On October 23rd, Environmental Defense praised House and Senate Conferees for
including continued protection against expanded offshore drilling in key coastal
waters as part of the Department of Interior’s Appropriations bill for fiscal year
“We are heartened that the congressional negotiators determined that this was
not the time to arbitrarily jeopardize our coastal natural treasures,” said Richard
Charter, marine conservation advocate with Environmental Defense. “The
conservation ethic is deeply rooted in America’s core values and preservation of
our national parklands and spectacular coastlines remains a high public priority.”
Among the key provisions in the bill is a one-year extension of a moratorium on
new offshore drilling lease sales in sensitive coastal waters that will now be in
place until October 1, 2002. The congressional offshore leasing moratorium was
first adopted in 1982 in response to the aggressive drilling plans of former
Interior Secretary James Watt. The congressional moratorium, now renewed
for the twentieth consecutive year, currently protects the east and west coasts,
parts of southern Florida, and the fishery-rich waters of Alaska’s Bristol Bay.
An amendment added by Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Barbara Boxer
(D-CA) also strengthens existing restrictions on so-called “pre-lease” activities.
However, conferees stripped the bill of a House provision that would have
delayed new offshore leasing in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, including off of
Florida’s Panhandle and Gulf Coast, for six months. As a result, the Interior
Department is now cleared by Congress to proceed with a 1.5 million-acre
lease sale in a controversial new area where endangered Sperm whales are
“While we are disappointed that the Eastern Gulf of Mexico will now be open to
new drilling activities, it is our hope that the Department of Interior will apply
sound science in taking the steps necessary to protect sensitive biological
resources in that area,” Charter said.
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