Below The Beltway

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Obama: Drill, Baby, Drill

President Obama announced the first expansion in offshore drilling in decades:

WASHINGTON — President Obama on Wednesday described his proposal to open vast expanses of American coastlines to oil and natural gas drilling, much of it for the first time, as a painful but necessary decision.

He 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.

While Mr. Obama has staked out middle ground on other environmental matters — supporting nuclear power, for example — the sheer breadth of the offshore drilling decision will take some of his supporters aback. And it is no sure thing that it will win support for a climate bill from undecided senators close to the oil industry, like Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, or Mary L. Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana.

“This is not a decision that I’ve made lightly,” the president said in prepared remarks in a speech on energy security. “But the bottom line is this: given our energy needs, in order to sustain economic growth, produce jobs, and keep our businesses competitive, we’re going to need to harness traditional sources of fuel even as we ramp up production of new sources of renewable, homegrown energy.”

Sounds good ? Well, Stephen Green points to a Wall Street Journal article that shows this to be much less than meets the eye:

At the same time, Mr. Obama’s plan wouldn’t allow new oil and gas development off the coasts of Northern Atlantic states or California, whose political leaders have long opposed offshore drilling. The administration will call off a plan drafted by the administration of former President George W. Bush that would have given oil companies access to Alaska’s Bristol Bay, an area teeming with wild sockeye salmon and many commercial fishing interests concerned about the impact of drilling on their livelihoods

Still, it’s something, which I guess we should be thankful for.

Meanwhile, the politics of this are going to be very interesting. Already, one Democratic Senator is vowing to kill Obama’s plan:

“Drilling off the Virginia coast would endanger many of New Jersey’s beaches and vibrant coastal economies,” stated Lautenberg. “Giving Big Oil more access to our nation’s waters is really a ‘Kill, baby, kill’ policy: It threatens to kill jobs, kill marine life and kill coastal economies that generate billions of dollars. Offshore drilling isn’t the solution to our energy problems, and I will fight this policy and continue to push for 21st-century clean energy solutions.”

Meanwhile, the Republican Governor of Virginia, who campaigned on opening up Virginia’s offshore area to drilling, is fully behind the President in the statement he released today:

“I thank the President and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar for ensuring Virginia will be the first state on the East Coast to explore for and produce energy offshore. The President’s decision to allow energy exploration off Virginia’s coast will mean thousands of new jobs, hundreds of millions in new state revenue and tens of billions of dollars in economic impact for the Commonwealth. It will also help our nation take a further step towards energy independence. Environmentally-safe offshore energy exploration and production is good for Virginia workers, the Virginia economy and national security. Just this session the General Assembly passed, with bipartisan support, legislation I requested to authorize offshore oil and gas exploration and drilling and to allocate 80% of revenues to transportation and 20% to green energy research and development.

For all the talk about the death of bipartisanship, this is one issue where Republicans are likely to eagerly get behind the President.

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