Senate Floor Next Stop for Law of the Sea

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 17-4 this week to approve the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The action clears the way for a first-ever Senate floor vote on the 25-year-old treaty, which has been ratified by more than 150 countries.

In the United States, President Bush, mining interests, the oil and gas industry, and environmental groups have all thrown their support behind the treaty, arguing that ratification would ensure U.S. military and commercial ships the right to travel safely through international waters and protect U.S. access to natural resources locked under the ocean floor.

"If we fail to ratify this treaty, we are allowing decisions that will affect our Navy, our ship operators, our offshore industries and other maritime interests to be made without U.S. representation," said the ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), before today's vote.

Lugar and Committee Chairman Joe Biden (D-Del.) rejected arguments raised by conservatives that the Law of the Sea would constrain U.S. military action and deep seabed mining.

"We owe our armed forces a firm legal footing as we project power around the globe," Biden said. "The oil and gas industry is unanimous in its support for the treaty. ... I'm unaware of any ocean industry that has expressed opposition to this treaty."

At today's markup, votes against the Law of the Sea came from four Republicans: Sens. Jim DeMint (S.C.), David Vitter (La.), Johnny Isakson (Ga.) and Norm Coleman (Minn.). Voting for the treaty were all the Democratic panel members, plus six Republicans.

The Senate last considered the Law of the Sea in 2004. At that time, the Foreign Relations Committee voted 19-0 to send the treaty to the full Senate, but then-Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) blocked a floor vote. This time around, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has also come out against the treaty.

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