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Senate Rejects Attempt to Delay Gulf Drilling

The 67-33 vote seems to signal support for President Bush’s energy production agenda. Last week the administration, which has advocated expanding oil and gas exploration, unveiled plans to open a portion of the eastern Gulf to drilling leases.

The Bush administration’s plan actually scaled back a 1997 Clinton administration proposal, in answer to concerns about accidents and oil spills from environmentalists and President Bush’s brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Interior Secretary Gale Norton called today’s vote “a victory for all Americans who want to see environmentally responsible energy production.”

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who offered the amendment to the Interior Department spending bill, had said the Gulf leases were “the camel’s nose under the tent.” Oil and gas exploration in the eastern Gulf are currently off-limits.

The Senate’s decision conflicts with the House’s vote to delay lease sales off the coasts of Florida and Alabama. The two bodies will have to find a resolution as they finalize the Interior Department spending bill.

Drilling in monuments

While today’s vote supported President Bush’s call to find new domestic energy sources, yesterday the Senate moved to block gas, coal and oil development in federal monument areas.

The 57-42 vote prohibits new coal mining and oil and gas drilling in national monuments in the West. That vote agreed with the House’s decision to ban mineral extraction in monuments.

The Senate proposal, offered by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), allows ongoing mineral exploration to continue.

“President Bush needs to realize that damaging these irreplaceable lands is not going to solve America’s energy crisis, but could cause a crisis in conservation,” Durbin said.

Advocates of drilling in the monuments said exploration was needed to address the country’s energy needs. And Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) argued banning such exploration would cause the U.S. “to go begging to the thieves in the Middle East.”

Four House committees are currently working on energy proposals. House Republicans said they plan to put together an energy bill by next week.

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