House Votes To Bar Drilling off Florida Coast

Friday, June 22, 2001
Despite President George W. Bush's calls for more oil and natural gas production at home, the House of Representatives on Thursday voted to block drilling in a lucrative tract off Florida's coast and to bar it in areas protected as national monuments.

The Republican-led House also voted to support rules to fight water pollution from hard-rock mining imposed by former President Bill Clinton, fending off industry-backed efforts to ease the regulations.

These votes, which were well-received by environmental groups, came as the House of Representatives passed by a 376-32 vote an $18.9 billion bill to fund public lands programs with the Oct. 1 start of the next fiscal year. That was nearly $800 billion more than Bush wanted.

"I think the Bush administration is going to need to recognize that the American people want environmental protections," said Kiernan Sittenfeld, of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. "We think it's really exciting."

The House voted 247-164 to temporarily block the Interior Department from leasing tracts off the Florida-Alabama Gulf coast that could hold up to 369 million barrels of oil and 2.9 trillion cu. ft. of natural gas.

In an issue that pitted Florida Gov. Jeb Bush against his brother the president, the state's lawmakers argued that oil drilling and potential accidents would imperil the area's tourist-based economy.

"To the extent that we need more energy supplies, and we do, let's start with places that actually want the drilling," said Rep. Ric Keller, a Florida Republican.

"When do we stop trying to trade the treasures of this nation to industry?" said Rep. Dennis Kucinich, an Ohio Democrat.

But House Republican Whip Tom DeLay of Texas called the amendment "the height of irresponsibility.

"This lease sale has the potential to play an important role in increasing our energy security," DeLay said, arguing that the tract "could make natural gas prices lower and more stable."

House also voted 242-173 to block attempts to allow oil or gas drilling on lands declared national monuments because of their beauty or environmental importance.

Energy companies have been "salivating over the thought these monuments might be opened," said Rep. Nick Rahall, a West Virginia Democrat who sponsored the measure.

Rahall said the Bush administration, pushing to boost domestic energy production and reduce dependence on foreign oil, has said it is open to looking at that.

But critics said the amendment was unnecessary because the lands already were protected.

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