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Conservation Groups Suing Over Extended Leases

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) __ A coalition of conservation groups is suing the Bush administration over its decision to extend leases for oil and gas drilling off the Central California coast.

In a lawsuit filed yesterday in federal court in San Francisco, the groups are challenging the Interior Department´s conclusion that no environmental impacts would result from the extension of 37 leases for drilling off the coasts of Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. The 37 leases have NOT been used to produce oil or natural gas, and lease holders must get additional permits if they want to start drilling. In its suit, the coalition — led by the Santa Barbara-based Environmental Defense Center and the Natural Resources Defense Council –claims that even exploration and surveys could have a harmful effect on the environment.

A spokesman for the Interior Department declined to comment because he had not seen the lawsuit.