Senate Votes to Bar Drilling in National Monuments

The Senate last week voted in favor of an amendment that would prohibit oil and natural gas drilling or mining on federal lands designated as national monuments, mirroring action taken by the Republican-led House last month.

The ban, which could affect drilling activity on as much as 1 million acres of federal land, was part of an $18.5 billion Interior appropriations bill that the Senate passed last Thursday, and marked another setback for President Bush's plans to boost onshore drilling activities in the Lower 48 states.

"Our national monuments...should not be exploited for oil and gas that would add very little to our national energy resources," said Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), who had sponsored the amendment. "When you look at the amount of energy we might obtain from these parks, the tiny benefits are far outweighed by the irreparable damages caused by drilling."

The Senate vote "serves as a warning to keep the oil, gas and coal industries out of our most spectacular places," said William H. Meadows, president of the Wilderness Society.

The Durbin proposal would ban leasing for oil, gas and mining on lands that were designated as national monuments on Jan. 20, 2001, in the waning days of the Clinton administration. It would not affect any drilling rights that have already been granted or prevent new leasing in areas that were open to drilling when the national monument was created.

Just prior to leaving office last January, President Clinton designated 15 national monuments that effectively placed millions of federal lands off-limits to the logging, mining and producing industries. The Bush administration has said it supports allowing drilling on the national monuments that were created by Clinton.

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