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More waters off California may be off limits to oil drilling

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President Bush is likely to sign the bill because of its many supporters, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, state and local governments, the fishing industry, conservation groups, and marine scientists, say close observers.

California's Mendocino-Sonoma region is probably best known for its onshore beauty: soaring redwoods, the rolling hills of wine country, a rugged coastline. But its offshore attributes are no less unique. The natural interaction of wind and water currents brings nutrients up from the ocean floor and distributes them along the California coast – providing sustenance for birds and marine life, including endangered salmon, Steller sea lions, gray whales, and northern fur seals.

A high-profile spill of 58,000 gallons of fuel oil from a tanker that struck the San Francisco Bay Bridge in November – closing fisheries, ending crab season, and fouling beaches – was an added catalyst to the legislation, Mr. Charter and others say. Several members of Congress whose districts were hit by the spill have become sponsors or supporters of the bill in recent months.

"They are more concerned because they've realized we really haven't gotten that much better in cleaning [oil spills] up," Charter says.

If the legislation is approved, it would double the size of two existing national marine sanctuaries near San Francisco and Marin, called Cordell Bank and Gulf of Farallones.

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