The Senate upheld a decision to allow new drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico yesterday, giving a boost to President Bush’s energy campaign – just a day after it voted to bar drilling inside federally protected national monuments.
The Senate vote on the Gulf drilling came during consideration of a $18.7-billion spending bill for the Interior Department next year. It came three weeks after the House voted to block the new eastern Gulf drilling.
The Senate turned back an attempt by Florida lawmakers to block new oil and gas leases in the currently off-limits eastern Gulf. The Interior Department last week removed close to three-quarters of the leases from auction so that drilling would be 100 miles out from the Florida coast. The drilling area was cut from more than 6-million acres to 1.5-million, and supporters of the leases said the drilling posed no environmental hazards.
Supporters of the Gulf drilling said the House likely will withdraw its opposition to the number of leases that will be sold in a final departmental spending bill.
The vote came a day after the Senate voted to bar coal mining and oil and gas drilling inside federally protected national monuments. The Senate proposal will forbid new mining and drilling while allowing ongoing operations to proceed.
Republicans say the vote will make Bush’s wish to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil development an uphill battle.