US Senate calls on Interior to retire California offshore leases

By OGJ editors

WASHINGTON, DC, Sept. 16 -- Following related House action earlier this summer, the US Senate unanimously approved a measure that seeks to prohibit new drilling activity on 36 undeveloped federal oil and gas leases off the California coast.

The provision was added to the fiscal 2003 Department of the Interior appropriations bill (HR 5093). The amendment, offered by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is a non-binding measure that urges the Dept. of Interior not to develop the leases offshore Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Ventura counties.

"The people of California do not want further oil drilling off our beautiful coast," said Boxer. "I am proud that the Senate has taken a stand on this important issue. The Bush administration's recent actions in Florida regarding offshore drilling are nearly identical to proposals we have made to resolve the analogous situation in California. Californians, like Floridians, don't want offshore drilling. Simple fairness and the wishes of the people I represent should be respected."

In July, the House on a vote of 252-172 approved an amendment by Rep. Lois Capps' (D--Calif.), which prohibits the use of federal funds for lease development for fiscal year 2003. By comparison, the Boxer amendment simply urges Interior not to spend budget money on lease development; the senator acknowledged that the agency is currently discussing a potential retirement of the leases. Neither the Boxer amendment nor the Capps amendment would affect the offshore and onshore drilling activities already occurring in California (OGJ Online, July 18, 2002).

"This is a great compliment to the House amendment. Going into conference, I am very confident that there will be no new drilling off of California's coast in the next 12 months," said Boxer. "It just doesn't make sense to continue to fund permitting processes for these leases when the lessees and the Department of the Interior are in the midst of negotiations to retire the leases. Frankly, it would be a waste of taxpayer dollars to do so.

"Californians have wanted to get rid of these leases for decades, and the fact that both the Senate and the House have endorsed the idea of resolving this issue is a big move in the right direction."

The Department of the Interior appropriations bill is currently being considered by the Senate.

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