Vitter: Pipeline a priority

05 09, 2012 by The Advocate

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., and a large conference committee of House and Senate members began meeting Tuesday to sculpt a compromise to transportation legislation containing the RESTORE Act language that directs BP fine money to Louisiana and other Gulf Coast states.

Vitter, who is the only member of the Louisiana delegation on the committee, said his three priorities in the process are, in the order he stated them: the authorization for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, the RESTORE Act, and the RAMP Act, which sets aside more dollars for dredging and harbor projects, including for Louisiana waterways.

“I know it’s a heavy lift politically,” Vitter said of the Keystone XL pipeline that is proposed to run from Canada to Texas.

President Barack Obama has threatened a veto of any legislation that mandates moving forward with the pipeline, because he has expressed a desire to complete environmental impact studies first.

But Vitter also urged bipartisan cooperation in the committee and, in a later interview, he said the prickly pipeline debate should not be allowed to kill a much larger transportation bill that creates private-sector jobs, builds infrastructure and funnels Gulf Coast restoration dollars to Louisiana.

“I’m pretty optimistic,” Vitter said in a phone interview. “There’s a lot of momentum to get a bill done.”

The RESTORE Act provisions guarantee that 80 percent of the fines collected from the April 2010 BP oil leak — an amount that could reach $20 billion — would be distributed for coastal restoration to the five states along the Gulf: Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, Texas and Alabama.

Gulf state lawmakers have wanted Congress to adopt the RESTORE Act before a settlement is reached with the Department of Justice and BP.

In an online show of bipartisan support, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., even noted on her Twitter account that Vitter was working in support of the RESTORE Act, which they collaborated on.

But not all lawmakers outside of the South support the RESTORE Act.

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., released a statement Tuesday that, in part, criticized the Gulf Coast legislation for creating more bureaucracy.

“I am certainly sympathetic to the impacts the spill had on Gulf states, but I’m not sympathetic to the notion that an effort to provide support directly to Gulf states requires ballooning the federal bureaucracy with permanent new federal spending programs,” Hastings stated.

“I don’t think that’s the House majority view,” Vitter said in response.

The House version of the transportation bills is a 90-day extension to transportation spending while the Senate has a more comprehensive two-year plan. But only the House bill contains Keystone XL pipeline provision.

As for the RAMP Act, Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, co-authored a new letter to the U.S. House members on the conference committee urging that his legislation be included in the final transportation bill.

The provision is intended to ensure the funds for the federal Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund are used for dredging and port projects and not raided for other uses as has been occurring.

“As the economy struggles to recover, we cannot afford to threaten commerce and trade by failing to maintain our harbor infrastructure,” Boustany stated.

“It plays an integral role in supporting jobs, growing our economy, and competing successfully in this global economy.”