Obama to Unveil Offshore Oil Drilling Plans

This is a pleasant surprise if it actually turns out to be true.

WASHINGTON — In a reversal of a long-standing ban on most offshore drilling, President Barack Obama is allowing oil drilling 50 miles off Virginia’s shorelines. At the same time, he is rejecting some new drilling sites that had been planned in Alaska.

Obama’s plan offers few concessions to environmentalists, who have been strident in their opposition to more oil platforms off the nation’s shores. Hinted at for months, the plan modifies a ban that for more than 20 years has limited drilling along coastal areas other than the Gulf of Mexico.

Obama was set to announce the new drilling policy Wednesday at Andrews air base in Maryland. White House officials pitched the changes as ways to reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil and create jobs — both politically popular ideas — but the president’s decisions also could help secure support for a climate change bill languishing in Congress.

The president, joined by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, also was set to announce that proposed leases in Alaska’s Bristol Bay would be canceled. The Interior Department also planned to reverse last year’s decision to open up parts of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. Instead, scientists would study the sites to see if they’re suitable to future leases.

Obama is allowing an expansion in Alaska’s Cook Inlet to go forward. The plan also would leave in place the moratorium on drilling off the West Coast.

In addition, the Interior Department has prepared a plan to add drilling platforms in the eastern Gulf of Mexico if Congress allows that moratorium to expire. Lawmakers in 2008 allowed a similar moratorium to expire; at the time President George W. Bush lifted the ban, which opened the door to Obama’s change in policy.

Under Obama’s plan, drilling could take place 125 miles from Florida’s Gulf coastline if lawmakers allow the moratorium to expire. Drilling already takes place in western and central areas in the Gulf of Mexico.

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