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Congress OKs Oil, Gas Drilling Ban in Great Lakes

Budget: The measure, part of a spending bill, gives environmentalists a victory over energy interests.

November 02, 2001|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Congress voted Thursday to ban new oil and gas drilling under the Great Lakes for the next two years, handing a victory to environmentalists over energy-industry interests.

President Bush has tried to boost domestic energy production after this year's energy shortages and the always uncertain political situation in the oil-rich Middle East. He has focused more effort on his desire to increase drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska, and is expected to sign the underlying spending bill anyway.

The language was included in a $24.6-billion compromise measure financing federal energy and water programs in 2002 that the House approved by 399 to 29. Senate passage followed by 96 to 2, sending the bill to Bush.

The votes came amid a flurry of congressional action on other spending bills for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

Lawmakers approved a compromise measure providing almost $3 billion to finance Congress' own operations this year, $242 million more than last year. The House roll call was 374 to 52, while the Senate used a voice vote.

The Senate, by 83 to 15, gave final congressional approval to a $32.8-billion measure financing the Treasury Department and several smaller agencies. The compromise bill, approved Wednesday by the House, increases spending for the Internal Revenue Service and Customs Service but drops earlier House-passed language that would have eased travel restrictions to Cuba.

The Treasury measure also opens the door for lawmakers to give themselves a $4,900 pay raise next year, to $150,000. Sen. Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.) has said he will try blocking the salary increase later, but his move is considered a long shot.

The Senate continued debating legislation that would provide $123.1 billion for labor, education and health programs, nearly $14 billion more than last year.

With Thursday's votes, Congress has completed five of the 13 annual spending bills for fiscal 2002.

The Great Lakes provision would prevent federal agencies from issuing permits for new drilling through Sept. 30, 2003, while the government produces a study on the environmental effects such drilling might have.

Until now, the states bordering the Great Lakes have overseen mineral drilling there.

None of them--New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin and Minnesota--allow drilling from rigs on the water. Michigan allows shoreline drilling that is angled to reach deposits under the lake.

The overall energy and water bill would provide $573 million more than last year and $2 billion above Bush's request. It would cut spending aimed at preventing Russian nuclear weapons and expertise from falling into the hands of rogue nations or terrorists, but boost funds for many water projects and renewable energy programs.

The bill is also packed with billions of dollars worth of water projects and energy research spending for every state, items that perennially make the measure a favorite for lawmakers. Included is $500,000 for the Hall of Paleontology at Chicago's Field Museum and $90 million for cleaning up the site of a former nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in West Valley, N.Y.

The Senate's labor, health and education bill would provide big increases in aid to local school districts and other education programs, and for biomedical research by the National Institutes of Health.

One logjam ended after senators dropped contentious provisions on stem cell research and cloning. The White House had threatened a veto if the bill included language that would have eased Bush's policy against using embryos for stem cell research.

But it hit another snag over a proposal by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and others to allow police officers, firefighters and emergency workers in all states to use collective bargaining, but not strike.

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