A bipartisan coalition of 115 lawmakers led by Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) has sent a letter to a House appropriations subcommittee urging it to once again include the congressional moratorium on drilling in much of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) in the fiscal 2007 spending bill for the Interior Department and related agencies.

“With a renewed interest in developing natural gas and oil on the OCS, we believe it is again imperative for Congress to reaffirm its authority on this issue,” House Republican and Democratic lawmakers said in their letter to Rep. Charles Taylor (R-NC), chairman of the Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, and Rep. Norm Dicks of Washington state, the ranking Democrat on the panel.

Congress has included the moratorium in every annual Interior appropriations bill since 1982. The moratorium rider restricts federal funds from being spent on efforts to open protected OCS areas to drilling, notably off the West and East Coasts, and in the eastern Gulf of Mexico near the Florida shoreline.

The Interior appropriations bill is due to come before the subcommittee in early May. At that time, Rep. John Peterson (R-PA), a subcommittee member and a proponent of opening the offshore to natural gas drilling, is expected to offer a motion to strike the moratorium language from the Interior spending bill. He tried to eliminate the moratorium last year, but was unsuccessful.

Capps said President Bush supported extending the congressional drilling moratorium in his fiscal 2007 budget request. Even if Congress should rescind its moratorium, a president ban on drilling in many of the same OCS areas is scheduled to be in effect until 2012. The presidential ban was enacted by the first President Bush in 1990 for 10 years, and was later extended by President Clinton.

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