Late on July 30, the last day in session before the beginning of their August recess, House members approved an energy/oil response bill by a 209 to 193 vote. The Consolidated Land, Energy and Aquatic Resource (CLEAR) Act would, among other things: implement new safety standards for offshore drilling, including more frequent inspections and tougher penalties for safety violations; increase the liability limits on offshore facilities so that responsible parties would cover 100% of oil pollution cleanup costs and damages caused by the spills they create; and reform the Minerals Management Service by removing conflict-of-interests between leasing, inspections and revenue collections.
Some industry sources were quick to criticize the bill. Jim Noe, executive director of the Shallow Water Energy Security Coalition, said in a statement, “The CLEAR ACT…will make it nearly impossible for the vast majority of the shallow water oil and gas industry to operate on the Outer Continental Shelf. As a result, American jobs will be lost, the economy of the Gulf Coast will take another preventable hit, and our energy security will be at even greater risk.”
Meanwhile, in the Senate, Senate Majority Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) slimmed down energy bill, which jettisoned the cap and trade and renewable energy standard measures that were part of larger packages that were under consideration, could be in trouble. Republicans have taken issue with the bill’s elimination of the liability cap for those responsible for an oil spill. Democrats, on the other hand, accuse Republicans of supporting “Big Oil” to the detriment of the environment.
Reid has said that all of the provisions that he has chosen to include in the energy bill have bipartisan support. But the mood in Congress is contentious, and Reid may find it difficult to get even the watered-down bill through in the final week before the chamber departs for its summer recess.