WASHINGTON — Reversing a ban on oil drilling off most U.S. shores, President Barack Obama on Wednesday announced an expansive new policy that could put oil and natural gas platforms in waters along the southern Atlantic coastline, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and part of Alaska.
Speaking at Andrews air base outside Washington, Obama said, "This is not a decision that I've made lightly." He addressed the expected outcry from disappointed environmentalists by saying he had studied the issue for more than a year and concluded it was the right call given the nation's voracious thirst for energy and the need to produce jobs and keep American businesses competitive.
"We're announcing the expansion of offshore oil and gas exploration but in ways that balance the need to harness domestic energy resources and the need to protect America's natural resources," Obama said, according to his prepared remarks released in advance by the White House. "This announcement is part of a broader strategy that will move us from an economy that runs on fossil fuels and foreign oil to one that relies more on homegrown fuels and clean energy. And the only way this transition will succeed is if it strengthens our economy in the short term and long term."
He added: "To fail to recognize this reality would be a mistake."
Obama made no secret of the fact that one factor in his decision was securing Republican support for a sweeping climate change bill that has languished in Congress. But Obama has long stated his support in favor of the "tough decision" to expand offshore drilling
The plan modifies a ban that for more than 20 years has limited drilling along coastal areas other than the Gulf of Mexico. It allows new oil drilling off Virginia's shoreline and considers it for a large chunk of the Atlantic seaboard. At the same time, he's rejecting some new drilling sites that had been planned in Alaska.