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July 16th, 2010
Grijalva Applauds Committee Passage of House Mining and Energy Reform Bill, Highlights New Alternative Energy Leasing Provision

Washington, D.C.– Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva today applauded the July 15 House Natural Resources Committee vote to pass the Comprehensive Land, Energy and Aquatic Resources (CLEAR) Act, which responds to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and reforms the nation’s energy and mineral extraction system. The bill abolishes the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) scandal-ridden Minerals Management Service and establishes three new agencies in its place with separate functions to prevent the conflicts of interest that prevailed in previous administrations.

The bill includes a first-time mandate that energy exploration in the Outer Continental Shelf be conducted “in a matter that minimizes impacts to the marine, coastal, and human environments.” It also requires all new oil exploration plans to include a full analysis of a potential blowout scenario, with an estimated timeline for drilling a potential relief well and a description of a worst-case spill scenario. Categorical exclusions, which preclude the performance of an up-front environmental analysis at a well, would no longer be applicable to oil drilling, and plans and permits could only be approved if the applicant uses the best available technology for drilling the well and responding to spills. Under the bill, drilling applicants must demonstrate that they are using technology already proven to respond quickly to a worst-case oil spill.

“This bill cleans up the environment, makes renewable energy easier to pursue, and makes sure another spill or mining accident doesn’t reach catastrophic levels,” Grijalva said. “These are timely and badly needed reforms, and I call on Congress to act on this bill without delay. As the aftermath in the Gulf will show us over the next several months, we cannot afford another large-scale environmental disaster. There’s no reason to wait when we have a strong and viable solution in our hands.”

Among other provisions, the bill creates a first-time comprehensive leasing system for renewable energy projects on public land. The current ad hoc system of special permits and easements has led to a large application review and approval backlog.

Grijalva highlighted his amendment to the bill that would allow DOI towaive rental fees on “significantly disturbed” lands as a way to incentivize development of alternative and renewable energy projects on these sites. Reusing land that has gone out of operation due to contamination or other factors can expedite project development because the environmental impacts of such projects are likely to be minimal.

Such lands are likely to be close to roads and power transmission lines because they were formerly in use for industrial or other economic purposes, making them ideal locations for alternative energy projects. Easing the development of new projects is an important means of reducing the environmental impact of the nation’s energy grid. Grijalva included the provision as an amendment to the bill during committee discussion.

He said after the committee vote that he would work to include language in a final version directing the Secretary of the Interior to develop guidance to address the backlog of current renewable energy project applications. “We need to move toward a new leasing system and address legitimate industry concerns about transitioning to a new system,” Grijalva said. “The ad hoc rules we have in place create too much uncertainty and don’t offer the right incentives to locate projects where they can do the most good.”

Grijalva strongly supported language in the committee-approved bill that would make uranium a “leasable” mineral subject to rental and royalty rates under the Mineral Leasing Act. Currently, uranium is a “locatable” mineral under the 1872 Mining Law, meaning that no royalties or other production fees are collected by the federal government from uranium mining activities.

The uranium provision would give federal authorities more oversight of where and how future uranium mining occurs. Currently, uranium is the only energy source treated as “locatable,” meaning the Department of the Interior (DOI) has no authority to mandate an environmental impact statement before a uranium mine goes into production. Converting uranium from a locatable to a leasable resource will give DOI officials the ability to take environmental impacts into consideration when new uranium mines are proposed.

Oil and gas are already treated as leasable minerals, and the federal government collected $13 billion in royalties and $10 billion in bonus bids from those resources in 2008.

“Uranium no more deserves exemption from environmental considerations than oil drilling,” Grijalva said. “This is a major industry with significant environmental implications, and federal regulators need the power to take those implications into account as we continue to craft a more sustainable and responsible energy policy.”

Grijalva has been an outspoken opponent of extensive uranium mining at the rim of the Grand Canyon, where few regulations exist to protect public health and environmental quality. He introduced H.R. 644, the Grand Canyon Watersheds Protection Act, earlier this year to withdraw approximately 1 million acres of land surrounding the canyon from further mining claims.

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