(10 September ,2002 -- Oakland) Environmental Defense praised the action of the U.S. Senate as it today adopted an amendment to the Interior Appropriations bill that it hopes will enable the extinguishment of 36 undeveloped offshore drilling leases near Point Conception on the Central California coast. The leases became a subject of controversy, and an issue in the California gubernatorial campaign, earlier this year when President Bush extinguished offshore leases in Florida, where his brother Jeb is governor, but refused to do so in California, despite long-time citizen demand for their removal.
The amendment, authored by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), emphasizes the "Sense of the Senate" as supportive of coastal protection measures successfully carried earlier this summer in the House by Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA). The House version of the Interior bill would prevent the expenditure of appropriated funds by the Interior Department for granting any permits for exploration, delineation, or development drilling on the contested federal lease tracts offshore California. Today's "Sense of the Senate" amendment, as adopted, also encourages the Interior Department and the oil industry to continue their negotiations over extinguishing the offshore leases in question. A joint House-Senate conference committee deliberation over the content of the final version of the Interior Appropriations bill will occur in Congress later this fall. Today's "Sense of the Senate" amendment increases the likelihood that the conferees will ultimately adopt the House language in their final deliberations.
"Senator Boxer accomplished an important victory for the California coastline in the Senate today, and we applaud her efforts," said Richard Charter, marine conservation advocate with Environmental Defense. "When the State of California, the conservation community, and the oil industry all agreed that new offshore drilling should not go forward in the sensitive waters off Point Conception, the Senate listened."
Governor Davis, the California Coastal Commission, the state attorney general and numerous conservation groups (including Environmental Defense) are suing the Department of Interior to prevent drilling on the same undeveloped offshore leases subject to today's Senate action.