HOUSE rebuffs Bush administration drilling in Gulf, national monuments - NewsOn6.com - Tulsa, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports - KOTV.com |

HOUSE rebuffs Bush administration drilling in Gulf, national monuments

Updated:
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Siding with Florida's Republican governor against his brother, the House voted to delay a Bush administration effort to open part of the Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas exploration.

The House also voted to block a Bush administration plan to pursue new oil, gas and coal development in national monuments.

Both amendments were attached to an $18.9 billion Interior spending bill for fiscal 2002, which passed Thursday on a 376-32 vote and moves next to the Senate.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has repeatedly urged President Bush's administration not to proceed with plans to extend offshore oil and gas drilling to a tract that comes as close as 17 miles to Pensacola in the Florida panhandle. Yet the White House was working hard to generate opposition to any delay in leases, including calls to some of Florida's Republican lawmakers.

The amendment, sponsored by Reps. Jim Davis, D-Fla., and Joe Scarborough, R-Fla., would prevent the Interior Department from signing final lease agreements in the tract, known as Lease Sale 181, until April 1, 2002. The delay, they said, would give opponents time to work out an agreement.

``The people of Florida don't want it. The governor doesn't want it. If you want to ruin our beaches ... we don't want it,'' said Rep. Carrie Meek, D-Fla.

The amendment passed on a 247-164 vote.

Proponents of the leases, led by Interior Secretary Gale Norton, say the nation needs the area's oil and gas reserves to help ease the energy crunch. The department estimates there are 2.9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves in the area, with industry projecting as much as 7.8 trillion cubic feet.

The area in question, lease proponents add, is near active energy production sites and closer to Alabama and Mississippi than it is to Florida.

``This amendment makes about as much sense as shutting down all exploration in the Gulf of Mexico and weakens our energy security,'' said House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas.

The other energy amendment, sponsored by Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., would prevent the Bush administration from pursuing energy and mineral development within designated national monuments. It passed by 242-173.

``Some of the oil and gas companies have been hankering to get into these lands for years,'' Rahall said. ``Our national heritage must not be sacrificed on the altar of greed and profits.''

The Interior Department recently determined there are significant energy reserves within the boundaries of monuments designated by former President Clinton, including large low-sulfur coal deposits in the 1.7-million acre Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in Utah.

Opponents argued that Clinton designated many of these areas as new monuments for political reasons, mainly to please environmental groups, and that some encompass lands with little environmental value or tourist appeal.

``These are not the crown jewels,'' said Rep. James Hansen, R-Utah, chairman of the House Resources Committee.

The House also approved:

_A measure by Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., that would block the Interior Department from suspending new rules aimed at requiring mining companies to pay for environmental cleanups and putting in place standards to protect ground and surface water.

_An amendment to boost funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities and Institute for Library and Museum Services by $15 million over what Bush proposed, which was the same as last year's level.

_An amendment by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., preventing the oil industry from paying the government certain royalties in oil rather than in cash. The bill would have changed current rules that require the companies to pay the fees based on the market price of oil extracted from federally owned lands.
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