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House lifts offshore drilling ban; energy independence is goal

WASHINGTON -- The House voted yesterday to end a quarter-century offshore drilling ban and allow energy companies to tap natural gas and oil beneath waters from New England to Alaska.

Opponents of the federal ban argued that the nation must move closer to energy independence and insisted the gas and oil could be taken without threatening the environment and coastal beaches. They said a state choosing to keep the moratorium could do so.

The measure was approved 232 to 187.

But the bill's prospects in the Senate were uncertain. Florida's two senators have vowed to filibuster any legislation that would allow drilling within 125 miles of Florida's coast.

Many lawmakers fear that energy development could despoil coastal beaches should there be a spill, and threatens the multibillion-dollar recreation and tourist economies of states where offshore energy development has been barred since the early 1980s.

An attempt by a group of Florida lawmakers to allow states to maintain a protective zone of 125 miles was rejected.

``Our beaches and our coastline is what is critical to Floridians," declared Representative Jim Davis, a Florida Democrat. ``We should not be sacrificing our economy, our environment for a little oil and gas."

Representative Richard Pombo, a California Republican and a leading proponent for lifting the moratorium, argued that drilling still would be prohibited within 50 miles of shore and states could extend the ban up to 100 miles.

Representative Lois Capps, a California Democrat, said states would have to overcome numerous hurdles to continue the drilling restrictions, including having state legislatures and the government seek such protection every five years.

The bill also would revamp how the federal government shares oil and gas royalties with states, producing a windfall for Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama, which have oil and gas rigs off their shores.

The White House issued a statement saying it favors much of the bill, but strongly opposes the changes in royalty revenue sharing, which it said ``would have a long-term impact on the federal deficit."

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