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WASHINGTON IN BRIEF

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Offshore-Drilling Bill Backed

House negotiators reached a deal on a measure for offshore oil and gas drilling that was then approved by the House Resources Committee yesterday by a 29 to 9 vote.

The bill would allow drilling within 100 miles of U.S. shores, force states to pass legislation every five years in order to prevent drilling closer than 50 miles to shore and give a large share of federal royalties to state governments.

Environmental groups condemned the measure for putting natural resources in danger, putting obstacles in the way of states and organizations that want to stop drilling between 50 and 100 miles from coastlines, and setting up divisive battles over billions of dollars in royalties.

"There is no justification for members of Congress representing coastal states in putting their state's environment and tourism economies at grave risk," said Mike Daulton of the National Audubon Society.

Major industry groups hailed the proposal, which would replace a moratorium that has been approved every year since 1981.

"This is a seismic shift in a 25-year-old policy that . . . was reinstated every year with little or no debate," said Jack Gerard, president of the American Chemistry Council.

Senators are working on a limited measure to open up a large tract in the Gulf of Mexico.

Wind-Farm Plan Advances

Senate negotiators agreed to a provision that would pave the way for a controversial wind farm off Cape Cod to move forward as long as the Coast Guard agrees that it will not be a hazard to shipping and navigation.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who opposes the project, had supported language that would have allowed Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) to veto the project. Romney has publicly opposed it. But that provision had held up a broader $8.7 billion Coast Guard reauthorization bill, so Kennedy decided to compromise.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.), who helped broker the deal along with ranking Democrat Jeff Bingaman (N.M.), called the final language "a sound model" for policy making.

Kennedy praised the compromise provision as well. "It's a significant victory in our effort to deal with the legitimate safety concerns of the project," he said.

The $900 million project aims to place 130 wind turbines within sight of the tourist havens of Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.

14% Lack Health Insurance

More than 14 percent of Americans lacked health insurance last year, a slightly lower share than 2004, according to federal statistics published yesterday.

The survey, by the National Center for Health Statistics, found that 8.9 percent of U.S. children had no health insurance coverage.

The center's report said that in 2005, 41.2 million Americans, or 14.2 percent of the population, were uninsured when its survey was conducted. It said 51.3 million had been uninsured for at least part of the previous year and 29.2 million, or 10 percent, had been uninsured for more than a year.

The study is based on a regular survey of more than 98,300 people.

-- Staff writers Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin and news services

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