Obama Ends Moratorium on Off-Shore Drilling, Atlantic Seaboard Most Affected

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Today, President Obama announced that new portions of the United States will be open for off-shore drilling:

Mr. Obama said that his plan to allow drilling along the Atlantic coastline, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the north coast of Alaska - ending a longstanding moratorium on exploration from the northern tip of Delaware to the central coast of Florida, covering 167 million acres of ocean - would balance the need to produce more domestic energy while protecting natural resources. But it is also intended to generate revenue from the sale of offshore leases and help win political support for comprehensive energy and climate legislation.

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Under the plan, the coastline from New Jersey northward would remain closed to all oil and gas activity. So would the Pacific Coast, from Mexico to the Canadian border. The environmentally sensitive Bristol Bay in southwestern Alaska would be protected and no drilling would be allowed under the plan, officials said. But large tracts in the Chukchi Sea and Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska - nearly 130 million acres - would be eligible for exploration and drilling after extensive studies.

You can read the full text of his comments or watch video of the announcement.

The ocean's bottommost sands aren't the only thing that are shifting. This announcement by the President coincides with his shifting position on drilling during his 2008 campaign. From August 2008:

Shifting from his previous opposition to expanded offshore drilling, the Illinois senator told a Florida newspaper he could get behind a compromise with Republicans and oil companies to prevent gridlock over energy.

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"If, in order to get [energy policy] passed, we have to compromise in terms of a careful, well thought-out drilling strategy that was carefully circumscribed to avoid significant environmental damage _ I don't want to be so rigid that we can't get something done."

I adore the idea and goal of increasing our country's energy independence from oil and oil-producing nations as much if not more than the average American.  But I also adore the Atlantic coast and have to tell you, the vision of oil rigs bobbing in the waves just south of Cape May down to the northern coast of Florida gives me some icy feelings (New Jersey politicians and the NJ chapter of the Sierra Club share these sentiments).  Similar reaction is coming from environmentalists. Previous general debunking of how this drilling won't help us reach energy independence is presented by Sheryl Canter at Environmental Defense Fund's Climate411 blog, and today, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune had this to say:

"Drilling our coasts will doing nothing to lower gas prices or create energy independence. It will only jeopardize beaches, marine life, and coastal tourist economies, all so the oil industry can make a short-term profit.

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"There's no reason to drill our coasts. We can achieve real energy independence and economic vitality by investing in clean energy like wind and solar and efficiency. This kind of power creates good, lasting American jobs and positions our nation to become a global leader in the new clean energy economy."

Lesley Clark's post for Naked Politics, "Enviros Bash Obama Over Oil Drilling" includes multiple screeds and concludes with this:

“We’re appalled that the President is unleashing a wholesale assault on the oceans," said Oceana senior campaign director Jacqueline Savitz. "Expanding offshore drilling is the wrong move if the Obama administration is serious about improving energy security, creating lasting jobs and averting climate change."

For those who might want to rationalize this policy decision by the President as one intended to walk back from the discord he faces with Republican legislators following the acrimonious health care debate, you may feel let down. Monica Potts at The American Prospect's blog, Tapped:

This is presumably meant to get conservative support for climate legislation. From the Times:

The Senate is expected to take up a climate bill in the next few weeks — the last chance to enact such legislation before midterm election concerns take over. Mr. Obama and his allies in the Senate have already made significant concessions on coal and nuclear power to try to win votes from Republicans and moderate Democrats. The new plan now grants one of the biggest items on the oil industry’s wish list — access to vast areas of the Outer Continental Shelf for drilling.

Because that worked so well with the health-care bill. There will be a lag, and there are likely to be some areas with oil where drilling won't be economically feasible, so it's possible little drilling will take place as a result of this measure. And it's not like Obama said he didn't support off-shore-drilling expansion as a candidate, but this announcement is still a disappointment. The gains are likely to be small, the risks are huge, and it puts politics over evidence.

And confirmation of Potts' suspicions, from Indiana Republican Mike Pence:

"The President's announcement today is a smokescreen.  It will almost certainly delay any new offshore exploration until at least 2012 and include only a fraction of the offshore resources that the previous Administration included in its plan. 

"Unfortunately, this is yet another feeble attempt to gain votes for the President's national energy tax bill that is languishing in the Senate.  At the end of the day this Administration's energy plan is simple: increase the cost of energy on every family in America and trade American jobs oversees at a time when millions of Americans are looking for work."

Finally, ex-Governor of Alaska and former GOP candidate for Vice President Sarah Palin tweeted a reaction:

Rep.Boehner spot-on Obama goal=cram thru job-killing, energy-depleting, burdensome Cap & Tax scheme on heels of Obama's new"pro-drilling"msg

I now live on the "North Coast" in Ohio, a few miles from Lake Erie.  But for those who live on the coasts of Virginia, North and South Carolina and the other affected areas, how do your feelings break? Is this a political ploy that will net any gains legislatively or is it a waste of what little political capital Obama may have gained from the health care law passage?  Is it an action that can actually move us toward energy independence or more symbolic?

More resources:

New York Times' topic resource list

From It's Getting Hot in Here: Dispatches from the Youth Climate Movement: Our Generation Screwed Over By Obama's Offshore Drilling Plan

Science Friday on pluses and minuses of off-shore drilling

Jill Writes Like She Talks

In The Arena: Jill Miller Zimon, Pepper Pike City Council Member

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