Congress to Vote on Oil Leak Response Bill Tomorrow

Media Contacts

Environment Texas

AUSTIN – Environment Texas called upon the Texas Congressional Delegation to support the CLEAR Act, Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources Act, (H.R. 3534), scheduled for a vote tomorrow in the U.S. House. The bill

    * Holds BP accountable for the oil spill by lifting the cap on liability.
    * Reforms offshore oil and gas drilling by tightening safety and permitting provisions
    * Provides funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund to acquire and protect key treasured lands in Texas, including Big Bend National Park and Big Thicket National Forest

Environment Texas Director Luke Metzger said, “We must do everything possible to ensure that a disaster in the Gulf never happens again. The CLEAR Act holds BP accountable, tightens safety standards on offshore drilling, and provides millions of dollars for Texas natural areas like Big Bend and the Big Thicket.”

Background on CLEAR Act, Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources Act, (H.R. 3534)

Land and Water Conservation Fund
The tragedy of the BP Oil Spill reminds us how vulnerable our public lands and waters, surrounding communities, and wildlife are to harm. We need sustained investment to provide long term protection of the natural places that are so important to us as Americans, and the Land and Water Conservation Fund was designed to do just that. It is time to keep the promise that was made to use all the funding deposited in LWCF to protect places Americans care about for future generations.

LWCF is authorized to receive a very small percentage of revenue from offshore leases for oil and gas- $900 million a year.  However, Congress and various Administrations have diverted many of these funds from their intended purpose. The LWCF provision recognizes the central importance of reinvesting in one public resource – our nation’s public recreation lands and waters – as we deplete another – oil from federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere. Since it was enacted in 1965, LWCF has been the only conservation offset for offshore oil drilling.

Despite being consistently underfunded, LWCF has had an impact in every state and in almost every county in America. National parks, forests, wildlife refuges and other federal public lands are located in every state in the nation – providing public access to recreation in urban, suburban and rural areas alike. LWCF grants to states have distributed funds to almost every single county in America for over 41,000 projects including parks, sports fields, swimming pools, playgrounds, and trails. LWCF has also funded the protection of over 1.5 million acres of working forests in over 30 states.

The bills fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) fully up to $900 million per year. LWCF is used by the states and federal government to purchase parkland, build facilities in parks and for a variety of conservation purposes. According to the National Parks Conservation Association, in Texas the funds could be used for:

Big Bend National Park- $10M to acquire 25,000 acres of the South Rosillos Mountains
Guadalupe Mountains – $10M to acquire 10,000 acres
LBJ – potential to add 2-3,000 acres
Big Thicket if expanded by 100,000 acres could be $200M
Palo Alto – +/-2M
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park – $14.4M to acquire high priority Spanish Colonial lands

Oil Spill Package
The Gulf of Mexico is currently suffering from the largest oil spill in U.S. history, somewhere between 94 and 184 million gallons of oil gushed over 87 days –almost three months—before the company could temporarily cap the well. The spill is somewhere between 10 and 20 times the size of the Exxon Valdez spill that caused such huge damage in 1989. Over 500 miles of Gulf coastline, some of the most sensitive and productive coast we have in the US, is now oiled. There are huge environmental impacts on fish, shellfish, wildlife like sea turtles and birds and coastal marshes that are the basis for most life in the Gulf.  Also, there are huge economic impacts on fishermen, coastal tourism and related businesses.  The US Travel Association estimates a $23 billion dollar hit to tourism revenues this year and the next three from a drop off in tourism to the Gulf States.
    * The bill hold the responsible parties like BP fully accountable and have them pay the full cost of cleaning up the Gulf, restoring it, and paying for all the economic damages they have caused or will cause.  The bill make companies liable for billions and billions in economic and environmental damages if a spill causes them. The ridiculously low cap on economic damages of $75 million per spill is removed by the bill. Drillers also have to show evidence of very large amounts of financial responsibility before they get permits to drill.

    * The bills reform the offshore drilling regulatory agency by dividing it into three parts so that the people who write the regulations and do the enforcement are not responsible for maximizing revenues from drilling, clearly a conflict of interest. The bill ends the revolving door between regulatory personnel and companies who are regulated.

    * The bills also reforms the process for leasing areas of the ocean, raising the importance of ocean conservation against production and permitting wells and giving the Nation’s ocean agency, NOAA, more say over leasing and permitting decisions. The new laws require real environmental analysis at each stage, and end to rubber stamp categorical exclusions. They require realistic assessments of spills and the ability to respond to spills certified by the driller’s chief executive.

    * The bill require use of best available drilling technology and safety equipment on drilling rigs with much more attention given to equipment that can prevent blowouts and training for personnel on rigs.

    * The bill repeals Bush era royalty relief provisions that were costing tax payers billions of dollars and enriching Big Oil (i.e., section 344 deep wells in shallow water, section 345 deep water, offshore Alaska).

    * For the first time ever, the bill establishes an ocean trust fund (ORCA) much like LWCF using offshore drilling revenues.  Money that comes from drilling which harms the ocean will now be used by the federal government and states to preserve, protect and maintain the health of the ocean.

Other drilling reforms for onshore drilling
The disaster in the Gulf has shown a spotlight on the inadequate level of safety requirements, ethical standards, and government oversight on federal offshore oil and gas operations.  The CLEAR Act addresses many of these needs by creating new safety standards, higher liability limits, and closing the revolving door between government and the oil and gas industry.  We also need to bring more balanced energy development onshore and ensure that we protect our lands, water, and wildlife from drilling impacts. As reported in the Denver Post, oil and gas companies reported nearly 1,000 spills since 2008 resulting in 5.2 million gallons of drilling fluids spilled.  The causes of the accidents included human error and equipment failure—many of the same problems we’ve seen in the Gulf. The CLEAR Act includes several critical provisions which bring better balance to onshore energy development, including:

·         Eliminate the oil and gas construction loophole in the Clean Water Act: In 2005, the oil and gas industry was exempted from the Clean Water Act protections during the construction of oil and gas drilling well pads. This puts our rivers and streams at risk to pollution from drilling fluids, oil, and sediment. The CLEAR Act would eliminate this exemption and restore Clean Water Act protections at drill sites.

·         Eliminate shortcuts and ensure science-based review at drill sites: In 2005, the oil and gas industry was granted exemptions from review of public health and environmental impacts at drilling sites under a serious of broad exemptions known as “categorical exclusions.” The CLEAR Act would eliminate these exemptions and help ensure science-based review and decisions during the permitting process.

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