Florida Lawmakers Vow to Oppose Spending Bill if OCS Proposal Stays

Twenty members of the House Florida delegation have written a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) threatening to vote against a fiscal year 2007 Interior Department spending bill if a controversial proposal repealing the congressional ban on natural gas drilling on much of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) is not removed from the measure.

"There should be no confusion about the Florida delegation's position on Rep. [John] Peterson's amendment -- we are united in our opposition," the House lawmakers told Hastert in their letter Tuesday. "We would find it extremely difficult to support the FY 2007 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill if this language is not removed before final passage."

Peterson, a Republican from Pennsylvania and staunch advocate of opening the OCS to gas drilling, offered his amendment as part of the $25.6 billion Interior, Environment and Related Agencies' appropriations bill last Wednesday. In a significant reversal of position, the House Appropriations Committee voted 37 to 25 to include Peterson's proposal in the spending bill. Four Florida members of the House panel dissented.

His amendment keeps the existing ban on oil drilling in the OCS intact, as well as the existing presidential moratorium on OCS drilling that expires in 2012. The Interior spending bill, which also includes a contentious amendment on royalty relief, had been scheduled to come up for floor consideration in the House on Wednesday. But it now has been pushed back to either Friday or early next week, according to Peterson spokesman Chris Tucker. Florida lawmakers are expected to offer floor amendments to remove Peterson's proposal from the appropriations measure.

"If the Peterson amendment is allowed to become law, oil and gas rigs could be located just three miles off of Florida's beautiful beaches" and could potentially damage the state's economy, which is based on tourism, the Florida lawmakers said.

In addition, "if natural gas companies were allowed to begin to explore the area, serious encroachments on our military training exercises and testing missions [in the eastern Gulf of Mexico] would be created," they noted.

"We understand that high energy prices create a challenging environment for our nation's manufacturers, farmers and consumers. However, drilling for natural gas in the OCS will provide Americans neither short-term relief from high fuel prices nor long-term relief from America's energy crisis. Allowing drilling three miles off of Florida's coasts would only serve to ruin one of the country's strongest economies and most beautiful natural treasures."

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