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Senate Democrat Offers $40B Energy Bill That Supports Lease 181 Drilling

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) has introduced a $40 billion sweeping energy bill that, among other things, calls for the Interior Department to open additional acreage in Lease Sale 181 in the eastern Gulf of Mexico for oil and natural gas drilling.

The measure, which mirrors a bill sponsored by Sens. Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), would require the Interior secretary to offer more parcels of Lease Sale 181 for oil and gas leasing "as soon as practicable, but not later than one year, after the date of enactment of this act." The Domenici-Bingaman bill was passed by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in March and is now awaiting Senate floor action.

The Conrad bill would prohibit leasing in any area east of the Military Mission Line unless approval is received in writing from the secretary of the Defense Department, as well as leasing in any area within 100 miles of the coastline of Florida.

Conrad "likes the Domenici-Bingaman bill," and in fact is a co-sponsor, but he "wants to make sure that the level of [energy] debate goes beyond just one issue," said Chris Thorne, the senator's spokesman. Conrad's bill, entitled "Breaking Our Long-Term Dependence, or BOLD, Energy Act," seeks to bolster production of renewable energy and alternative fuels, reward conservation, fund research into new energy technology and upgrade the nation's electricity grid, as well as promote expanded oil and gas drilling in the eastern Gulf.

Conrad's bill "is another vehicle to get it [Lease Sale 181] done. If one of the bills stalls, there's another one" waiting in the wings for the Senate to consider, said Bill Wicker, a spokesman for Bingaman.

The BOLD measure is likely to go before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the Senate Finance Committee to address the tax provisions, and the Senate Budget Committee, where Conrad is the ranking Democrat, said Thorne.

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