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Vitter Says He Has Eye On Chair Of Powerful Environment Committee (VIDEO)


First Posted: 08/10/10 02:58 PM ET Updated: 05/25/11 06:20 PM ET

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) stated in the most certain terms to date on Saturday that he has his eye on assuming the role of Republican point man on environmental policy should his party take over the Senate.

In a speech before the Louisiana Municipal Association conference, the Louisiana Republican, who is up for reelection this year and is a close ally of the oil industry, acknowledged that there is a good chance that, come the next Congress, he would "be either top ranking Republican" on the "Environment and Public Works Committee" or chairman itself.

The third way I try to be your equal and active partner is working on key infrastructure needs in all of your communities," Vitter told the crowd. "The most important [of my committees] in this regard is the Environment and Public Works Committee because it deals with federal infrastructure help. Both the highway bill, highway funding, transportation funding and the WRDA bills, the Water Resources Development Act, which covers all corps projects and other water resource funding. I've been an active partner with you helping meet those crucial needs around the state and I will continue to be.

In the new Congress next year, we hope to have a new highway bill and a new WRDA bill. That's going to be essential to meet those key infrastructure needs so I look forward to working as your active partner in that. And in the new Congress I stand a very good chance to be either the top ranking Republican on that committee or should the majority change the chairman of that committee, so I'm going to take that work very seriously.

The remarks reflect a more candid form of political ambition than is customary. Vitter is not the highest-ranking Republican currently on the EPW committee. That honor goes to Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okl.). Senate Republicans, a leadership aide confirms, allow committee members themselves to elect their chairman or ranking member (as opposed to being appointed by Senate leadership). So Inhofe's hold on the position (he chaired the committee during the Bush years) isn't necessarily solid.

The possibility also remains that Vitter misspoke. Instead of the EPW Committee, he could have been referring to the EPWs Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee where current ranking member, Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), is retiring. His office didn't immediately return a request for comment.

Either way, his desire for power over environmental legislation has Democrats brimming with excitement. Inhofe already was cast as a bogeyman, owing to his longstanding disbelief in global warming. Vitter has earned similar criticism for his response to the BP oil spill in the Gulf. The senator has fought efforts to remove caps that oil companies face for economic damages caused by a spill. One of the first bills he introduced when he got to the House, in fact, was to limit criminal liability of oil companies responsible for spills. And just last week, Vitter introduced a bill that prevents the U.S. from cutting carbon emissions until China and India act first.

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