House rejects proposal for offshore drilling

Published 2:44 am Monday, May 22, 2006

By By Jo Bonner
Last week, the House passed two of the appropriations bills for Fiscal Year 2007. The first, the Interior Appropriations bill passed the House by a vote of 293-128.
The Interior Appropriations bill provides funding for the operation of the Department of the Interior and such agencies as the National Park Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Forest System.
When the Interior Appropriations bill arrived on the House floor for consideration, it contained an amendment permitting new offshore drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). The amendment, which was adopted by the House Appropriations Committee, would eliminate the longstanding moratorium on new natural gas drilling, allowing offshore drilling rigs up to 3 miles from shore in virtually all U.S. coastal waters.
The amendment did not allow for coastal governors and state legislatures to maintain a meaningful role in offshore drilling decisions. Additionally, it did not provide states with royalties or a protective buffer zone.
The Secretary of Defense has indicated that drilling within the Military Mission lines, or within three miles of the coastline such as the bill would allow, would pose a serious threat to the missions our Air Force and Navy conduct in the Gulf of Mexico.
In order to strike this amendment from the Interior Appropriations bill, an amendment with broad bipartisan support of coastal states, was offered by U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam (R-FL). The Putnam amendment would reinstate the moratorium on drilling in the OCS. I voted in favor of the Putnam amendment, which passed by a vote of 217-203.As I have mentioned previously in this column, I support opening the OCS in the Gulf of Mexico; however, the proposal offered on the House floor last week was not the answer.
We must seek meaningful, long-term solutions to the energy challenges we are facing in this country. Drilling in the OCS is a logical step to bridge the United States' gap in natural gas production; however, this can be done with the proper safety guidelines, as well as meaningful input from local states in which it directly affects. Moreover, allowing states a share of the revenue generated off of their coasts is a necessity as far as I am concerned, not an option.
To that end, I am a cosponsor of two bills, H.R. 4318 and H.R. 4761, which would allow states to take advantage of submerged lands on the OCS to explore and develop the production of natural gas.
Congress has an obligation to protect our country's natural beauty, embodied in our nation's parks, rivers, and breathtaking landscapes. These bills provide environmentally sound decision-making to help preserve our natural treasures while exploring the OCS thus limiting our dependency on foreign energy sources.
The Military Quality of Life &Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill
The House also approved H.R. 5385, the Military Quality of Life and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2007. The bill, which emphasizes health care and veteran's benefits, reflects a commitment to ensuring that the needs of the brave men and women who are serving our country are fully met.
Among other things, H.R. 5385, will provide a historic $25 billion for veterans medical services, which is $2.6 billion above last year's level; increase funding by $20 million for facility improvements in existing state veterans' homes; increase basic medical research funding by $13 million, for a total of $412 million; add $12 million to upgrade veterans affairs medical research facilities nationwide; and increase the defense health program by $1 billion, for a total of $21 billion.
Budget Resolution Passes House
In addition to these two appropriations bills, the House passed H.Con.Res. 376, which establishes the budget levels for the upcoming fiscal year, by a vote of 218-210.
The budget resolution passed by the House does not actually become law, but it must be adopted in some form by both bodies.
In this year's resolution, Chairman Jim Nussle (R-IA) and the members of the House Budget Committee established some important goals to increase the level of fiscal responsibility in Washington and to bring a deficit back into line.
The budget resolution ensures that our armed forces have the necessary funding to fight the war on terror. It will also continue to control federal spending and keep us on track to balance the federal budget by 2009. The budget resolution also establishes a reserve fund so that we are better prepared for natural disaster emergencies, such as hurricanes.
Chairman Nussle should be commended for his leadership on this important issue. I am proud of the responsible action we on the Budget Committee have taken in setting the parameters for debate in the coming weeks.
Jo Bonner is a U.S. congressman. His column appears weekly.

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