- The Washington Times - Friday, June 29, 2001

Energy policy and regional infighting roiled the House floor yesterday as lawmakers voted to delay oil exploration around the Great Lakes but left in place legislation retaliating against Florida lawmakers for blocking new drilling in the Gulf of Mexico last week.

The Great Lakes measure was offered by Midwest Democrats and was adopted 265-157 as an amendment to the $23.7 billion fiscal 2002 budget for energy programs and water projects. The underlying appropriations bill later passed on a 405-15 vote.

The White House says it never intended its energy policy to include exploration around the Great Lakes, but Democrats called yesterday's vote a victory.

"What this shows is that the Republican leadership and President Bush are out of step with the country" by overemphasizing increased production, said Kori Bernards, spokeswoman for House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat.

A nearly unified Democratic caucus was joined by 70 Republicans in passing the amendment, which would prohibit slant drilling from the shore under the Great Lakes' beds.

"This energy security obstructionism is one aspect of a broader effort to systematically choke off every promising source of domestic energy," said House Majority Whip Tom Delay, Texas Republican.

Ms. Bernards said the vote, and the vote last week to stop new oil and gas exploration off the coasts of Alabama and Florida in an area known as Lease 181, shows that Americans do not want to expand domestic production at any cost.

A House Republican leadership aide said Democrats were making too much of the vote.

"These were taken in isolation," the aide said. "When there is a comprehensive plan, where everyone shares the pain, everyone will get back on the team," the aide said.

Still, John Feehery, spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, said overcoming the "not-in-my-back-yard" attitude would be difficult. But for the sake of national security and energy policy "it's something that has to happen," Mr. Feehery said.

But while Republican leaders were disappointed with the Great Lakes vote, they were cheered hours later with a vote that retained language that would ban further work on a 735-mile natural gas pipeline from Alabama to Florida.

Mr. Delay said of the 213-210 vote, "that's great."

Gulfstream Natural Gas System Inc. is building the $1.6 billion steel line, which could supply enough natural gas to supply electricity to 4.5 million homes.

Rep. Sonny Callahan, Alabama Republican, added the ban to the energy and water appropriations bill in response to last week's vote to delay oil and gas exploration in Lease 181.

"It is the height of hypocrisy to say we are not going to allow you to drill for natural gas, but at the same time say that we want to lay a pipeline from Alabama to Florida because we need the gas," Mr. Callahan said during floor debate.

Rep. Billy Tauzin, Louisiana Republican, asked: "Is it moral to protect some people from the risk of oil exploration while you ask some of us to do it all?"

Rep. Joe Scarborough, Florida Republican, said, "Certainly, Louisiana took a risk, but it took an economic risk. That's what capitalism is all about."

Mr. Scarborough said Florida has made its own economic decision to invest in tourism.

"We in Florida have decided to do everything we can to protect [our] beaches."

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