A Senate committee delivered a rebuff to Barack Obama's clean energy agenda yesterday by voting to overturn a ban on oil and gas drilling off the Florida coast.
The 13-10 vote in the Senate's energy and natural resources committee to lift the drilling ban off Florida's coast runs counter to the push by the White House and Democrats in Congress to steer clean energy laws through Congress.
Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives are pushing for a vote on the first US bill to cut carbon emissions by the end of this month. Meanwhile, a Senate committee is close to approving a bill to encourage the use of renewable energy.
Tuesday's drilling measure was brought as an amendment to that bill — already criticised by environmentalists by setting low targets for renewable energy development.
The vote would put oil and gas rigs within 10 miles of the Florida panhandle, and within 45 miles of Tampa.
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Congress allowed a 25-year ban on offshore drilling along much of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to lapse last year. But the ban remained in force in Florida, restricting exploration to within 125 miles of the Florida coast, and 235 miles from Tampa.
Senators voted down a proposal to allow oil companies to tap into Alaska's wildlife refuge.
Florida's Democratic Senator, Bill Nelson, said he would block the measure. "We are simply not going to let this happen," he told reporters.
The measure is likely to remain in the final version of the bill. The entire energy package will clear the committee as early as Thursday.
But although the amendment gained the support of eight Democrats on the committee – including the chairman Jeff Bingaman – it faces serious opposition elsewhere in the Senate and in the House that could stop it becoming law.