White House Says No New Offshore Drilling Until Investigation is Complete

Democratic lawmakers already are lining up against Obama's policy to expand offshore drilling and any bill that includes such measures. On Thursday, Democratic senators spent more time debating offshore drilling than the financial reform bill.

"I'm deeply concerned that the current five-year plan recently announced by the administration would allow oil drilling less than 5 miles from Cap May, New Jersey," said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J. "It is a wakeup call for all of us."

Menendez and Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, also a Democrat, are calling on the president to nix it altogether.

"Big oil has perpetuated a dangerous myth that coastline drilling is a completely safe endeavor, but accidents like this are a sober reminder just how far that is from the truth," the senators said in a joint statement Thursday.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., wants to block Obama's offshore oil drilling plan while the Deep Water Horizon investigation is ongoing and called on him to ask "tough questions" of big oil companies.

"It's unclear whether any additional shut-off controls would have made a difference in this case," Nelson wrote in a letter to Obama Thursday. "But the questions about the practices of the oil industry raised in the wake of this still-unfolding incident require that you postpone indefinitely plans for expanded offshore oil drilling operations."

Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Threatens Obama's Offshore Oil Drilling Policy

Meanwhile, environmental groups are hoping that the incident will validate their opposition.

"There are grave environmental concerns which this horrific spill has highlighted," said Bob Deans, spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which opposed the policy. "We need a time out on any action to go forward with new offshore drilling because this has obviously raised a bunch of questions. We need a full comprehensive independent investigation."

The White House has said it is too early to tell how the incident would impact the president's proposal, saying the policy is only the beginning.

"There will be ample opportunity for public input. There will be ample opportunity for congressional and governor input," Carol Browner, assistant to the president for energy and climate change, said Thursday. "That is the beginning of the process, not the end of the process. ... We need to stay focused on the incident. We need to learn from the incident."

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs stressed that the president's decision was "the beginning of a longer process" that will take into account any new developments, including the oil spill from BP's well.

Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes told reporters Thursday that he believes the fundamental practices of offshore drilling are safe and that this particular incident was highly unusual, but "everything is on the table."

Brown countered the idea that the spill would jeopardize the debate on the energy and climate bill.

"This will become part of the debate. That goes without saying," she said. "It doesn't mean we can't get the kind of energy legislation we need for this country."

Supporters of offshore oil and gas drilling say one incident doesn't mean the United States should completely do away with it altogether.

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