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House Republicans pull bill on Gulf oil, gas drilling

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans abruptly pulled from floor action Tuesday a bill to open a large area of the eastern Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling after it became clear the legislation lacked the two-thirds vote needed for passage.

The bill, which has already passed the Senate, was to have been one of the last major legislative achievements of this session of Congress.

It would open 8.3 million acres of the Gulf that is now off limits to drilling and also steer hundreds of millions of dollars of federal royalty payments to four Gulf coast states — a windfall for Louisiana, which would get about half the money. Republican leaders gave no reason for the decision. But an aide to a lawmaker strongly supporting the legislation said that a number of Republicans withdrew their support at the last minute and some Democrats also had signaled they would not support the measure.

The aide, who requested anonymity because another attempt is expected on the bill, said GOP leaders planned to revive the bill in a way that only a majority vote is required or attach it to another bill. GOP leaders had put the measure on an expedited schedule, requiring two-thirds approval.

"We have precious little time left," said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., in a statement, adding she remained hopeful the legislation can be taken up later this week.

The drilling bill is one of a string of measures House GOP leaders have readied for this week's "lame-duck" session under an expedited procedure that bars amendments, but also requires a two-thirds vote for approval.

Environmentalists have lined up against the bill and some Republicans are cool toward the measure, favoring a more expansive offshore energy development plan that passed the House in June that would have lifted drilling bans along both the East and West coasts. Senate leaders said the House bill had no chance in the Senate.

The Senate-passed bill covers an area 125 miles south of the Florida Panhandle and is up to 300 miles from Florida's Gulf coast.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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