Obama backtracks on plan to open more Gulf waters to offshore drilling
In the aftermath of the Gulf oil spill, the Obama administration has decided to pull back from a plan to open Florida's Gulf coast and parts of the Atlantic seaboard to offshore drilling.
The United States Interior Department on Wednesday backtracked on a plan to open up the eastern Gulf of Mexico and parts of the Atlantic seaboard to new offshore drilling leases – a decision sparked by the Gulf oil spill this summer and the failure to strike a political deal with Republicans on global-warming legislation.Skip to next paragraph
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The decision, which bans oil exploration in these areas until at least 2017, could have an impact on short-term energy independence while also laying a more permanent framework for the development of alternative energy sources.
It also hints at what could be a new method of governing for President Obama in the wake of last month's midterm elections, with the president attempting to set energy policy himself rather than incorporating Congress.
"This may be an indicator of what Democrats and people on the hard left were saying after Democrats got thumped in November, that Obama should just start using executive authority and acting unilaterally," says Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. "This is the beginning of that ... process of governing."
The news is a further blow to the oil industry in the Gulf, which is still waiting for the Obama administration to approve new leases in areas of the Gulf that are open to drilling – despite the lifting of the deep-water drilling moratorium in October.
Eastern areas of the Gulf 125 to 300 miles off Florida's west coast have been off limits to drilling since Congress passed a moratorium in 2006. But a few weeks before the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20, the Obama administration vowed to begin studying whether the eastern Gulf and parts of the Atlantic coast should be opened to drilling. Congress would ultimately have to approve such a plan.
But with the global warming bill dead and the spill of 200 million gallons of oil in the Gulf fresh in the minds of many Americans, the administration is now placing more emphasis on drilling safety, scientific evaluation, and environmental assessment, the administration announced Wednesday. Other media outlets are reporting that the administration is still open to the possibility of expanding offshore drilling in central and western areas of the Gulf as well as off the coast of Alaska, which was also a part of the March plan.