- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Obama administration withdrew its plan Tuesday to allow oil and gas drilling off the southeast Atlantic coast, reversing course in the face of opposition from environmentalists, coastal communities and even the Pentagon.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said the policy was reversed because of concerns from coastal residents as well as the Defense Department’s hesitation about drilling near some of its largest installations.

“We heard from many corners that now is not the time to offer oil and gas leasing off the Atlantic Coast,” Ms. Jewell said. “When you factor in conflicts with national defense, economic activities such as fishing and tourism, and opposition from many local communities, it simply doesn’t make sense to move forward with any lease sales in the coming five years.”

Industry representatives and Republican lawmakers criticized the administration for bailing on a plan that could make the U.S. less dependent on foreign energy sources and would create jobs.

Jack Gerard, CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, said the decision “appeases extremists.”

“This is not how you harness America’s economic and diplomatic potential,” Mr. Gerard said. “While benefiting from energy policy choices made more than a decade ago, this inconsistent policy leads to unraveling the nation’s ability to be a global energy leader and has left the future of American energy and national security vulnerable for the geopolitical challenges that lie ahead.”

Barry Russell, president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, said the action, which affects oil and gas leasing from 2017 to 2022, “closes the door to more American jobs and opportunities for our economy.”

“This plan will make our nation less competitive, limit our geopolitical advantages abroad and force us to be more reliant on foreign sources of oil from volatile regions of the world,” he said.

The Interior Department estimates that 3.3 billion barrels of oil and 31.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas are available in the Atlantic’s outer continental shelf.

Mr. Obama is trying to burnish his legacy as an environmentalist, taking a leading role in the Paris climate change agreement, which seeks to reduce worldwide carbon emissions produced by fossil fuels.

When the administration first proposed to allow drilling in the Atlantic, governors and other officials in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia all expressed support. But environmental groups and seaside communities from Virginia to South Carolina called for the president to reverse course.

“President Obama is so intent on solidifying his radical climate legacy that he has backed out of his commitment to a large, bipartisan coalition of state leaders,” said House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican. “These states simply want to explore their own energy potential, but the president’s reversal has disenfranchised them of this chance. This is a lost opportunity for new jobs and economic growth in these coastal states, not to mention much-needed revenues for the federal Treasury.”

Jacqueline Savitz, a vice president of the environmental group Oceana, said Mr. Obama “has taken a giant step for our oceans, for coastal economies and for mitigating climate change.”

“This is a courageous decision that begins the shift to a new energy paradigm, where clean energy replaces fossil fuels, and where we can avoid the worst impacts of decades of our carbon dioxide emissions,” she said.

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