US House panel approves comprehensive energy bill

By OGJ editors
HOUSTON, July 16
-- The US House Natural Resources Committee July 15 approved by a vote of 27-21 the Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources (CLEAR) Act, HR 3534.

Introduced by Chairman Nick J. Rahall (D-W.Va.) in September 2009, the CLEAR Act addresses the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and spill in the gulf as well as implements reforms in the country’s offshore and onshore oil and gas leasing program.

Rahall said, “While the incident in the gulf does not signal the end of drilling off America’s coasts, it certainly is a game changer and is proof positive that broad reforms are needed to ensure that oil and gas development on federal lands and waters is done efficiently while protecting human safety and the environment.”

The legislation would abolish for good the US Minerals Management Service and divide it into three separate entities: the Bureau of Energy and Resource Management, to manage leasing and permitting and conduct necessary environmental studies; the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, to conduct all inspections and investigations related to health, safety, and environmental regulations; and the Office of Natural Resource Revenue, to collect all offshore and onshore oil and gas and renewable energy-related revenues.

Responding to a recently released Department of the Interior Inspector General investigation that raised serious concerns about the “ease with which [safety inspectors] move between industry and government,” the CLEAR Act contains a strong “revolving door” provision that would broaden the scope of prohibited activities and add a 2-year ban on accepting employment with certain companies.

Rahall said, “We need professional, highly-trained inspectors who aren’t just pushing paper and rubberstamping what the industry tells them but rather are out there asking the tough questions and are truly holding these oil companies accountable.”

The CLEAR Act would also provide mandatory full funding, beginning in 2011, for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Historic Preservation Fund, and the Oceans Resources Conservation and Assistance Fund.

API responds
American Petroleum Institute Pres. and Chief Executive Officer Jack Gerard reported July 15 that if the CLEAR Act was passed by Congress, the legislation would threaten American jobs, the nation’s economy, and its energy security.

“The bill passed by the House Natural Resources Committee today moves well beyond a response to the tragic accident in the Gulf of Mexico, to the point where—if adopted by the Congress—provisions of the legislation will kill jobs, stifle economic recovery, and punish an already-reeling Gulf Coast community.”

Gerard said, “The numerous provisions that discourage US oil and natural gas development have the potential to drive investment out of the United States, killing US jobs and harming our economy.”

He added, “We support efforts to ensure safe and environmentally responsible operations, and we are committed to being part of the solution. But we cannot forget that oil and natural gas demand is growing and that it is critical to every sector of our economy. Any policy changes must bear that in mind. We can protect the environment without jeopardizing our economic security.”

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