"You'll be able to stand in any beach in the state of Florida, and from it you'll see no development from this proposed sale," said Interior Secretary Gale Norton.
The big change in administration policy came under extraordinary pressure from the president's brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. The prospect of seeing oil rigs from Florida's pristine beaches had sparked sibling rivalry between the president and governor, reports CBS News Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson.
Monday's compromise inspired words of praise from Gov. Bush, who was quick to take credit for the White House's change of heart.
"It was important that I have a relationship with the president and be able to speak clearly and honestly about what Florida's concerns were about this," said Jeb Bush.
Speaking from his parents' home in Kennebunkport, Maine, Gov. Bush said the compromise "reflects significant progress in Florida's fight to protect our coastline."
The president, a former Texas oilman, has long been on record favoring drilling throughout the Gulf of Mexico to find new sources of energy for the nation.
"The president has heard the voices of (the) people of Florida," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters. "He has done just what he said he'd do, which is work with the governors of all the states of the Gulf of Mexico and come out with a plan that is environmentally sensitive and balanced."
Fleischer said he did not know if the president had spoken with his brother about the matter.
The area, known as Lease Sale 181, originally covered six million acres when it was proposed by the Clinton administration in 1997 after consultations with then Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles. Now, that area has been scaled back to one-fourth the size, and pushed at least 100 miles from the popular beaches of the panhandle.
That was enough to make some environmentalists do what seemed unthinkable until now: praise a Bush administration environmental stance.
"It's a great decision for the people of Florida and Florida's coast. I mean it's a very big win to have them come out and say no drilling anywhere off Florida's coast," said Athan Manuel of the Public Interest Research Group.
Oil and gas rigs now dot the western and central waters of the Gulf of Mexico but no federal lease has been offered in the eastern gulf since 1988. Officials estimate that the new, reduced lease area contains at least 185 million barrels of oil and 1.25 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
"This compromise allows the economic development that Louisiana would like to see. It allows the energy development that is necessary for the entire country and it responds to the concerns of the state of Florida," Norton said.
Detailof the lease sale will be released in October, with actual bidding taking place in December.
Bonus bids in the offshore sale are "conservatively'' estimated to generate $136 million for the federal government and could be much higher, Norton said.
Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 247-164 to block drilling in Florida's offshore Gulf waters through next April in an amendment attached to the Interior Department's annual spending bill.
The Senate has yet to act on the measure.
Norton expressed confidence that Congress would not pursue a moratorium on offshore Gulf of Mexico drilling, but added that the House vote "was not binding on us."
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