By Lisa Wangsness, Globe Staff
A last-minute provision has been added to the House Democrats' energy bill that would make Georges Bank off-limits to future oil and gas drilling.
With an offshore drilling moratorium set to expire Sept. 30, the legislation would allow new drilling as close as 50 miles from shore nationwide. It marked the first time Congress was seriously considering allowing new drilling off Massachusetts in a generation.
But in the final stages of negotiations on the bill late last night, Congressman Ed Markey of Massachusetts, chair of the Select Committee for Energy Independence and Global Warming, helped secure a provision protecting New England's premier fishing grounds from future drilling, his office said this morning. The bill, scheduled for a House vote today, also forbids drilling in any marine national monument or sanctuary.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's announcement of the proposal last week marked a dramatic reversal for Democrats, most of whom have long supported the drilling ban. Rising gas prices and economic troubles amid a contentious election season have created mounting political pressure for expanded drilling.