Oil drilling plan said to include sensitive areas Drilling proposal includes sensitive coasts, environmentalists say.


WASHINGTON -- Drilling for oil or gas would be allowed in many sensitive offshore areas under a Bush administration program, according to environmental lobbyists familiar with the soon-to-be-released plan.

The proposal would allow drilling in coastal areas from New Jersey to South Carolina, along the Gulf of Mexico from Texas to Florida, and in several large areas off California and Alaska.

The oil drilling plan is the second major Bush energy policy to become public amid controversy this month. Last Friday, draft copies of Bush's national energy strategy revealed that the president rejected calls for higher auto fuel economy and mandatory conservation programs, opting instead for more lenient licensing of nuclear power plants and tax breaks for oil exploration.

Under the Interior Department offshore oil drilling plan, Bush's declaration last June that he would ban oil drilling off New England and in certain areas off Florida and California has become formal policy. However, environmental lobbyists familiar with the plan said Bush was still going too far in allowing drilling in many sensitive areas.

"What we find in the new proposal is that we could have significant adverse effects along the Atlantic, Gulf and Pacific coasts and off of Alaska," said Brent Blackwelder, vice president of Friends of the Earth.

Bush's plan may encounter opposition in the governor's office in several states.

For example, the policy would allow drilling off California in 87 tracts that encompass nearly 800 square miles, even though newly elected Gov. Pete Wilson has been a critic of such plans.

Tom DeRocco, an Interior Department spokesman, said he could not comment on the plan because it had not been released. However, he stressed that, in general, the Interior Department would not allow an offshore lease to go forward until there had been consultation with the nearest state.

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