Panel Approves

Oil and Gas Drilling

A House committee yesterday approved a measure that would clear the way for oil and gas drilling in currently off-limits coastal waters and an Alaska wildlife refuge.

Supporters of the legislation argued that with natural gas and crude oil prices soaring and domestic supplies tight, it is time to end the 24-year federal ban that has blocked energy development along virtually all of the country's coastal waters outside the central and western Gulf of Mexico.

The provision, which will be wrapped into a massive budget package, would allow states that want drilling within 125 miles of their shores a waiver from the federal moratorium that has been in effect since 1981.

States choosing to allow drilling would get half of the royalties from lease sales. The ban would remain in effect along states that do not seek a waiver.

The measure, which also would open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern Alaska to oil companies, was approved 24 to 15 by the House Committee on Resources in a largely party-line vote.

Past attempts to weaken the offshore drilling ban and open the Arctic refuge to oil development have been thwarted in the Senate.

Last week, the Senate also took steps to include ANWR drilling in the budget document, although it did not include language that would disrupt the offshore drilling moratorium. That issue will have to be worked out in negotiations between the two chambers.

Iraq Reconstruction

Botched, Study Says

U.S. officials and members of Iraq's provisional government bungled the management of $24 million in reconstruction grants in early 2004, and some cases may have involved fraud, according to a report released yesterday.

The U.S. inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, Stuart Bowen, said his office had referred several cases of potential fraud in reconstruction grants for the South-Central Region for further investigation.

Those investigations are ongoing, according to Bowen's report -- the latest in a series of detailed audits of more than $30 billion in U.S. funds for Iraq reconstruction.

Bowen's spokeswoman Kristine Belisle said the Justice Department is looking at possible indictments linked to Iraqi reconstruction. She gave no details and declined to confirm whether they were linked to cases in southern Iraq.

The report said personnel working for the Coalition Provisional Authority for the South-Central Region, which includes the cities of Najaf and Karbala, could not account for $20.5 million in funds.

The money was provided for a program to help Iraqis or assist in reconstruction after the March 2003 U.S. invasion.

Attempt to Exempt

Livestock Farms Fails

Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho) failed in his efforts yesterday to exempt large livestock operations from having to report ammonia and other harmful emissions under federal toxic chemical right-to-know laws.

At Craig's behest, Senate Appropriations Committee negotiators adopted the measure as part of a pending agriculture spending bill on a party-line vote. But House negotiators failed to vote on the issue, and in the end lawmakers finalized the bill without the provision.

Craig spokesman Sid Smith said the senator does not question that ammonia and other noxious fumes may irritate Americans living near large farms, but said he believes it makes no sense to apply the nation's Superfund reporting laws to these operations.

-- From Staff

and News Services