Interior-Environment spending bill clears House committee

The House Appropriations Committee approved a $27.6 billion Interior-Environment bill Thursday, making it the fourth of 12 fiscal 2008 spending measures to be approved thus far.

Those four bills are scheduled for the floor next week, including the Interior-Environment measure as well as the Energy and Water, Homeland Security and Military Construction-VA bills. House Appropriations Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., said party leaders have said to expect a long week, with Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., serving notice that it will be a "full day on Friday, and if necessary on Saturday" to keep to the announced schedule of getting most of the bills done by the July Fourth recess.

The Interior-Environment spending bill passed without objection, although Republicans argued it spent too much money -- $1.9 billion above the White House request.

The panel adopted an amendment by Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., stipulating that the process of opening Alaska's Bristol Bay to energy production be done carefully so as to protect salmon fisheries in the area. That was scaled back from a blanket prohibition on Bristol Bay oil and gas exploration, but some members felt it was still too prohibitive, and the amendment barely squeaked through on a 33-30 vote.

Another Hinchey amendment, similar to one he attached last year to the Interior measure on a 252-165 vote, to bar oil and gas companies that hold royalty-free leases from buying future leases was approved by voice vote. An amendment by Rep. John Peterson, R-Pa., to lift the 25-year moratorium on natural gas drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf was defeated, 39-25, as GOP members from coastal areas joined most Democrats in opposing the amendment.

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