- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 29, 2006

The House yesterday passed legislation to increase the amount of federal land that can be used for oil and natural-gas exploration and production in the Outer Continental Shelf.

Increased offshore drilling proposals have failed for years, but the bill, which passed yesterday on a 232-187 vote, appeased Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas lawmakers, who were able to dramatically increase their states’ share of revenues from years of producing offshore oil and gas.

The bill lowers from 200 miles to 50 miles the federal moratorium on new offshore drilling. States that already allow offshore fuel production within 12 miles of their shorelines can reap 75 percent of the revenues from production, providing a huge boon to the Gulf states. Other states have the option to allow drilling within 200 miles in exchange for revenue sharing at a rate of 50 percent, with all revenues directed to pay for coastal restoration, rural education and other purposes.

“Louisiana lost 100 miles of coastal wetlands last year, and the state will dedicate 100 percent of the revenues we will receive to coastal restoration,” said Rep. Bobby Jindal, Louisiana Republican.

Floridians, who have historically fought against offshore ocean drilling near their coasts, were also satisfied with a special provision that sets up a 100-mile moratorium on drilling from their beaches.

“This is the best deal we are going to get, and there are no guarantees that we will be able to maintain our moratorium if we don’t pass this legislation,” said Rep. Ric Keller, Florida Republican.

It is unlikely that the Senate, which rejected a similar bill last year, would pass the House measure with the revenue-sharing provision in tact. And the Bush administration, while urging passage of the bill, says it “strongly opposes revenue-sharing provisions,” which it says will “reduce federal receipts by several hundred billion dollars over 60 years.”

Some members called the bill a money grab for the Gulf states that had nothing to do with increasing oil and gas production.

“This is about Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas wanting to change the royalties formula. … If you come from those four states, vote for this bill and you get $600 billion, but the other 46 states are getting money stripped right out of their pockets,” said Rep. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat.

The bill was not steeped in partisanship as members of both parties spoke for and against the bill for various reasons.

“We need a new energy policy for a new century. The reality of the situation is that we have 500 coal-burning energy plants in the upper Midwest with more to come because the price of natural gas is so high, and that can’t be good for our environment,” said Rep. Ron Kind, Wisconsin Democrat.

However, some Republicans rejected the bill, saying the way it was crafted leaves open too many questions about how states can protect themselves.

“This bill makes it difficult for states to bar drilling, prevents them from reviewing drilling plans and blocks any other use off the waters that could interfere with drilling. It is breathtaking in its overreaching, and I have concluded that this is a bad bill,” said Rep. Sherwood L. Boehlert, New York Republican.

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