WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration's energy development plans are meeting resistance in Congress as Democrats block new drilling in federal monument areas and vow to stymie attempts to develop oil and gas reserves in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and an Arctic wildlife refuge.
Another showdown was likely Thursday as the Senate considers a delay of oil and gas lease sales in the Gulf off Florida and Alabama, although the Interior Department has scaled back development plans there dramatically.
That attempt to block the Gulf plans, complained a frustrated Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, "may be the only vote on energy production we ... have the rest of this year."
Two months ago, the energy blueprint President Bush disclosed focused heavily on the need to find new sources of coal, natural gas and oil and to build more power plants and electricity transmission lines.
An Interior Department spokesman said Wednesday the department has no plans to develop leases in the national monuments or parks. The Bush plan does not specifically exclude that, however.
Democrats and moderate Republicans in Congress have frustrated measures to develop energy in areas where environmentalists have expressed misgivings. They have sought to shift emphasis to cutting energy use.
The Senate voted Wednesday to prohibit new exploitation of coal, oil and gas resources on federally protected monument areas across the West. Drilling and mining under existing leases in the monuments could continue.
"Damaging these irreplaceable lands is not gong to solve America's energy crisis," argued Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill. He rejected protests by Western GOP senators that fencing off significant oil, gas and coal reserves in those areas defies logic.
The ban on new drilling in the monuments, similar to an action already taken by the House, passed 57-42.
Thursday's vote on whether to delay gas lease sales in 1.5 million acres of the eastern Gulf of Mexico was to provide another test for Bush's energy agenda. The House already has delayed any such lease sales for six months.
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