Sen. Vitter tells chamber new energy policy needed

08 08, 2012 by Monroe News Star

Tax reform and revamping the country's energy policy to tap available resources are top concerns for Congress as the United States works to climb out of the national recession, according to U.S. Sen. David Vitter.

Vitter spoke Tuesday before Monroe business leaders during a Monroe Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

He said Congress has an enormous opportunity to increase economic growth, job growth and energy independence if it "puts a sensible national energy policy in place."

The United States is the richest country in the world for energy, but most Americans don't realize it, Vitter said.

"We're used to thinking of ourselves as completely dependent on foreign sources, and of course we have been. But, when you take stock of the total energy resources we have and compare that to other countries, we're the most energy rich country," Vitter said.

However, he said under national energy policy, roughly 90 percent of the country's energy resources is off limits.

"They say we can't touch it. We've got to leave it in the ground and not responsibly develop it," Vitter said. "We have a federal energy policy that says, 'No, no, no, no you can't.' Not to be partisan, but I thought the motto was, 'Yes you can.'"

If the country changed its energy policy, Vitter said the U.S. could be completely energy independent by the next decade. The right federal policy also could create more jobs and lift the economy and help reduce the deficit.

"With domestic energy production would come enormous new revenue and thereby lower the deficit and debt," Vitter said.

Tax reform is another engine for economic growth throughout the country.

"I'm talking about true fundamental tax reform, but the debate is stuck in the mud and it's a stale debate just about rates," Vitter said.

True tax reform would require elimination of most tax deductions, exemptions and credits in the tax code, he said.

"That would raise significant revenue, just by getting rid of loopholes, credits and deductions. We could use that revenue to lower rates for everyone, including businesses," Vitter said.

Vitter also touted the RESTORE Act, which passed Congress last month, as the start of needed coastal restoration in Louisiana following the 2010 BP oil spill.

Under the RESTORE Act, 80 percent of the fine money levied against BP is earmarked for the five Gulf Coast states: Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

The first payments of the estimated $5 billion to $20 billion in fines imposed by the federal government aren't expected until at least early next year, after a scheduled civil trial. If a settlement is reached before that, the money could arrive sooner.

"The state that will get more of that than any other state is Louisiana. That's for a very good reason. We were by far the hardest hit environmentally and economically," Vitter said.

"It's a big win for the state, and not just for coastal communities."

He said the funding will benefit the entire state through coastal restoration and improving hurricane evacuation routes.

Earlier this year, Louisiana passed a 50-year coastal plan that calls for 109 projects, including hurricane protection and coastal restoration. Louisiana officials will use some of the RESTORE funding toward the $50 billion master plan.