Drilling Moratorium Amendment Now an Election Issue in Louisiana

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Wednesday, August 04, 2010 at 6:26 pm

In Louisiana, where Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.) is trying to steal Sen. David Vitter’s (R-La.) Senate seat, Melancon’s drilling moratorium amendment is becoming an election issue. The amendment allows oil companies that meet certain safety standards to bypass the Obama administration’s ban on deepwater drilling and was attached to the House oil spill legislation, which passed the chamber late last week.

Democrats and Republicans have been sparring over the amendment all day. Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) sent around a document earlier today arguing that the amendment does not end the drilling moratorium because it leaves the final decision on bypassing the drilling ban up to the Interior Department. Hastings also said that the amendment was changed from another version that was introduced earlier in the week and includes “dangerous new language explicating granting authority to the Interior Secretary to impose further moratoria.”

When TWI posted a blog on the criticism this morning, Democrats responded within an hour. In an e-mail, Kevin Franck, press secretary for the Louisiana Democratic Party, said that much of the language in Melancon’s amendment is similar to an amendment offered by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) on the drilling moratorium. He also said that the amendment does not expand the Interior Department’s authority, it simply includes a “savings clause” that is common in legislation. Franck sent his own “fact” sheet to TWI, which explains the clause this way:

The “savings clause” in the Melancon amendment does not expand any powers of the federal government.  Savings clauses are common in legislation.  They exist to clarify that legislation being proposed does not affect existing authority. The Melancon amendment ends the current moratorium on offshore drilling while reiterating that the amendment does nothing to interfere with the long-standing authority of the Interior Department to take action to shut down a rig if it represents an immediate threat to human life.

The drilling moratorium is almost certainly going to be an issue in the midterm elections in the Gulf. The flap over this amendment underscores just how big of an issue the moratorium will be.

Asked about the criticism, Melancon spokesperson Robin Winchell said, “The Secretary of the Interior has always had the final say on drilling permit applications for public lands and oceans. The Melancon amendment does not change that.” She added, “The amendment was submitted to Rules Committee the afternoon before the vote, at about 3pm. It was not changed after that.”

Here’s one more thing to keep in mind: Given recent comments by administration officials that the drilling moratorium could be cut short, the amendment might not even have an opportunity to go into effect.

Follow Andrew Restuccia on Twitter


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