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Wittman cites bay cleanup among top priorities

by Tom Chillemi


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First District Congressman Rob Wittman spoke to the Kiwanis Club of Middlesex on Monday about his legislative goals. Above, Wittman (left) is welcomed by Kiwanis president Ron McCallum.  (Photo by Tom Chillemi)

Developing a comprehensive energy policy is among the top goals of First District Congressman Rob Wittman.

Wittman was elected in December, 2007 in a special election to fill the First District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives formerly held by the late Jo Ann Davis.

A Republican, Wittman will be opposed by Democrat Billy Day for a new two-year term in the November 4 election.

Wittman addressed the Kiwanis Club of Middlesex on Monday and said he and other legislators have asked the Speaker of the House to call Congress back to session to resume work on an energy policy. Congress recently recessed for five weeks.

“We are at a critical juncture with the energy policy,” said Wittman. There are good alternative energy ideas that are not being developed and need to be explored.

In recent “telephone town hall call” surveys, respondents were asked to prioritize whether to develop domestic sources of energy, pursue alternative and renewable energy sources, or increase conservation. By a 2-1 margin, increasing domestic production was the top priority, said Wittman. Alternative energy was second, and conservation came in third.

Kiwanis member Joe Cromwell asked if building oil refineries is part of the energy policy. 

Wittman said part of the plan is to look at abandoned government-owned military facilities as sites for new oil refineries. This would eliminate siting issues with local and state governments.

The last U.S. refinery was built in 1976 and the older refineries are unreliable, he said.

“We had a great opportunity after the Arab Oil embargo” in the 1970s to get some momentum toward creating an energy policy and increasing production and refineries, said Wittman. “We just didn’t do it. So, here we are again with an opportunity. We are at the tipping point in this nation. The American people have told us to get it done.”

Regarding nuclear power, Wittman said France gets about 85 percent of its energy from nuclear power and has reduced the volatility of the waste.

The U.S. permitting process is very difficult and “convoluted,” he said. “Nuclear energy has to be a critical part of the solution.”

Nuclear power has a zero carbon footprint, noted Wittman, and the technology is available to store nuclear waste at the Yucca Mountain site.

Alternative sources, such as wind and solar, currently produces about 7 percent of the country’s electricity and can possibly be doubled in 10 years; however, that type of energy is not storable, he said.

Wittman said high prices of fossil fuels will drive the search for alternative sources of energy, and government incentives should be considered to increase the research.

Cleaning the Bay

Another top issue for Wittman is cleaning the Chesapeake Bay. “The federal government has spent billions of dollars on clean-up efforts and we don’t see the bay getting any better.”

The bay was once “the most productive body of water in the world but slowly has become less productive, and we can’t let that continue,” said Wittman. “It is a national treasure and a backbone of the economy in the coastal area, and we cannot stand by and watch it continue to go away.”

On Friday Wittman introduced a bill to identify every dollar that is spent by different agencies working on cleaning up the bay. “Cross-cut budgeting” would identify where those dollars are being spent and how effective they are in meeting the objectives of the Clean Water Act and the Chesapeake Bay 2000 Agreement to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus, two nutrients that are harmful to marine life in the bay, he said.

“We want to look where the money is going. If you can’t demonstrate results, let’s put the money elsewhere or stop spending money on ineffective programs,” he said. “We have to make sure these agencies are accountable at both the federal and state government levels and make them performance-based with a required outcome.”

Virginia and Maryland delegates are in favor of this “common sense” bill, and Wittman said he is now working with the Delaware and Pennsylvania representatives.
Grace Parker asked if identifying every dollar spent might be risky.

Wittman responded that this “performance-based budgeting” was used on the Great Lakes, the Everglades and the Mississippi Delta.

Wittman said there is about $400 million in the farm bill that will limit nitrogen runoff from land into the bay or into shallow ground water sources. Nutrients cause algae bloom that block sunlight from grasses. When the algae dies, it consumes oxygen to the detriment of marine life.

Economy

Stimulating the ailing economy is another goal for Wittman. He said he voted against the bailout of national mortgage lenders Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. “We have it backwards; we need to reform Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae before we throw a lot of money at it.

“That [bailout] bill raised the federal deficit to $10.3 trillion,” said Wittman. “That equates to a debt of $34,000 on every man, woman and child in the United States,” a $3,000 increase.

Wittman said he is “not unsympathetic to those caught in the housing market, but I also realize we have to correct the basic cause. All we are doing now is treating the symptoms. We have to hold Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae accountable and make sure they are making correct decisions.”

Iraq War

Kiwanis member Jim Hill asked Wittman if he foresees an end to the Iraq War.

Wittman said he toured Iraq in January and feels Iraq “will be able to maintain security, both through their security forces and their army. “All those things are coming together. We can’t pull out too quickly and allow that to collapse.

“I believe the next president will be able to pull troops out of combat roles and just have troops there in logistic roles, which will take them out of harms way,” he said. “The big thing we need to be careful of is pulling out too quickly and taking away that safety net the Iraqi forces have.”

Wittman serves on the House Armed Services Committee.

Wittman said some Iraqi oil profits go to the Federal Reserve Bank in New York and some of the $90 billion in oil profits should be used for restoration and rebuilding Iraq.

Rep. Wittman can be reached at (202) 225-4261 or http://wittman.house.gov.

posted 08.07.2008

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