WASHINGTON, DC – The US House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to block new offshore drilling in US Atlantic and Pacific waters as well as acreage in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.
The bills passed by the House Wednesday are unlikely to pass in the Republican-controlled Senate, but their approval underscored significant bipartisan opposition to the Trump administration’s plans to expand coastal oil and gas development.
The votes were part of a broader Democratic effort to challenge the administration’s oil drilling plans. The House is set to vote Thursday on legislation that would block oil and gas exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, effectively reversing Congress’ decision to require leasing in its coastal plain as part of the 2017 tax overhaul.
One of the bills (H.R. 205) voted on Wednesday, which passed 248-180, would permanently extend an existing ban on oil and gas leasing in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. The measure, which drew support from 22 Republicans, would effectively bar drilling in federal waters up to 125 miles off Florida’s west coast – including territory oil companies consider attractive because of a series of promising nearby discoveries. The existing moratorium is otherwise set to expire June 30, 2022.
Florida lawmakers said that the protection is necessary to safeguard some $37.4 billion in economic activity and more than 600,000 jobs tied to fishing, tourism and recreation in the state.
The other measure (H.R. 1941), which passed 238-189, would put a permanent moratorium on oil and gas leasing in US Atlantic and Pacific waters.
The Interior Department has yet to develop a new plan for selling offshore drilling rights from 2019 through 2024, after initially opening the door to auctioning tracts in more than 90% of U.S. coastal waters.
However, House Democrats said that a permanent ban is necessary to keep drilling rigs away from America’s shores, and argued that new offshore oil drilling is not compatible with the need to counter climate change.