- The Washington Times - Friday, July 13, 2001

Senate Republicans yesterday defeated a measure to delay new offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, scoring the first significant victory for President Bush's energy plan.
The amendment by Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat, failed 67-33, with 18 Democrats crossing party lines.
"This is a victory for all Americans who want to see environmentally responsible energy production and stable energy prices at the gas pump and in their home heating bills," Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton said after the vote.
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott privately urged fellow Republicans to fall in line for the vote. The Mississippi Republican said yesterday's action is the only Senate vote expected on Mr. Bush's energy plan until later this fall — despite the nation's current energy crisis.
"This is probably the most serious problem this country faces today," Mr. Lott said.
"Meanwhile, we fiddle in Washington while this country has a heat stroke and is threatened with not having the energy to keep the economy growing," Mr. Lott said.
Mr. Bush agreed to reduce the drilling area acreage by one-quarter after the House first moved to block drilling last month. Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and several House Republicans applauded the reduction, which prohibits drilling within 100 miles of Florida's tourist-dependent beaches — a compromise measure that originally had been agreed to by President Clinton and former Democratic Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles.
Despite the reduction, many Democrats continue to oppose drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. "This is a national treasure to us and not worth the risk in Florida," Mr. Nelson said.
However, both Louisiana Democratic Sens. John B. Breaux and Mary L. Landrieu, support the president's decision to go ahead with drilling.
"If you are for rolling blackouts and high energy prices, vote with Senator Nelson," Mrs. Landrieu said.
Mr. Breaux criticized Mr. Bush for cutting back too far on oil development, but said voting for Mr. Nelson's measure would be "bad energy policy" and would further undermine Mr. Bush's efforts.
The key provision of Mr. Bush's energy policy — drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) — lacks enough support to be passed in both chambers.
The two House votes to ban drilling in the Gulf and in the Great Lakes further threatened Mr. Bush's proposal, but the Florida compromise revitalized the White House initiative.
Because the House decided to not prohibit drilling, while the Senate has voted to delay offshore drilling, a compromise deal must be struck in a conference committee.
Earlier this week, Democrats claimed victory in further obstructing Mr. Bush's energy policy by passing an amendment to prevent mining and oil and gas explorations in national monuments. Republicans called the measure "puzzling" because none of the activities is mentioned in the White House plan.
The Gulf of Mexico drilling area, called Lease 181, was adjusted from 5.9 million acres to 1.5 million and contains 1.25 trillion cubic feet of natural gas — enough to serve 1 million families for 15 years.
The Senate also approved Mr. Bush's request for $20 million in disaster aid for California and Oregon farmers facing bankruptcy because the federal government cut off their water to protect two endangered fish species.
However, liberal Republicans sided with Democrats in a 52-48 vote and refused to return water to the parched farmlands.
"The fish will survive, but my farmers will not," said Sen. Gordon H. Smith, Oregon Republican. "The land is turning into a dust bowl."

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