Environmental Defense today praised House and Senate Conferees for including continued protection against expanded offshore drilling in key coastal waters as part of the Department of Interior's Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2002.
"We are heartened that the congressional negotiators determined that this was not the time to arbitrarily jeopardize our coastal natural treasures," said Richard Charter, marine conservation advocate with Environmental Defense. "The conservation ethic is deeply rooted in America's core values and preservation of our national parklands and spectacular coastlines remains a high public priority."
Among the key provisions in the bill is a one-year extension of a moratorium on new offshore drilling lease sales in sensitive coastal waters that will now be in place until October 1, 2002. The congressional offshore leasing moratorium was first adopted in 1982 in response to the aggressive drilling plans of former Interior Secretary James Watt. The congressional moratorium, now renewed for the twentieth consecutive year, currently protects the east and west coasts, parts of southern Florida, and the fishery-rich waters of Alaska's Bristol Bay. An amendment added by Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) also strengthens existing restrictions on so-called "pre-lease" activities.
However, conferees stripped the bill of a House provision that would have delayed new offshore leasing in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, including off of Florida's Panhandle and Gulf Coast, for six months. As a result, the Interior Department is now cleared by Congress to proceed with a 1.5 million-acre lease sale in a controversial new area where endangered Sperm whales are frequently found.
"While we are disappointed that the Eastern Gulf of Mexico will now be open to new drilling activities, it is our hope that the Department of Interior will apply sound science in taking the steps necessary to protect sensitive biological resources in that area," Charter said.