Now that the BP oil gusher in the Gulf is finally capped and the relief wells to plug the well are nearing completion, it is time for America to examine and repair the broken system of drilling and fossil fuel dependence that landed us in this mess in the first place.
Congress is already taking steps to reform the ineffective and inefficient leasing and management of oil and gas drilling, both on land and offshore. Now they must continue with these improvements, by passing the Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources Act - or simply the CLEAR Act, H.R. 3534.
The CLEAR Act makes great strides in ensuring that disasters like the BP blowout don't happen again, either in our oceans or on our public lands across the country, by mandating that companies follow the safest and least-intrusive methods to drill for oil and gas. It also abolishes the automatic exemptions from environmental reviews, making sure that wildlife and natural resources are protected from drilling.
The CLEAR Act also helps reduce America's dependence on fossil fuels, so that there can be less drilling to begin with, by encouraging renewable forms of energy like wind and solar power in the right places. These clean energy sources have often been mired in bureaucratic inaction, leaving wind and solar at the end of the line. The CLEAR Act levels that playing field, giving clean wind and solar projects the same opportunities that oil and gas drillers have had for projects on federal lands.
In addition to protecting current lands, the bill also provides the means to protect the next generation of iconic places by guaranteeing full funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Every year, threatened landscapes are added to parks, wildlife refuges and other public lands -- purchased with money from the Land and Water Conservation fund. By guaranteeing full funding of the program -- which comes from the revenues of offshore oil and gas drilling, not taxpayer wallets -- we can ensure that the next generation's Yellowstone or Yosemite, or Everglades is protected from development and destruction.
America's public lands are an economic powerhouse -- Americans spend more than $730 billion every year hiking, biking, hunting and fishing, and much of that activity is on public lands. The outdoor retail industry, which is intricately tied to healthy public lands, generates more sales than all of the car dealerships across the country combined. Protecting these places -- and adding to them -- not only makes environmental sense but economic sense as well.
Pardon the pun, but the CLEAR Act is clearly a winner for America's public lands, and for all Americans who don't want to see another catastrophic oil disaster. As Congress moves forward, it clearly must take the CLEAR Act into account.
Follow Bill Meadows on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Wilderness