- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 1, 2010

Officials in states along the Eastern seaboard raised alarms Wednesday that President Obama’s proposed policy on offshore drilling could hurt their economically vital tourism industries.

Many of the most prominent critics were from Mr. Obama’s own party.

“Drilling risks harm to our environment and injury to our coastal communities that rely on fishing and tourism to sustain their livelihoods,” Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, said.

Delaware’s Gov. Jack Markell, a Democrat, also expressed concern about Mr. Obama’s plan.

“Although we are still reviewing the details of this proposal, I have concerns with the adverse impact it may have on our environment and Delawares important tourism industry,” Mr. Markell said.

And New Jersey’s two Democratic senators, Frank R. Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, vowed to fight the changes.

Although New Jersey is not directly participating in the oil exploration, the state could be damaged indirectly, Mr. Lautenberg contended. He said an oil spill could damage beaches and beach towns that generate an estimated $50 billion in economic activity and employ almost 500,000 people in the state.

“Drilling off the Virginia coast would endanger many of New Jerseys beaches and vibrant coastal economies,” Mr. Lautenberg said. “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.”

Mr. Obama, whose announcement at Andrews Air Force Base Wednesday morning met with sharply divided reaction from the corporate and environmental worlds, said he had considered the impact of offshore drilling on tourism and travel as one factor in his decision.

“This is not a decision that I’ve made lightly,” Mr. Obama said.

“Well protect areas vital to tourism, the environment and our national security. And well be guided not by political ideology, but by scientific evidence,” he said.

The plan includes opening seven states on the Atlantic coast, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the northern coast of Alaska to offshore drilling for both oil and natural gas.

In a political compromise, drilling would not be allowed within 100 miles of the Florida coastline, but the proposal still proved divisive among leading Democrats from the state. Sen. Bill Nelson said he supported the president’s move, but Rep. Kathy Castor, a second-term Democrat who represents a district in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, called the policy shift “a serious threat to Florida’s economy and jobs.”

North Carolina’s Department of Commerce declined to comment on the proposal, stating it did not want to speculate on future effects. Tourism is one of North Carolina’s biggest industry, with an estimated $15.6 billion in revenues in 2009.

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