Vitter, Melancon spar over moratorium legislation

By Brandon Richards - bio | email

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) – As the Louisiana U.S. Senate race heats up, so has the fight over an amendment authored by one of the leading candidates.

Louisiana Democratic Congressman Charlie Melancon said his recent amendment to a piece of legislation known as the CLEAR Act would end the federal moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

"[It] would lift the moratorium and provide for the oil and gas industry to go back to work off shore," said Melancon.

Melancon's amendment passed the U.S. House on July 30th, mostly along party lines. Only a small handful of Republicans voted in favor of the measure. Melancon, who is the only Democratic Congressman from the state, was the only Louisiana lawmaker in support of the amendment.

Melancon's likely opponent this fall, incumbent Senator David Vitter, told 7 News his Democratic challenger's amendment only gives the Secretary of the Interior more authority.

Vitter called Melancon's provision a "sham amendment."

"First of all, it didn't even pretend to end the moratorium. It was called 'Limitation of the Moratorium,'" said Vitter. "The secretary is the one promoting the moratorium. He wants to shut everything down. So to expand the discretion, the power and the authority of the secretary and the Obama Administration is to expand the problem not solve it."

Melancon quickly dismissed Vitter's accusations.

"Consider the source of the accusation," said Melancon. "That gentleman (Vitter) has never been honest with the people in this state yet."

Most of the criticism of Melancon's amendment is on page 2, line 11 of his provision, which said, "(a), the Secretary shall make a determination on whether to issue the permit."

Many Republicans think that language should have been strengthened.

Republicans also criticized a section known as the Savings Clause on page 3, which said, "Nothing herein affects the Secretary's authority to suspend offshore drilling permitting and drilling operations based on the threat of significant, irreparable or immediate harm or damage to life, property, or the marine, coastal or human environment pursuant to the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act."

"It gave the secretary complete discretion, complete authority to continue the moratorium and stop drilling operations anyway," said Vitter.

Melancon said his amendment closely resembled legislation offered by Vitter in the Senate.

Melancon also said Republicans were only against the measure so that they could deny him a legislative victory.

"The Childers-Melancon amendment will lift the moratorium in a responsible way and allow our workers to continue producing energy," said Melancon. "And it will still hold companies accountable for higher safety standards, so we can never again experience a disaster like Deepwater."

McNeese State University Political Science Professor Dr. Henry Sirgo said voters should not be surprised that Republicans and Democrats could look at the same paragraph in an amendment and see entirely different things.

"We are in a historically high degree of party polarization," said Sirgo. "We're at the highest degree of party polarization in a hundred years."

Melancon's amendment will now be considered by the Senate.

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