The bill would also establish the ORCA (Ocean Resources Conservation and Assistance) fund, which is the first annual fund dedicated to ocean conservation. We also support the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which as part of the CLEAR Act would provide consistent and permanent funding for wilderness resources such as parks, beaches and waterways.
In addition to setting up conservation funds, the other “highlights” of the bill include:
- Integrated reform of oil and gas drilling sector with improved safety and oversight of oil drilling.
- Lifting the current $75 million cap on liabilities related to oil spills, as well as incorporating key elements of the Blowout Prevention Act of 2010.
- Reform by statute the failed Minerals Management Service (MMS), which was also ordered to be reorganized by the Obama Administration executive order earlier this year. The reform changes the name of MMS to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, and includes restrictions such as the “revolving door” provision aimed at preventing conflicts of interest and corruption in the government agency charged with overseeing the oil industry.
- In addition to the overdue reforms, the bill also repeals provision of current law that have allowed hundreds of projects to be permitted without careful scrutiny under categorical exclusions.
Unfortunately, the bill sponsors and supporters conceded to a last-minute amendment by Congressman Charlie Melancon (D – LA) that will lift the current six-month deepwater drilling moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico. This deepwater moratorium was enacted by President Obama after the Deepwater Horizon spill and has been the subject of much litigation in the 5th Circuit. Obviously, the environmental community is displeased with this concession amendment in the bill, but overall it is still a CLEARly good bill.
While the House version of the CLEAR Act passed by a vote of 209 to 193, the Senate version of the bill (S.3663) awaits action by the Senate. If it passes, both houses would return from August recess to negotiate a compromise bill to send to the President.