Richard Shelby's next water wars move for Alabama: pressure the prosecutor

WASHINGTON -- Alabama Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby came out on the losing end this week in a water wars battle with the Georgia delegation, which banded together to successfully block Shelby's attempts to tip the scales in an omnibus spending bill.

But Shelby is far from done, and his power as chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee overseeing the Department of Justice remains substantial. So the five-term senator fired off a letter on Friday to the U.S. Attorney in Mobile expressing his "concern" about Georgia's water hogging and laying out a two-pronged next step -- pressure the prosecutor and launch an investigation of his own.

Shelby had tried to get language into a year-long spending bill to request a DOJ report on "violations of water contracts" in multi-state basins across the country, the implicit target being the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa basin. Without his desired report language, Shelby is saying skip the report, he wants prosecution.

You can read the full letter here. A key section:

"During this fiscal year, the Senate Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, which I chair, will conduct extensive oversight of these contracts, the laws surrounding them, the individuals involved, relevant communications of federal officials, and the enforcement role of the federal government."

Shelby requests a meeting with Brown in January to discuss the matter further. Left unsaid is how miserable Shelby can make the lives of DOJ officials, given that he holds their purse strings. Brown, formerly a congressional staffer and Assistant U.S. Attorney, was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2009 to become Alabama's first black U.S. Attorney.

In addition to requesting Brown's intervention, Shelby is telegraphing his intent to use the resources of his subcommittee to investigate these "violations" himself, rather than waiting for DOJ to do so. Georgia had been worried that the DOJ report Shelby requested in the omnibus could be used against Georgia in the lawsuit, but now Shelby is proposing to do something similar on his own.

Incidentally, Shelby is running for re-election in 2016.