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House committee forwards bills to bar offshore drilling across US
Lawmakers gave initial approval to bipartisan measures to bar offshore drilling across the U.S. in a Wednesday meeting of the House Natural Resources Committee.
"The limited economic benefit oil and gas exploration might have is dwarfed by the ongoing importance of our sustainable economies that depend on clean beaches," said Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-S.C.), who campaigned on barring offshore drilling.
Cunningham said another oil spill like 2010's Deepwater Horizon would devastate South Carolina's economy.
"It's pretty cut and dry where I come from. We don't want it and we don't need it," he said of offshore oil development.
The Trump administration has pushed an energy dominance strategy that includes further offshore drilling, but Interior Secretary David Bernhardt has yet to unveil the department's five-year offshore drilling plan, citing the uncertainty surrounding an Alaska case that blocks development there.
A number of lawmakers have worked to bar offshore drilling near their states before it can be included in the plan, but Florida's delegation, including its Republican members, has been particularly vocal.
"Voters in the Sunshine State have made clear time and time again that offshore drilling has no place near Florida's shore," said Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), who introduced the bill before the committee.
"Secretary Bernhardt appears to be delaying the next version of the plan because he knows including the Eastern Gulf would cause tremendous problems in a 2020 swing state."
A coalition of conservation and environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Oceana and the Sierra Club, lauded the new bans.
"These measures are a key step toward halting the expansion of offshore oil and gas drilling, a dangerous practice that threatens our nation's coastal communities, oceans, national parks, marine life and climate," the groups said in a joint statement. "We cannot afford another catastrophic oil spill on our shores just to pad the pockets of the oil and gas industry."
Despite the bipartisan nature of the bills, many committee Republicans expressed reservations over barring offshore drilling.
Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) said Congress should not make such bans permanent.
"We have no idea what's going to happen with our energy future - we don't," he said, adding that decreasing domestic development could increase U.S. reliance on foreign-produced energy.
Graves also said the pushback from local leaders violated federal powers.
"This is an attempt by states to tell the federal government what it can or can't do with their property," Graves said, saying the federal government would be turning away billions in revenue.
Democrats quashed a series of amendments from Graves and stressed the importance of maintaining clean coastlines and respecting the wishes of local residents.
"To me this is a simple issue," said Rep. Jefferson Van Drew (D-N.J.), referencing support from people on both sides of the aisle. "The majority of people and the majority of legislators feel strongly that this is not appropriate and don't want to see it used."
-Updated at 6:14 p.m.