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Florida Lawmakers Vow to Fight Bill Allowing Gas Production on OCS

The House Florida delegation last week said it would oppose any legislation that seeks to relax the existing federal moratorium on oil and gas drilling off of the state's coastline.

In a letter to House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo (R-CA), 22 members of Florida's 25-member House delegation vowed to vote against legislation that was approved last Wednesday by the committee unless a provision allowing natural gas-only leasing in the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) is struck.

Specifically, the Florida delegation said it had "grave concern" over an amendment, sponsored by Reps. Neil Abercrombie (D-HI) and John Peterson (R-PA), that would lift the presidential and congressional moratoriums on natural gas-directed leasing activity in the federal Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), thus permitting gas production off of Florida's coasts.

"This reckless approach not only opens Florida's pristine coast to natural gas production, but it poses a catastrophic risk which cannot stand. Under no circumstances can we support legislation that includes this devastating amendment or similar language," the delegation wrote.

"We strongly encourage you to join with us in protecting [Florida's coastal] assets and...in rejecting the Peterson/Abercrombie amendment's reckless approach" when the bill reaches the House floor.

The bill "is dead on arrival from the Florida delegation's point of view," if the Peterson/Abercrombie amendment remains in the measure, said Dan McFaul, spokesman for Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), one of the signers of the letter to Pombo.

Most of all the Florida delegation's members will vote against the bill, with the exception of Rep. John Mica (R-FL), who was listed as one of the co-sponsors of the Peterson/Abercrombie proposal, he noted.

McFaul said Miller and Rep. Michael Bilirakis (R-FL) have been in talks with Pombo since July to award control over Florida's coastal waters to the state. He noted the Abercrombie/Peterson amendment, however, undermines these negotiations because it would remove the moratorium with respect to natural gas production.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush also sent a letter to Pombo last week voicing his opposition to any plan to relax the moratorium on drilling activities off the Sunshine State's coastline.

Reports were circulating that the two energy bills passed last week by the House Resources Committee and House Energy and Commerce Committee, which focuses on new refining capacity, may be merged for consideration on the House floor on Oct. 7. NGI could not independently confirm this, as Capitol Hill aides said they have heard conflicting accounts.

Even if the House approves the Peterson/Abercrombie proposal over the Florida delegation's opposition, the broader bill will most assuredly come under attack in the Senate. Sens. Bill Nelson and Mel Martinez of Florida have vowed to block any measure that weakens the federal ban on drilling off of Florida's shores.

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