Congress narrowly passes CLEAR Act as Salazar joins GOP opposition

The U.S. House Friday evening narrowly passed the Consolidated Land, Energy and Aquatic Resources (CLEAR) Act by 209-193 margin, with Colorado’s delegation split 3-3 on party lines and a crossover nay vote by blue-dog Democrat John Salazar.

Salazar, a rancher in his 3rd Congressional District on Colorado’s largely rural and energy-rich Western Slope, tried unsuccessfully to introduce an amendment gutting the energy production reform bill. The brother of Interior Secretary and former Colorado senator Ken Salazar, John Salazar Friday joined Republicans Doug Lamborn and Mike Coffman in voting against the bill.

Democrat Betsy Markey, also from a largely rural and energy rich district in northeast Colorado, voted for the bill, as did Boulder’s Jared Polis and Denver’s Diana DeGette. Democrat Ed Perlmutter did not vote. The bill was touted as a response to BP’s massive and disastrous Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but it also contained significant onshore drilling reforms that will impact major energy producing states such as Colorado.

The bill contains language barring taxpayers from covering the costs of oil and gas industry cleanup efforts.

“While nothing can turn back the clock and undo the environmental and economic damage of the last 100 days, this legislation protects taxpayers from footing BP’s bill and ensures that in the future, the oil and gas industry will be held to a higher standard of safety and responsibility than they are under the current broken system,” DeGette said in a release.

In addition to a number of Gulf Coast restoration and research programs, the bill also fully funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at $900 million, using money generated from oil and gas drilling royalties, and closes a loophole that exempts oil and gas projects from the storm-water runoff regs under the Clean Water Act. Another major onshore reform is the removal of “categorical exclusions” used to exempt some drilling applications from environmental review on public lands.

The U.S. Senate is expect to take up a similar bill, the Clean Energy Jobs and Oil Company Accountability Act, next week – and there remain big differences on the level of responsibility oil and gas companies must bear in the event of a spill. The current Senate version would remove the $75 million liability cap.

“Americans will be asking, ‘Will Senators stand with the people or the polluters?’” Todd Keller, senior manager of Public Lands Campaigns for National Wildlife Federation, said in a release.

The CLEAR Act does not deal with public disclosure of chemicals used in the natural gas drilling procedure called hydraulic fracturing, but the Senate version does.

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