Florida Lawmakers Attack Interior Bid to Draw Offshore Boundaries

Sixteen Florida lawmakers say state administrative boundaries drawn by the Interior Department in federal coastal waters would "undermine Florida's ability to control" offshore oil and gas drilling.

Both Florida senators and 14 House members wrote a letter to Interior Secretary Gale Norton yesterday in response to the Minerals Management Service's Jan. 3 issuance of seaward boundaries in the federal outer continental shelf. MMS says the lines will help the service manage alternative and traditional energy infrastructure development.

As a result of the lines, much of Lease Sale 181 area in the eastern Gulf of Mexico would not be considered within Florida's seaward boundaries, the lawmakers say. The area is key because the Bush administration has largely withheld the area from oil and gas leasing but is under pressure to open much of it in the upcoming five-year leasing plan. Its development is also part of recent legislative proposals on Capitol Hill.

The lawmakers say the Interior map would give Alabama and Louisiana a "much greater say" over energy activities in the Lease Sale 181 area. "While the long term effects of this change remain unclear, we are concerned that this is yet another attempt to undermine Florida's ability to control activities off its own coast, including offshore oil and gas drilling," the letter says.

In addition to Sens. Mel Martinez (R) and Bill Nelson (D), the letter is signed by Reps. Jim Davis (D), Mark Foley (R), Clay Shaw (R), Alcee Hastings (D), Connie Mack (R), Ginny Brown-Waite (R), Katherine Harris (R), Robert Wexler (D), Jeff Miller (R), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D), Allen Boyd (D), Michael Bilirakis (R), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R) and Corrine Brown (D).

State offshore boundaries will be a key issue if lawmakers allow states to "opt-out" of offshore drilling bans because the opt-out idea requires defining which OCS areas lie off which states' shores. Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) had sought to include opt-out language in budget legislation last year and may offer legislation again on the issue this year, spokeswoman Jennifer Zuccarelli said. Pombo had included separate offshore boundaries in his plan.

Several Senate lawmakers -- including Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) -- are also planning new offshore drilling legislation that includes the opt-out idea. Zuccarelli said Pombo is not happy with the MMS lines because he believes the areas considered within the seward boundaries of Virginia, Georgia and Mississippi are too narrow.

While Florida lawmakers oppose offshore drilling, officials in Virginia and some other areas have backed allowing drilling in return for a share of federal drilling revenues. "This is definitely something that concerns us. ... The [MMS] maps, to us, are not very equitable," Zuccarelli said.

Pombo has negotiated with some Florida lawmakers about a long-term drilling buffer for their state that would be part of his opt-out plan. But others, including Nelson, oppose any plan that would bring drilling closer to Florida's shores than current policies and restrictions allow.

Reprinted from E&E News PM with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net 202/628-6500.

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