WASHINGTON, DC, July 12 -- Following the lead of the US House late last month, the US Senate by voice vote Wednesday agreed to block new energy leases in designated national monuments.
The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), was supported by a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans. Only four Democrats, Sens. John Breaux and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Zell Miller of Georgia, and Ben Nelson of Nebraska opposed the measure in the Democratic-controlled body. Since the House has already approved the measure, it is likely to be retained in a final bill sent to President George W. Bush later this summer.
The drilling ban came in a funding bill for oil-related programs overseen by the Departments of Interior and Energy.
Late last month, the White House opposed the House drilling ban provision, as well as another amendment that would delay Lease Sale 181 in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, scheduled for December.
Since that House vote, the White House sought to compromise with Florida officials by dramatically cutting the acreage in the offshore lease sale (OGJ Online, July 2, 2001). It is unclear whether that strategy will stop the Senate from trying to block Sale 181.
Vice-Pres. Dick Cheney was scheduled to meet Wednesday afternoon with Breaux and other Senate Democratic moderates in an effort to reach a consensus on comprehensive energy legislation this summer. Cheney and other prominent Republicans also plan to advocate the need for a national energy strategy in a series of town hall meetings across the country next week.
But whether Cheney was successful in his more immediate efforts to convince Capitol Hill to stop blocking new exploration won't be immediately known.
The Senate may consider two Sale 181 amendments Thursday, both offered by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). One adopts the House language that would deny funding to plan the sale until Apr. 1, 2001. That equates to a multiyear delay, since the sale would be deferred until the next 5-year leasing plan.
The second amendment recognizes the Bush administration action but still would object to any offshore drilling. Another amendment by John Kerry (D-Mass.) would clarify that the government can conduct no preleasing activities off the West Coast, the North Atlantic, and the eastern Gulf of Mexico south of 26° latitude, reinforcing a decades-old drilling moratorium.
The Senate also may consider an amendment to boost energy conservation by Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.): It would provide an additional $20 million for energy conservation programs, with $10 million to the Federal Energy Management Program; $7 million to the Weatherization Assistance Program; and $3 million to the Building Technology Assistance's Community Energy Program. The $20 million would come from funds earmarked for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, but no oil from the reserve would be sold.
Other amendments also may be offered to mirror House language that requires Interior to ensure the government will not lose money on its federal leases if it opts to take royalty in-kind instead of cash payments.
The Senate bill, like its House counterpart, restores federal fossil energy research to previous levels. The White House in its budget had proposed dramatic cuts.