Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Trouble arrives: Obama proposes opening East Coast to oil drilling

There is a bright side to the Obama administration's surprise announcement Tuesday to open up 167 million acres of ocean along the Eastern Seaboard to oil and gas exploration. Isn't it better to get the work out of the way now, with a responsible government in Washington and strict safeguards in place, than to wait until the next oil shock forces a stampede to irresponsible exploitation? Hopefully, that's just what officials were thinking when they proposed the massive program that includes the Atlantic coast of the United States from Delaware to Florida, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the north coast of Alaska, according to the New York Times. The plan will be publicly revealed tomorrow at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, the Times said, even though officials began briefing members of Congress today. Under the proposal, years of geologic and environmental study by the U.S. Department of the Interior will be required before any of the tracts will be open for bidding, the Times said. The plan, developed after a series of public hearings and review of more than 500,000 public comments, is designed to help reduce the nation's oil imports, raise more revenue for the government and help gain support for the administration's climate change proposals. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said through aides that the proposal reflects the administration's desire to "rebalance" the nation's energy policies between drilling advocates and those who oppose any oil drilling on environmental grounds, the Times said. Sales of leases for the newly opened public lands are not expected before 2012, although a tract off Virginia already cleared for leasing could go out for bidding as early as next year, the newspaper said. The proposal also would open nearly 130 million acres in the Chukchi Sea and Beaufort Sea north of Alaska to exploration after extensive study, the Times said, but protect the environmentally sensitive Bristol Bay in southwestern Alaska, as well as the entire West Coast of the United States. The Obama proposal is sure to arouse opposition from his environmental allies, who oppose nearly all drilling out of concern for the environmental effects of oil spills, which are virtually certain to occur despite efforts to prevent them. But Obama argued during his successful 2008 campaign that he favored opening some areas to drilling to reduce the country's dependence on imported oil, the Times said. At Wednesday's announcement, Obama also is expected to announce an agreement between the Pentagon and Agriculture Department to use more biofuels in military vehicles and to purchase hybrid vehicles for the federal motor pool.

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