From: H. Josef Hebert, Associated Press
Published March 3, 2005 12:00 AM

Richardson: Governors Should Have More Say About Drilling on Federal Land

WASHINGTON — New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said Wednesday that governors should be allowed to protect environmentally sensitive federal land in their states against oil and gas drilling.

Richardson, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, said the Bush administration already has a precedent for such a move: a proposed forest protection plan that would leave it to governors to designate what federal forests should remain roadless.

Under Richardson's proposal, a final decision on a governor's petition still would be up to the Interior Department.

"We're not against oil and gas development, but there are areas that should not be developed," Richardson said in a speech to environmental groups.

Richardson said in an interview he believes both Republican and Democratic governors might appreciate greater say in what ecologically sensitive lands should be protected.

He noted a long-standing moratorium on oil and gas drilling along much of the U.S. coastline outside the western Gulf of Mexico. It has been in place for years under both Republican and Democratic administrations, environmentally benefiting coastal states.

Congress and the administration should give landlocked states such as New Mexico "the same kind of ecological attention," Richardson said.

Richardson, who is widely thought to be interested in a presidential bid in 2008, has been in a battle with the Interior Department over the extent of oil and gas development in New Mexico, especially the Otero Mesa, a desert grassland area that environmentalists say would be harmed by oil and gas rigs.

The governor wants to prohibit oil and gas drilling on 630,000 acres of the 2.1 million-acre Otero Mesa area, but said the Interior Department has ignored his pleas.

"It's time for Congress to enact provisions for drilling moratoriums in places like these," said Richardson.

There's no indication the Republican-led Congress or the Bush administration might warm up to Richardson's idea. The administration and GOP leaders in Congress have argued that energy development and environmental protection can coexist, given modern drilling technology.

Source: Associated Press

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