Environmental Defense today called on U.S. Senate negotiators to follow the lead of the Bush Administration and the House of Representatives and approve a renewal of the longstanding bipartisan moratorium on offshore oil and gas drilling within Alaska's Bristol Bay.
Bristol Bay, encompassing the richest salmon fishery on the planet, was first protected by Congress in 1989 after the tragic Exxon-Valdez oil spill demonstrated the ineffectiveness of spill cleanup technologies in rough Alaskan waters. Earlier this year, the White House budget document for fiscal year 2004 called on Congress to continue the drilling moratorium for Bristol Bay, and the House of Representatives also included this protection in their own version of the Department of Interior funding bill for FY 2004. A key Senate committee, however, later removed protection for Bristol Bay from the Senate's version of the same funding bill, so a joint House-Senate conference committee is currently meeting to resolve this and other differences between the two bills.
"There is no place within America's coastal waters that is more important to protection of our fisheries than Bristol Bay," said Richard Charter, marine conservation advocate with Environmental Defense. "The White House and the House of Representatives are right in calling for the continued preservation of Bristol Bay, and the Senate should now concur with the House position."
This week's pending Interior Appropriations conference committee decision, if signed into law, will determine whether the existing offshore drilling moratorium that protects unleased coastal waters off of California, Oregon, Washington, Florida, and the entire U.S. east coast will also continue to include Bristol Bay. If protection for Bristol Bay is removed by Senate negotiators, this action would be seen as eventually endangering other sensitive coastal waters now protected by the drilling moratorium.