<br> Hearing Of The House Committee On Natural Resources - 'Full Committee Legislative Hearing On H.R. 3534, The CLEAR Act
The Committee is meeting today to discuss H.R. 3534, the Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources Act of 2009, appropriately known as the CLEAR Act for its visionary approach to putting this country on a more sustainable path for energy development on our public lands and off our coasts.
Our two-part hearing begins today with vital input from the Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, the Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Dr. Jane Lubchenco, and two government watchdogs. We will continue tomorrow with a variety of stakeholder perspectives on this proposal.
For too long, the only way the Interior Department measured success was by the number of acres leased and the number of wells drilled. Whether or not this was being done responsibly, safely, effectively, or with the best interests of the American people at heart was simply an afterthought.
We know from numerous hearings and a continuing stream of alarming reports from the Government Accountability Office and the Interior Department=s Inspector General that this approach has failed. Just this week, three new GAO reports detailing major flaws in the federal oil and leasing program are being released.
These reports add significantly to the massive body of investigative work done over the past 25 years calling into question the management of the entire federal oil and gas program.
In one instance, this mismanagement led to a hearing before this Committee regarding the offensive behavior of employees in the Royalty-in-Kind division who put partying and cozying up with industry officials above getting a fair return for the American taxpayer.
We have the opportunity, with the current Department of the Interior and with responsible action by this Congress, to ensure that the development of our nation's resources is done right.
The CLEAR Act, which I introduced after months of discussions with everyone from environmental groups to the oil and gas industry, is a comprehensive effort to steer us toward more responsible energy development. Our strategy is not one of Ano development@ B the CLEAR Act is about smarter development.
There are those who argue that Congress should just get out of the way and allow federal land management agencies to open as much land as possible for drilling. To them I say the Bush Administration tried that approach and it failed.
The previous Administration granted every wish the oil and gas industry had and what did the Nation get in return? An upsurge in the price of gasoline, increased dependence on foreign oil, a string of ethical scandals and a blind eye toward any environmental responsibility whatsoever; all while the oil and gas industry raked in staggering profits.
Doubling down on the mistakes of the last eight years is not the smart way to move forward.
To those who argue that we need an Aall of the above@ energy policy, I wholeheartedly agree.
Where I disagree, however, is that for too long when it came to environmental responsibility, balanced development, and taxpayer protections B and let me stress that, taxpayer protections B the previous Administration pursued a Anone of the above@ strategy. The CLEAR Act will change that.
Offshore, this bill creates a more comprehensive framework for siting and developing energy projects while taking into consideration the other uses and needs of the offshore environment.
While the existing process works well in those areas that already have oil and gas development, it is poorly suited for areas where new infrastructure may be required and new kinds of energy development may be possible.
In addition to ensuring that fragile ecosystems and crucial fishing grounds remain protected, the CLEAR Act will give industry more predictability. When it comes to offshore energy development, the costs of doing it right are negligible, but the consequences of doing it wrong are disastrous.
We believe this approach is an important piece of a larger, comprehensive ocean planning effort that the President=s Interagency Ocean Task Force is considering right now. That Task Force will issue its first recommendations this week, and we expect to work closely with the Administration as it moves forward.
Onshore, this bill recognizes that we need to get serious about renewable development with a competitive leasing program to facilitate fair access and smart siting, rather than ad hoc projects under special use permits or rights-of-way.
This bill would also establish the Office of Federal Energy and Minerals Leasing, combining the energy development work currently split between the Minerals Management Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
Having one agency do the leasing, and one agency collect the money, is inefficient, unnecessarily complex, and potentially costs the American people millions in lost royalties.
The new office would help simplify matters for oil and gas companies and renewable energy developers, while allowing BLM to focus on its primary role as a multiple-use land management agency.
Further, the legislation would dedicate a small portion of the enormous revenues generated by energy development toward fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the newly-created Ocean Resources Conservation Assistance, or ORCA, Fund. Through both programs we will reinvest proceeds from development in conservation.
This bill is a step towards restoring a balance to the management of our federal oil and gas programs, and I commend Secretary Salazar for beginning that process.
He recognizes that we need to develop these resources, but he has also taken important steps to ensure that public lands containing important wildlife habitat, wilderness and other non-renewable natural resources are protected.
I look forward to our discussion of H.R. 3534, and how we can best restore balance and common sense to our energy programs.