Mark Hemingway: Despite its name, CLEAR Act undermines government transparency

With all the economic and environmental damage done to the Gulf Coast from the oil spill, it's telling that the White House seems primarily concerned with saving the habitat of the vanishing Florida Obama supporter.

This past Monday, Politico reported that the White House was sending a “2012 rescue team” to Florida to contain voter outrage over the lackluster handling of the spill affecting their coastline. Notably, Politico points out, Florida is “the only state in the region President Barack Obama won in 2008 and one he will need again when he runs for re-election.” Presumably, those residing in the Gulf states who didn't vote for Obama shouldn't expect special attention from the federal government.

Meanwhile, back in Congress, the Democratic leadership is busy undermining efforts to clean up the Gulf by making it impossible to hold anyone responsible for the failures that led to the spill. The House Natural Resources Committee has been working on the “Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources Act of 2009,” aka the CLEAR Act. The bill was originally aimed at fixing problems in the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service and a few other key items to help with the Gulf cleanup. Instead, Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., the ranking Republican on the resources committee, has charged that the CLEAR Act has morphed into “a Christmas tree bill of unrelated new spending, taxes and laws.”

That's regrettable enough, but the real tragedy is that a bill named the CLEAR Act would do so much to undermine transparency. On July 15, Democrats refused to allow a vote on an amendment to the CLEAR Act introduced by Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., to ensure press access to the Gulf oil spill.

To date, there have been many alarming reports of the government stifling press freedoms for reporters covering the spill. Reporters have been arrested on public beaches, the Associated Press sent a letter of protest to the White House — even Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., was refused permission to see the spill affecting his constituents. Bizarrely, Democrats on the committee said that Broun's amendment wasn't “germane,” but the same bill contains provisions for $40 billion in new mandatory spending for unrelated programs.

Then on Wednesday, Democrats totally gutted transparency provisions that were already in the bill. The CLEAR Act was to establish a bipartisan, independent National Commission on Outer Continental Shelf Oil Spill Prevention, comprising technical experts to study how the disaster happened. An identical provision had already passed the passed the Senate's Energy and Natural Resources Committee with bipartisan support.

Why would we want to ensure a thorough and impartial investigation of the oil spill? Well, for starters, a report released Friday by the Center for Public Integrity suggests that government may have actually caused the spill. Apparently, the Coast Guard is investigating whether it failed to follow firefighting protocol, indiscriminately spraying tons of salt water across the burning oil rig, disrupting the ballast of the platform and causing it to sink.

But don't worry. Democrats on the Natural Resources Committee say an independent commission isn't necessary because the president has his own commission looking into the causes of the spill. Members have been handpicked by the White House, and no one on the commission has any engineering or related technical expertise. Somehow it seems doubtful the president's own commission will vigorously pursue the possibility the government caused the spill, lest the president be forced to remove his boot from BP's throat long enough to kick his own derriere.

It's just too bad Democrats didn't marshal the same vigorous effort plugging the damn hole for three months as they've made to contain the political fallout in the past few weeks.

Mark Hemingway is an editorial page staff writer for The Washington Examiner. He can be reached at

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