Not letting BP oil crisis go to waste, Democrats exploiting spill for legislative wish list 

In response to the gulf oil spill, Democrats have proposed the CLEAR Act or “Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources Act of 2009.” Ostensibly, the bill is to fix problems in the Department of the Interior’s Minerals Management Service, the agency whose poor oversight has been blamed for failing to prevent the spill, and a few other items related to the restoration of the gulf. However, the ranking Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., charges that Democrats are stuffing the bill with unrelated items and turning the legislation into “a Christmas Tree bill of unrelated new spending, taxes and laws.”

Yesterday, Congressman Jay Inslee, D-Wash., was asked why he was attaching his Geothermal Production Expansion Act (H.R. 3709) to this bill.  “This is a really nice train leaving the station and probably the only one this Congress,” he said.

In response to larding up the bill, during a full committee markup on the CLEAR Act , Democrats rejected an amendment offered by Hastings to strike all parts of the bill except those pertaining directly to the oil spill — Title I, which creates new Department of Interior agencies to replace the Minerals Manage Service, and Title VIII, a long-term Gulf of Mexico restoration program. All other sections of the bill are either unrelated, “or require additional information and facts from multiple ongoing investigations,” according to a Republican release.

Republicans further note the wide array of items being attached to the bill that are of no particular relevance to the gulf oil spill:

  • $40 billion in new mandatory spending for unrelated programs
  • Restrictions on renewable solar and wind energy production on public lands
  • Banning fish farm operations
  • Harming the future of nuclear power in America by restricting uranium leasing
  • New restrictions for onshore energy production
  • “Wildlife sustainability” in forests and BLM lands (not the ocean)

This is noteworthy, because after numerous reports emerged that press access to the oil spill was being severely restricted by BP and the government, Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., proposed an amendment to the CLEAR Act to ensure the media can freely cover he spill. Yesterday, Democrats prevented Broun’s amendment from being voted on under the rubric that it wasn’t germane to the legislation. Looking at the number of largely unrelated items that are actually in the bill, it’s hard to see the rejection of Broun’s amendment as anything other than political. Democrats seem far more concerned about how unrestricted press coverage of the oil spill might affect their political fortunes than whether or not amendments to the CLEAR Act have to be “germane.”

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Mark Hemingway

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