A $2.6 billion Alaska lease sale that already has been completed will be allowed to proceed, the Interior Department said.
That will continue to face lawsuits from the environmental community, which is concerned that the environmental studies were not completed properly.
“There’s a way to do this right,” said Michael LeVine, Pacific senior counsel for the advocacy group Oceana. “We believe that the American people want energy and a healthy environment. If we put in place science, and response and rescue, we can have both.”
In Virginia, perhaps one of the first states to benefit from the news, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, a Republican, praised Mr. Obama’s decision, saying it will “mean thousands of new jobs, hundreds of millions in new state revenue and tens of billions of dollars in economic impact” for the state.
He also urged Congress to pass legislation ensuring Virginia would receive a share of the royalties, as do Gulf Coast states, and Sens. Jim Webb and Mark Warner, Virginia Democrats, said they’ll push for a revenue-sharing formula.
By promoting some drilling, the move could aid an effort by Sens. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, and Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, who are trying to craft a bill that promotes clean energy production and nuclear energy as ways of tackling climate change. The House has passed a bill that takes a “cap-and-trade” approach to carbon emissions.
“The question for Kerry, Graham and Lieberman is, ‘Can you get to 60?’ and the president’s speech today seems to have made it easier for some members of the Senate to move towards ‘yes,’ ” said Sean Gibbons, a spokesman for the Third Way, a progressive think tank.
Since taking office, Mr. Obama has consistently touted clean energy technologies and incentives for consumers who retrofit their homes to be more efficient. He has shown a willingness to compromise on the issue, announcing earlier this year that the government would guarantee loans to break ground on two new nuclear reactors.
“They are walking, chewing gum, juggling chain saws and doing an Irish square dance at the same time,” Mr. Gibbons said of the administration’s approach to energy policy.
But Mr. Obama’s nods to Republican-backed energy sources have yet to reap bipartisan rewards. Republicans pointed out that his nuclear loan guarantees mean little in light of his administration’s opposition to a nuclear waste repository in Nevada. Likewise, some in the GOP shrugged off his drilling announcement as nothing more than lip service. House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence described it as a political “smoke screen.”
“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,” the Indiana Republican said. “Unfortunately, this is yet another feeble attempt to gain votes for the president’s national energy tax bill that is languishing in the Senate.”
While Mr. Obama’s drilling news didn’t draw quite as sharp reactions from environmentalists in his own party, many Democrats made their hesitation clear. Rep. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, said he plans to reintroduce “use it or lose it” legislation that would impose new taxes on oil companies with leases that are not being used.
“Before oil companies drill off thousands of miles of pristine coastline, they should first use the thousands of drilling leases they already own,” said Mr. Markey, who heads the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.
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