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    California Seeks Oil-Drilling Block

    Bill similar to a measure approved last week in Florida.

    LOS ANGELES -- The Bush administration should give California the same protections against oil and gas drilling that it granted to Florida this week, Gov. Gray Davis said.

    He was one of several California officials who spoke out on the subject after President Bush's announcement of plans to spend $120 million in federal funds to purchase individually owned oil and gas rights in three areas of Florida's Everglades. Bush also plans to spend $115 million to pay oil companies to drop drilling plans in Gulf of Mexico areas, the Associated Press.

    "Like Florida, California is known worldwide for its beautiful coastal waters. And also like Florida, California has oil and gas leases off its coast," Davis wrote in a letter to Bush. "By providing federal funds to buy out the 36 undeveloped federal oil and gas leases off the south-central coast of California, your vision of coastal protection can be extended to our state."

    Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer also sent a letter asking the president to "immediately support retiring all of the leases off the coast of California."

    New offshore oil leases are banned off the California coast, but the state still has 36 undeveloped leases that were issued by the federal government between 1968 and 1984. The oil companies holding the leases have sued the federal government for breach of contract because procedural hurdles have prevented drilling work from going forward.

    Interior Department spokesman Eric Ruff told the AP that because litigation with the companies owning the California leases began only months ago, the government has not gathered enough information to determine how to proceed, or even how much it would cost to buy back the leases.

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