- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 31, 2010

President Obama, making good on a nearly two-year-old campaign promise, said Wednesday the U.S. government will open up huge areas of the country’s outer continental shelf to offshore drilling for oil and natural gas.

Calling it a tough decision, Mr. Obama gave his blessing to oil and natural gas drilling along swaths of the Atlantic coastline, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the north coast of Alaska. But he said specific areas would be protected, such as Alaska’s Bristol Bay.

The announcement comes as gasoline prices creep toward $3 a gallon — up a dollar since Mr. Obama took office a year ago.

“This is not a decision that I’ve made lightly,” Mr. Obama said, adding that he and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar wrestled with the issue for more than a year. “But the bottom line is this: Given our energy needs, in order to sustain economic growth, produce jobs and keep our businesses competitive, we’re going to need to harness traditional sources of fuel even as we ramp up production of new sources of renewable, home-grown energy.”

Mr. Obama has held energy as a key priority along with health care and the economy, touting “green” energy technologies and incentives for consumers who retrofit their homes to use less fuel. He has sought to compromise on environmental issues, and earlier this year he announced the government would guarantee loans to break ground on the first U.S. nuclear reactors in a generation.

Riding high on a string of domestic and international political victories, Mr. Obama is trying to shore up support in Congress for a comprehensive energy bill. The House passed his cap-and-trade approach to curbing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, but the proposal has stalled in the Senate.

Mr. Obama described Wednesday’s announcement as a similar compromise, but the early Republican reviews were negative. House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, blasted the administration for not going further, saying the administration plan still keeps the majority of the country’s offshore resources off-limits to commercial exploitation.

“Opening up the areas off the Virginia coast to offshore production is a positive step, but keeping the Pacific Coast and Alaska — as well as the most promising resources off the Gulf of Mexico — under lock and key makes no sense at a time when gasoline prices are rising and Americans are asking, ‘Where are the jobs?’” Mr. Boehner said.

At the other end of the spectrum, the League of Conservation Voters called Mr. Obama’s decision “highly disappointing.”

“Opening our coastlines for additional offshore drilling will continue the failed energy policies of the past and do nothing to create the new clean-energy jobs of the future,” said Gene Karpinski, the environmental group’s president.

Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, said he remained opposed to opening up Virginia’s coastline to drilling as called for in Mr. Obama’s plan.

“Drilling risks harm to our environment and injury to our coastal communities that rely on fishing and tourism to sustain their livelihoods,” Mr. Moran said in a statement.

Mr. Obama, anticipating criticism from both sides, urged people to put traditional arguments aside.

“Ultimately, we need to move beyond the tired debates between right and left, between business leaders and environmentalists, between those who would claim drilling is a cure-all and those who would claim it has no place — because this issue is just too important to allow our progress to languish while we fight the same old battles over and over again,” he said.

Along with the drilling announcement, Mr. Obama said that his administration is set to issue new car and truck fuel standards in April to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. He said the federal government has doubled the number of hybrid cars in its fleet.

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