled by reports on the updated estimate that there’s a significant change to an already highly controversial (social cost of carbon) estimate,” they wrote. “This requires transparency, open debate, and an adherence to well-understood and previously agreed-upon rules.”

While the president will consider tougher regulations, the administration has repeatedly said the president will no propose a so-called “carbon tax” on industry.

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