House OKs dead zone money

By Bush has threatened veto of bill, however
TIMES-PICAYUNE; Thursday, June 28, 2007

By Bruce Alpert

WASHINGTON — The House agreed Wednesday to spend an extra $2.5 million on research and projects designed to break up the Gulf of Mexico dead zone as part of an Interior Department spending bill that increases financing for environmental enforcement, national parks and global warming research.

The bill, which passed 272-155, has generated a veto threat from the Bush administration because it would allocate nearly $2 billion more than the $25.6 billion proposed by the president.

The dead zone amendment, by Rep. Bobby Jindal, R-Kenner, doubles the $2.5 million in grants now available for states, universities and private entities to develop ways to deal with the environmental problem in the Gulf. A dead zone, or hypoxic zone of oxygen-depleted water, is created during most summers when pollutants released into the Mississippi River flow down to the Gulf. The pollutants create decomposing algae that consume the water’s oxygen, making it uninhabitable for fish, shrimp and other marine wildlife.


"The growing dead zone in the Gulf continues to pose significant problems for Louisiana‘s fisheries industry and environment," Jindal said. "With the extra money from my amendment, the Environmental Protection Agency will allocate more of their funding to the program that aids in fighting the dead zone."

Jindal had expected a fight over his amendment, but it was quickly accepted by Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee that wrote the bill. He acknowledged the dead zone is a serious environmental problem.

Despite getting his amendment included, Jindal joined the other Republicans in the Louisiana delegation in voting against the measure, primarily because of the overall cost. The two Democrats in the state’s delegation voted in favor.

Overall, the bill provides $569 million, $19 million more than requested by President Bush, for environmental enforcement; $600 million to clean up toxic and hazardous waste sites; and $2.5 billion for national parks, $223 million more than proposed in the president’s budget.

The bill also declares it the sense of Congress that climate change is a reality and requires the country to act, and appropriates $50 million for a new commission to review the scientific investments needed to curb global warming.

Amendments rejected

The House rejected two amendments that would have permitted exploration and production of natural gas and oil on the Outer Continental Shelf. The first, allowing oil and natural gas exploration 100 miles offshore, was defeated by a voice vote. The second, which would allow natural gas exploration from 25 miles offshore, lost 233-197.


All seven Louisiana House members voted for the increased exploration.

Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-Napoleonville, argued that energy companies now have the technology to minimize environmental damage from drilling.

"I respect tremendously my colleagues that have the fear of environmental concerns," Melancon said. "That is something that I share with you, but I have seen these oil companies. I have seen them in the past when they were awful. I have seen them today, when they do an excellent job. The technology gets better by the day."


But Rep. Ron Klein, D-Fla., said the risks aren’t worth taking, given that there are still plenty of drilling opportunities available for energy companies along the Outer Continental Shelf.

"As a representative with over 75 miles of coastline along South Florida‘s east coast, new drilling could be a death knell for our environment, for our economy and our way of life," Klein said.

The bill contains language that effectively would bar oil companies that haven’t signed an agreement to limit their financial windfall from benefiting from future royalty relief. As a result of a drafting mistake in the offshore drilling rules made during the Clinton administration, the royalty relief — intended as an inducement for production when oil prices are down — remains in effect, even though oil prices have tripled since the leases were issued.

‘Unfettered spending’

California Rep. Jerry Lewis, the top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, said the bill "represents exactly the kind of unfettered spending that so closely identifies the differences of philosophies between House Republicans and the Democratic majority."

But Dicks said the House had no choice but to make up for budget cuts that have curtailed environmental enforcement and left many of the nation’s national parks in ill repair.

"Between 2001 and 2007, funding for the Interior Department fell 16 percent, EPA by 29 percent and the Forest Service nonfire budget by 35 percent, when adjusted for inflation," Dicks said.

The bill includes 228 earmarks totaling $119 million, half the amount passed by Republicans two years ago. Republicans tried to remove some of the earmarks, including one to renovate a theater at St. Joseph‘s College in Indiana, but were defeated.

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Bruce Alpert can be reached at or (202) 383-7861.