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Obama Opens Up East Coast For Offshore Drilling


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris.

Today, President Obama announced plans to roll back a moratorium on oil exploration off the East Coast. He opened the door to more offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska. The proposal represents an olive branch to Republicans. During the 2008 presidential race, drill, baby, drill was a GOP campaign slogan. For Mr. Obama, it's a stepping stone to what he hopes will be a more comprehensive energy policy. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Green energy has been the mantra of the Obama administration. The president champions solar power, wind energy and efficiency at every turn. But windmills and solar panels by themselves are not enough, the president says. So in a decision sure to turn some green energy advocates red, he's opening the door to expanded oil and gas drilling offshore.

President BARACK OBAMA: Given our energy needs, in order to sustain economic growth and produce jobs and keep our businesses competitive, we are going to need to harness traditional sources of fuel, even as we ramp up production of new sources of renewable, homegrown energy.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama says he didn't make this decision lightly. And it's still not open season for oil companies. Most of the West Coast will still be off-limits, along with sensitive parts of the Alaskan coast, like Bristol Bay, a major fishery and tourist destination.

Pres. OBAMA: The answer is not drilling everywhere all the time, but the answer is not also for us to ignore the fact that we are going to need vital energy sources to maintain our economic growth and our security.

HORSLEY: Oil producers cheered the president's move. Energy analyst Phil Flynn of PFGBEST Research in Chicago says it's a big step for energy security, especially coming from Mr. Obama, who downplayed the potential of offshore drilling on the campaign trail.

Mr. PHIL FLYNN (Energy Analyst, PFGBEST Research): We've come a long way from the days when President Obama was talking about filling our tires with air, you know, could produce more energy savings than drilling in the ocean. I, for one, think it's a courageous move by the Obama administration, because we know many of the supporters are vehemently against this.

HORSLEY: Indeed, some environmental groups were quick to blast the expanded drilling. The League of Conservation Voters called it more of the failed policies of the past. Frances Beinecke, who heads the National Resources Defense Council, says it's a mistake to fall back on fossil fuels that generate greenhouse gases and to look for those fuels in sensitive natural habitats.

Mr. FRANCES BEINECKE (Head, National Resources Defense Council): This announcement today causes concern about what we consider to be some of the most fragile marine environments in the country.

HORSLEY: For President Obama, expanded offshore drilling is just one piece of a broader energy strategy. By embracing offshore drilling and nuclear power, he's hoping to win at least some Republican support for a comprehensive energy bill that would also curb greenhouse gases.

Pres. OBAMA: And what I hope is the policies that we've laid out - from hybrid fleets to offshore drilling, from nuclear energy to wind energy - underscores the seriousness with which my administration takes this challenge.

HORSLEY: Top Republicans grudgingly applauded the president's move. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell called it a step in the right direction, but a small step. McConnell also questioned whether the administration would really follow through and issue the permits for offshore drilling. But Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who met with the president earlier this month, says he came away impressed by Mr. Obama's openness to traditionally Republican thinking.

Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM (Republican, South Carolina): If you're Republican and you believe we should drill, baby, drill, now's your chance. If you're a Republican, independent or Democrat who believes in nuclear power, the store is open. Now is your chance.

HORSLEY: Graham has been working with Democratic Senator John Kerry and independent Senator Joe Lieberman on a wide-ranging bill to address climate change and promote domestic energy sources. They hope to unveil their plan in abut three weeks.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.
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