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Incumbent presidents often are accused of passing out plums just before an election, but in California the withholding of what some people consider a "lemon" may boost Jimmy Carter's re-election efforts.

The US Department of the Interior has been considering a proposal to sell offshore oil leases along 700 miles of California's coast. Oil companies are salivating over the prospect of millions of barrels of oil and billions of cubic feet of natural gas, but many Californians are worried about earthquakes and other hazards that could lead to oil spills.

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Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus has said publicly that three of the five lease areas in question have been "temporarily" dropped from consideration. And insiders concede that the decision to withdraw most of the offshore lease sale proposal already has been made. It will be formally announced, according to these sources, just prior to the November election.

Shortly before the June 3 Democratic primary in California, President Carter announced his support for a plan to save Lake Tahoe from further environmental degradation. Environmentalists were pleased, but Mr. Carter lost the primary to Sen. Edward Kennedy anyway.

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