WASHINGTON — Foes of oil and gas drilling off California gained a major victory today as the House Appropriations Committee approved a plan that would effectively put off any federal lease sales of offshore tracts until 1989--after President Reagan leaves office.
On a voice vote, the panel attached language to the fiscal 1987 Interior Department spending bill that would block the agency from making its offshore lease sale plans final before Jan. 1, 1989, three weeks before the end of Reagan's term. Federal rules would preclude actual lease sales for another month.
"They get a chance to propose their deal, and the new Administration gets a chance to reject it," said Pat Fulton, an aide to Rep. Vic Fazio (D-Sacramento).
The last-minute compromise reached between opposing sides headed off a confrontation over reinstating a one-year moratorium on federal leasing off California and provides Congress and the state of California with a voice in the process of selecting drilling areas.
The agreement allows the Interior Department to conduct pre-leasing activities leading up to a sale, such as preparing environmental impact statements.
Goes to House Floor
Interior's 1987 funding bill containing the compromise next goes to the House floor for consideration.
Chairman Sidney R. Yates (D-Ill.) of the Appropriations Interior subcommittee said the compromise is "the best hope . . . of trying to achieve a reasonable settlement."
The Natural Resources Defense Council applauded the compromise, saying through spokeswoman Lisa Speer, "The Congress has once again intervened to put the brakes on Interior's overzealous offshore leasing agenda."
Interior Secretary Donald P. Hodel said the agency is "greatly relieved" that the committee did not impose the moratorium.
"It is clear that the committee recognized that blanket moratoria are not the answer to the issue of leasing offshore California," Hodel said.
A moratorium was viewed as a desperate means of grappling with a standoff between supporters of developing oil off California in order to help ease the nation's dependence on imported oil and opponents who argue that drilling spoils the environment and the view.
The compromise was offered by Fazio and Rep. Ralph Regula (R-Ohio), ranking Republican on the Interior subcommittee.
'A Sticking Point'
Fazio said the compromise gives Congress another opportunity to agree or disagree with whatever Hodel or his successor would present for California's offshore oil program.
Pre-leasing activities were allowed because it was "a sticking point with our colleagues who wanted to help California but felt the process needed to proceed at least to some degree," Fazio said.
Regula said that California's offshore federal waters are believed to contain "the greatest single source of oil in the continental United States" and that the nation should develop it.
The leasing ban was in effect for five years in a row but lost congressional support last year because it is not a long-term solution. Its chances of being passed this year were considered slim.
The compromise delays the final notice for 91 lease sales off Northern California until 1989, the same year the Interior Department recently decided to reschedule 95 lease sales off Southern California.