No drilling in wilds, House says

In what could be labeled as a swat-Watt measure, the US House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Thursday to close the nation's wilderness to oil and gas exploration, Monitor correspondent Julia Malone reports.

The measure, which would affect 25 to 30 million acres in the lower 48 states , counters policies of Interior Secretary James Watt, who set off a major controversy by agreeing to lease some wilderness areas to mineral companies.

Environmentalists have hailed the bill, charging that evidence shows these areas would yield only a ''thimbleful'' of oil. The oil and gas industry criticizes the measure on grounds it would lock up millions of acres in ''perpetuity,'' without first exploring them to see if they have mineral deposits.

After passing by a 340-to-58 vote in the House, the legislation faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where Sen. James A. McClure (R) of Idaho chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction.

Conservationists argue that the bill is urgent, since a moratorium on mineral leases in the wilderness areas will end when Congress adjourns this fall.

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