Senate Panel OKs Offshore Leasing Moratorium For Georges Bank Tracts
WASHINGTON (AP) _ A moratorium on oil and gas leasing in environmentally sensitive areas of Georges Bank off the New England coast has been approved by a Senate subcommittee that had previously rejected the ban.
The Senate Appropriations interior subcommittee, led by Sens. James A. McClure, R-Idaho, and J. Bennett Johnston, D-La., endorsed the proposal Friday. In previous years the committee opposed the drilling ban, which was strongly advocated by environmentalists and Massachusetts lawmakers.
McClure, who served as subcommittee chairman when Republicans controlled the Senate, opposed the measure again this year. But Johnston, the acting chairman, pushed for it Friday following intense lobbying by Sens. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., and Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., according to Senate aides.
″They both sort of tag-teamed him,″ said Kerry aide Sally Yozel, adding that Kerry met with Johnston to discuss Georges Bank four times this week alone. Kennedy aides said the senior senator met with Johnston repeatedly Thursday trying to sway him.
Kerry stressed the importance of the area to the fishing industry and fears that drilling could substantially reduce the catch.
″We must achieve a balance on the need to explore an area for possible oil and the urgent need to protect some of the best fishing areas in the world,″ said Kerry. ″Georges Bank is one of our most precious resources. This moratorium language will help protect it.″
Kennedy called the subcommittee action a ″victory for the (fishing) industry.″
″Certainly we must seek energy resources, but we cannot risk any long-term damage to our environment,″ the senator said. ″The Interior Department was ill-advised to propose drilling on our shores and jeopardizing one of our nation’s most precious resources.″
A Georges Bank leasing moratorium has been in effect for five years. Rep. Gerry E. Studds, D-Mass., has succeeded in including the ban in the House interior funding bill and it has remained there following Senate-House conferences. With the Senate subcommittee vote, negotiation on the issue probably will not be necessary this year.
McClure aide Jeff Cilek said the Idaho Republican will not fight the Georges Bank ban further, ″but he didn’t like it.″
The Interior Department has excluded the moratorium tracts from its planned February 1989 lease sale, but a majority of that area could be offered later under the department’s five-year plan, administration officials have said.
The subcommittee accepted the Georges Bank moratorium while excluding similar measures for areas off the California and Florida coasts, Ms. Yozel said.
Kerry has scheduled hearings for later this month on his legislation to give states authority in fedeal lease sales.