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Finkbeiner lashes proposal to drill under Lake Erie

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner yesterday assailed the oil and gas industry for even thinking about drilling beneath Lake Erie, and proclaimed the region “will not be stampeded into allowing open season on our irreplaceable natural resources.”

The mayor said environmentalists - whom he has not always seen eye-to-eye with during his two-term administration - can “absolutely” count on his support for a ban against drilling in the Great Lakes, the world's largest body of fresh water.

Mr. Finkbeiner was reacting to statements by state officials who addressed the possibility of drilling beneath the lakes for oil because of rising energy costs.

Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director Sam Speck said he was open to discussion about drilling, prompting former governor and current U.S. Sen. George Voinovich (R., Ohio) to issue a statement in opposition to Governor Taft and Mr. Speck.

Michigan Governor Engler has said he would consider new leases for directional drilling beneath Lake Michigan. The technology has been used on a limited basis to tap into reserves beneath that lake since 1945.

Lawmakers from Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and New York have signed onto a bill that would create a ban on all drilling near the lakes.

On Feb. 22, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman called upon the farm industry to do just that. President Bush has said he supports the country's need to increase domestic energy supplies and become less dependent on crude oil imports.

Mr. Finkbeiner, a Democrat who supported former Vice President Gore's presidential bid, questioned Mr. Bush's commitment to the environment.

Mr. Finkbeiner said his suspicion is based partly on the fact Mr. Bush hails from a state - Texas - in which drilling “occurs at the drop of a New York minute.”

“The [oil and gas] industry hopes that the fear of energy shortages will scare the public into abandoning drilling restrictions on public lands and waters. Well, I have news for the drillers and their friends in the Bush administration. We will not be stampeded into allowing open season on our irreplaceable natural resources,” Mr. Finkbeiner said.

Kurt Waltzer, spokesman for one of Ohio's largest coalition of environmental groups, the Ohio Environmental Council in Columbus, declined comment on Mr. Finkbeiner's statements.

Thomas Stewart, spokesman for the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, could not be reached for comment.

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