Environmental Defense Lauds Congress for Maintaining Coastal Preservation Measures

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

2002.

“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

frequently found.

“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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