House approves oil drilling ban off Atlantic, Pacific coasts

FILE — This Jan. 7, 2013 file photo shows the floating drill rig Kulluk in Kodiak Island, Alaska’s Kiliuda Bay as salvage teams conduct an in-depth assessment of its seaworthiness. The House has approved legislation that would permanently bar drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and extend a moratorium on drilling off Florida’s west coast (James Brooks/Kodiak Daily Mirror via AP, File)/

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House approved legislation Wednesday that would permanently bar drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and extend a moratorium on drilling off Florida’s west coast.

Coastal lawmakers from both parties said the bills would protect U.S. coasts from drilling that can pollute crucial waters — and lead to disasters such as the 2010 BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Opponents, mostly Republicans, said the bills undercut domestic energy security and limit thousands of job opportunities.

Lawmakers approved the Atlantic and Pacific bill 238-189, while the bill to block drilling in the Gulf of Mexico near Florida was approved 248-180. The bills head to the Republican-controlled Senate, where action is unlikely.

The votes come as the Trump administration is reevaluating a plan to sharply expand offshore drilling amid a series of court challenges.

Republican and Democratic governors and lawmakers from coastal states strongly oppose expanded drilling. A federal judge in March ruled against President Donald Trump’s executive order to open the Arctic Ocean and parts of the Atlantic to broader oil and gas development, saying Trump had exceeded his authority.

U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt has called the legal challenges “discombobulating” to the administration’s plans and said officials are likely to wait for the court cases to be resolved before proceeding with offshore drilling.

Even so, lawmakers who oppose drilling said a legislative fix is needed.

“If we don’t act, drilling rigs could soon appear off our beaches,” said U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham, D-S.C., the lead sponsor of the bicoastal drilling ban. Cunningham won his seat last year in part because of his opposition to drilling.

“The Low Country (near Charleston, S.C.) is a force to be reckoned with, and we stand firm in our opposition to drilling off our shoreline,” Cunningham said. Offshore drilling could ruin the state’s tourism-based economy, “ruin our vibrant natural resources” and harm the state’s “unique way of life,” he said.

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