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Democrats Uphold Off-Shore Drilling Ban

From the Miami Herald:

Floridians fend off attack on drilling ban

Even though a bid to allow natural-gas drilling off the coast was defeated, Florida lawmakers warned of other lurking threats.


WASHINGTON – Florida lawmakers late Thursday narrowly rebuffed an industry-backed bid in the U.S. House to lift a 25-year-old ban on natural-gas drilling along the U.S. coastline, but warned that other threats remain.

The 217-to-203 victory came after hours of impassioned debate, including opposition voiced by nearly every member of the Florida delegation, which has long considered offshore energy exploration a threat to the state’s beaches and tourist-dependent economy.

“I can tell you that the overwhelming majority of us in Florida and our citizens and our governor do not want offshore oil drilling in Florida,” said Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar.

The win came not without effort. Calls to protect Florida’s beaches — “not just a state treasure but a national treasure,” said Miami Republican Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart — were countered by lawmakers from oil and agricultural states.

Democrat and Republican, they brushed off Florida fears that drilling would tar the beaches and said the United States needs the energy.

“A medium-sized fishing boat would leak more in a year,” suggested Rep. Gene Green, a Texas Democrat, who said his state’s second biggest “income producer” is its coastal tourism. “You’re acting like Chicken Little. You can’t point to one beach in Texas that has been ruined by oil and gas.”

Though lifting the prohibition would have been largely symbolic — a separate presidential decree protects the coastline until at least 2012, and President Bush has backed a 100-mile buffer around the state — opponents waged a fierce fight, warning that lifting the historic congressional ban could make it increasingly easier to erode protections.

“The drilling advocates will argue that the people, through Congress, have spoken,” said Rep. Lois Capps, a California Democrat who joined the Florida delegation in opposition to the measure. The congressional moratorium, enacted in 1981, protects the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines, along with Alaska’s Bristol Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

The House also rejected a last-minute effort to lift the ban on oil drilling. Passage of either measure would have had huge significance in a year when Florida finds itself under increasing pressure to defend its hands-off stance.

Other proposals, in the Senate and from the Bush administration, would open up at least two-thirds of Lease Sale Area 181, a sprawling, natural gas-rich region of the Gulf. No drilling would be allowed within 100 miles of Florida, but Florida’s two senators are pushing for a wider buffer in a bill that has yet to advance.

“This is a tremendous victory for Floridians,” said Rep. Adam Putnam, a Bartow Republican and GOP leader who led the Florida assault.

Yet Putnam acknowledged that drilling at some distance from the coast may be inevitable.

“We recognize our obligations as Floridians, as major energy consumers, that we have an obligation to review our stance,” Putnam said. “But three miles off our coast is unacceptable.”

The Florida delegation sought to thwart the measure by joining with other coastal states to ask the House to restore the ban, which was stripped off a budget bill a week ago by a key House committee.

Earlier efforts to lift the ban had been rebuffed, but the push for enhanced energy exploration came amid rising gasoline prices and legislators said constituents were pressuring them to take action.

“We are driving the best blue-collar, working-people jobs out of this country because they can’t afford to stay here,” said Rep. John Peterson, the Pennsylvania Republican who has long championed lifting the moratorium. “Energy costs can make a company noncompetitive overnight.”

But Rep. Clay Shaw, R-Fort Lauderdale, suggested the proposal that would allow rigs just three miles off the Atlantic coast and nine miles off the Gulf was akin to putting oil rigs “on the edge of the Grand Canyon or at the foot of Old Faithful.”

Peterson suggested most Floridians are now amenable to offshore drilling, but Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite rejected his assertion and urged her fellow lawmakers to call their mothers and grandmothers who have retired to Florida.

“I would ask you to pick up the phone and listen to what they say,” the Brooksville Republican said. “How much they love Florida and how much they love the beaches.”

In other business, the House, by a 252-165 vote, approved a measure that would bar oil companies from receiving new oil leases unless they renegotiate past contracts that allowed them to avoid federal royalty payments even when oil prices soar, The Associated Press reported.

The measure is aimed at correcting a mistake by the Interior Department that led to oil- and gas-lease contracts being issued in 1998-99 that did not include a suspension of royalty payments if crude prices reached a certain level.

Since then, prices have soared well beyond that ceiling, but those companies still have been exempted from royalty payments, costing the government as much as $7 billion in lost revenues.

Be sure to read the Miami Herald’s forthcoming stories decrying our dependency on foreign energy supplies and the high cost of gasoline.

Ironically, only last week the same “reporter” seemed to favor drilling in the same area by Cuba.

This article was posted by Steve on Friday, May 19th, 2006. Comments are currently closed.

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