Energy Bill Maneuver Threatens To Open Protected Coastal Areas To Oil Exploration

On September 24th, Environmental Defense criticized the announcement by a House-Senate conference committee that it is likely to include in the pending energy bill a controversial provision calling for the use of disruptive seismic survey ships and other invasive technologies to look for oil and gas potential even within sensitive coastal areas long protected by a bipartisan congressional moratorium.

The House of Representatives had previously removed a similar measure calling for offshore exploration from its own energy bill during April of 2003, and House managers of the bill at that time had promised not to attempt to restore it during the conference committee negotiations. The final Senate version of the energy bill did not contain this provision at all, and it is very unusual for legislation not found in either the House or the Senate bill to be adopted by the joint conference committee.

"The energy bill now threatens our fisheries and the economies of our coastal communities with tens-of-thousands of damaging undersea explosions," said Richard Charter, marine conservation advocate with Environmental Defense. "This backdoor approach of introducing the most controversial measures during the final conference committee deliberations will only undermine public faith in the integrity of the legislative process."

If signed into law, the conference committee action will endanger the existing offshore drilling moratorium that protects unleased coastal waters off of California, Oregon, Washington, Florida, Alaska's Bristol Bay, and the entire east coast.

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