House Democrats Seek to Block Oil Drilling Along U.S. Coasts

The U.S. House of Representatives is set to vote Wednesday on two proposals for limiting drilling in U.S. coastal waters, including an effort to permanently ban rigs near Florida, as Democrats seek to demonstrate their opposition to fossil fuels and emphasize Republicans’ sustained support for oil.

The measures also could highlight divisions in the Republican party over offshore drilling, after GOP lawmakers from the southeast U.S. objected to the Trump administration’s earlier efforts to sell oil and gas leases in the Atlantic Ocean. Although the bills aren’t expected to advance in the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate, Democrats say their passage in the House would demonstrate opposition to President Donald Trump’s efforts to expand coastal oil and gas development.

One of the bills (H.R. 205) would permanently extend an existing ban on oil and gas leasing in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, effectively barring drilling in waters up to 125 miles off Florida’s west coast that many oil companies consider attractive because of a series of promising discoveries nearby. The existing moratorium is otherwise set to expire June 30, 2022. Florida lawmakers and drilling foes say the protection is necessary to safeguard some $37.4 billion in economic activity tied to fishing, tourism and recreation in the state.

The other legislation (H.R. 1941) would put a permanent moratorium on oil and gas leasing in U.S. Atlantic and Pacific waters, effectively restoring prohibitions that existed before a spike in crude prices helped prompt their withdrawal in 2008.

Democratic supporters say the measures are essential to protect U.S. waters and coastal economies that are dependent on them. And they argue that oil drilling in untapped U.S. waters isn’t compatible with an urgent need to counter climate change by shifting away from fossil fuels that generate greenhouse gas emissions.

Trump administration and top Republican lawmakers criticized the measures as misguided, saying America’s energy resources can be harnessed in a safe and environmentally conscious way. “These restrictive anti-energy bills threaten our American energy renaissance,” said Representative Steve Scalise, a Republican from Louisiana. The White House said the Florida-focused measure could actually encourage oil development in other U.S. waters still open for drilling.

The Interior Department has postponed work on a new plan for selling offshore drilling rights from 2019 through 2024, amid Republican concerns and after a legal defeat casting doubt on how much Arctic acreage could be auctioned. The administration had opened the door to auctioning tracts in more than 90% of U.S. coastal waters in 2017.


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