Clinton launches oceans defence

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The Independent Online
WITH THE the bright blue seas of Monterey bay behind him, President Clinton yesterday announced a raft of new measures to protect the oceans around America that will delight environmentalists.

He extended a ban on offshore oil development which the oil industry had sought to lift at the first National Oceans Conference, a gathering of those concerned with the under-sea environment. The other initiatives included a ban on the sale of undersized Atlantic swordfish, and $194m over five years to implement it and reduce overfishing.

The President issued a presidential directive ordering all executive agencies to avoid actions that damage coral reefs, and proposed creating two new unmanned deep-sea observatories off the West Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico.

The extension of the ban on offshore drilling will last until 2012. The ban was originally put in place by President George Bush in 1990, and covers virtually all the US coast off California, Oregon, Washington, Florida, New England, the mid-Atlantic and southern Alaska. The Gulf of Mexico- where the bulk of offshore oil exploration is carried out - was unaffected.

Environmentalists had pressed the President to extend it permanently, but the oil industry had become restive and wanted the President to lift the ban. The American Petroleum Institute said the ban was "bad policy". But, the President said, "it is clear we must save these shores from oil drilling."

"Even in the best of circumstances," he asked, "is it really worth the risk?" The compromise will help the Democrats to keep the environmentalist lobby - particularly important in California - on board. "The bottom line is the president has really charted the most prudent course here," said Katie McGinty, chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.