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Florida Congressmen Take Aim at Interior's Five-Year Leasing Plan

Florida House lawmakers this week attacked the Interior Department's five-year leasing plan (2007-2012) for the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) that would open up additional acreage in the natural gas-rich eastern Gulf of Mexico for leasing to producers.

In a letter to Interior Secretary Gale Norton Monday, 21 members of the Florida congressional delegation expressed their "strong opposition" to the Minerals Management Service (MMS) proposal to move a large portion of Lease Sale 181 from the Eastern Planning Area to the Central Planning Area in the Gulf, making two million more acres of Lease 181 available for oil exploration and production. They noted that the new boundaries come within 16 miles of the beaches of Pensacola, FL.

The MMS plan calls for the sale of areas within Lease 181 on five separate occasions, which would make the areas "the most intensively leased region on the entire OCS," the lawmakers said in the letter, which was drafted by Rep. Jim Davis (D-FL)."We ask MMS to restore the Eastern and Central Gulf of Mexico Planning Area boundaries to their original location and remove the additional two million acres of Lease Sale 181 from consideration."

"Florida's congressional delegation will not simply roll over and let them [Interior] annex the future of our pristine coastline to [the] neighboring states" of Alabama and Louisiana, Davis said in a press statement.

MMS' draft five-year leasing proposal, which was released in early February, seeks to realign the boundaries of its Central Gulf Planning Area to correspond with the new federal OCS offshore administrative areas that were announced in early January (see Daily GPI, Feb. 9). Under the contemplated revision, the line between the central and eastern Gulf would be drawn 100 miles off the coast of Florida and there would be no leasing in the new Eastern Gulf Planning area adjacent to Florida.

The two million acres proposed to be added to the Lease 181 sale are not under any moratoria and could be leased as early as August 2007, according to Interior.

In a related development, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is scheduled to vote on legislation Wednesday that would open up as much as 3.6 million additional acres in Lease 181.

The bill, sponsored by Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-NM) and ranking Democrat Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, faces sharp opposition from Florida's senators, Republican Mel Martinez and Democrat Bill Nelson. Martinez is a member of the Senate energy panel. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), who also sits on the committee, has said she will vote against the Domenici-Bingaman bill if it does not offer a greater share of revenues to coastal states for production off their shores.

Nelson has vowed to filibuster the Domenici-Bingaman bill if it reaches the Senate floor.

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