Sen. Kerry Seeks to Block Bristol Bay Leasing Plan

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) introduced legislation Friday to block Interior Department plans to sell oil and gas leases in Alaska's Bristol Bay, joining several House lawmakers trying to thwart the plan.

The Minerals Management Service last week finalized its 2007-2012 outer continental shelf leasing plan that schedules a 2011 lease sale in a 5.6 million acre region of the North Aleutian Basin, which includes Bristol Bay.

Environmentalists and other opponents say the region should be off-limits to drilling, citing abundant sockeye salmon, endangered right whales and other wildlife. Kerry's bill would permanently bar leasing in the North Aleutian Basin Planning Area.

Congress placed a moratoria on leasing there following the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, and President Clinton later placed the area under the presidential leasing withdrawal as well.

But the congressional ban ended several years ago, and President Bush in January altered the executive branch limits to allow Bristol Bay's inclusion in the 2007-2012 plan. Kerry's bill joins recent House legislation to block leasing sponsored by Reps. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.) and Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.). Hinchey also wants language added to the next Interior Department spending bill to thwart the Bristol Bay plan.

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