The Obama administration, reversing itself in the wake of April's BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, has let it be known that it will maintain a long-standing ban on offshore oil drilling off the East Coast or western coast of Florida — and political activists of all stripes are weighing in with delight or outrage.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said the BP spill taught some serious lessons. "We need to proceed with caution and focus on creating a more stringent regulatory regime," he said in a statement posted by The Associated Press.
Salazar's department said it will not be allowing new oil leases for at least seven years. In March — just three weeks before the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig disaster — the administration had said it would allow companies to explore the potential for drilling from Delaware to central Florida, plus the northern waters of Alaska. The new plan allows potential drilling in Alaska, but officials said they will move cautiously before approving any leases.
Charlie Crist, the outgoing governor of Florida (a Republican turned Independent this year), told local reporters in Tallahassee the decision was "wonderful news."
"That's news that will be very favorably received by the tourist industry throughout the state, but also by the people," Crist said.
Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, said the administration was continuing a "misguided policy":
"The Administration is taking the wrong approach in responding to the BP spill and creating energy and energy jobs in this country. The answer isn’t to give up and say, ‘America can’t figure it out, we’ll rely on other countries to produce our energy.’ The answer is to find out what went wrong and make effective, timely reforms to ensure that U.S. offshore drilling is the safest in the world," said Hastings.
“This plan to lock-up vast portions of America’s offshore energy resources is short-sighted and will lead to long-term job impacts, economic harm and increased reliance on foreign energy from dangerous and hostile countries."
Environmental groups, on the other hand, applauded.
“As we saw this summer, offshore oil drilling cannot be done safely," said Andrew Sharpless, CEO of the group Oceana. "It wrecks fisheries, kills the jobs that depend upon them, and contaminates beaches. This decision is a wise and sensible step to protect Florida, the Atlantic coast and the Pacific coast from an inevitable disaster from expanded drilling. It’s great to see the government acting in a strong, clear and far-sighted way to protect the oceans – and the people who work and depend on them."
Likewise, there was this from the Sierra Club:
"Keeping the Eastern Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coast out of the new five-year drilling plan is a significant step in the right direction," said Athan Manuel, the club's land protection director. "But an oil spill like the BP disaster could happen anywhere — in Alaska, or in other parts of the Central and Western Gulf Coast where drilling is allowed."
"We have a choice," he said. "We can continue to destroy coastal communities in the pursuit of dirty, outdated energy like oil. Or we can aggressively invest in clean energy like wind that will create good jobs here at home and keep America competitive in the global clean energy economy."