Sen. Domenici Expects Senate to Stay Firm on OCS Bill

The Senate will stand firmly behind its version of an offshore drilling bill in negotiations with the House, the chairman of the Senate Energy Committee told reporters yesterday.

"The only thing we can pass here is our bill, and I have to let the House know that's really true," Senate Energy Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) told reporters yesterday afternoon.

Gree Domenici added that he has yet to convince key House figures that the Senate cannot pass a broader version of the legislation.

The chambers are at odds over the extent to which offshore drilling will take place in the Gulf of Mexico. The Senate bill, which passed overwhelmingly in August, would open 8.3 million acres in the eastern Gulf of Mexico to new oil and gas drilling and steer 37.5 percent of production revenues from newly opened areas to the Gulf Coast states that have offshore drilling.

The more generous House bill would lift offshore drilling bans that now cover both coasts and much of the eastern Gulf of Mexico and replace them with a system under which drilling would be allowed in all areas beyond 100 miles from state shores, while drilling is also allowed from 50 to 100 miles from state shores unless state legislatures and governors oppose it. Drilling is banned for good within 50 miles unless states want it.

Domenici admitted some senators "like a lot of things" in the House bill but explained that this year they are unable to go beyond the Senate version. "I'm not sure we've convinced them yet we don't have a lot of latitude," he said in reference to House negotiators.

House and Senate staff members had only "one big meeting" over the August recess, Domenici said. Yet Domenici is optimistic that Congress can reach a final agreement on an offshore drilling deal before adjournment in late September or early October.

Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) agreed. "The easiest thing would be for the House to take our bill and go forward with it," the senator said. "The Florida provisions have to pretty much stay as they are."

When asked whether that is likely, he responded: "I think it is possible."

Senior reporter Ben Geman contributed to this report.

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