[JURIST] The US House of Representatives passed proposed legislation [H.R. 6899, PDF] Tuesday night that would partially lift the ban on offshore oil drilling [JURIST news archive] as part of a comprehensive energy proposal. The bill, entitled the "Comprehensive American Energy Security and Consumer Protection Act," was passed by a vote of 236-189 [roll call results]. The Act would authorize drilling activities 50 miles beyond the Pacific or Atlantic coastlines, areas that have been off-limits since 1981 due to a Congressional moratorium which has prevented oil drilling in 85 percent of US coastal waters. Under the new legislation, drilling or other activities would be outlawed in any marine national monument, national marine sanctuary, or the Georges Bank fishing grounds [USGS backgrouder], located off the New England coast in the North Atlantic Ocean. H.R. 6899 must be approved by the US Senate before taking effect. AP has more. The New York Times has additional coverage.
In July, President George W. Bush lifted an executive ban on offshore oil drilling [JURIST report] put in place during his father's presidential administration. In June, Bush called on Congress to relax restrictions on oil exploration [statement text; JURIST report], saying that it should also allow drilling to begin in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge [official website] in Alaska. Bush argued that resources currently off-limits to energy companies could offset rising fuel prices. Environmental organizations have criticized efforts to expand oil drilling [WWF report] in the Arctic, calling for increased research into energy conservation and renewable resources instead. Critics have also said that offshore development will require several years and a massive infrastructure that could impact local wildlife.