President Obama’s decision Wednesday to open up areas off the Atlantic coast, north of Alaska, and in the Gulf of Mexico for oil drilling and exploration prompted a mixed response from congressional Republicans. While some GOPers were supportive, leading House Republicans refused to believe that the President’s proposal would constitute an effective energy policy.
Top House Republicans were the most critical of President Obama’s decision. Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) called the President’s announcement “a smokescreen,” while House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said that in refusing to open areas off the Pacific and Alaskan coasts for drilling, the administration “continues to defy the will of the American people” who supported drilling in those areas.
“[The decision] will almost certainly delay any new offshore exploration until at least 2012 and include only a fraction of the offshore resources that the previous Administration included in its plan,” stated Pence, the third-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives.
“Opening up areas off the Virginia coast to offshore production is a positive step,” said Boehner, “but keeping the Pacific Coast and Alaska, as well as the most promising resources off the Gulf of Mexico, under lock and key makes no sense at a time when gasoline prices are rising and Americans are asking ‘Where are the jobs?’”
Alaska Rep. Don Young was another Republican who condemned Obama’s plan, calling it “a complete farce.” “While I appreciate the President’s seeming departure from his extreme environmental left supporters, all I’m seeing in this exploration ‘plan’ is smoke and mirrors,” he stated.
“Not one lease sale in an area previously under moratorium will occur during President Obama’s term,” Young said. “This plan closes more than it opens, and is a complete farce.”
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, supported Obama’s announcement, but added that the move seems to contradict the President’s broader energy policy.
“I appreciate the President’s apparent willingness to consider offshore drilling as part of the administration’s energy policy,” Sen. Inhofe said. “It also appears President Obama is caught in a contradiction. The President is, on the one hand, pushing forward with global warming policies to make fossil fuels more expensive, while on the other hand, he’s talking about drilling for more fossil fuels offshore. How does the President square these two policies?”
Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources praised the administration for the decision, and hoped that caution would be used in leasing environmentally sensitive areas for drilling.
“I commend [Interior] Secretary [Kenneth] Salazar for proposing a plan that makes available for leasing much of the potential offshore oil and gas resources that the federal government owns,” Sen. Bingaman (D-N.M.) said. “I also commend him for indicating that additional studies will be undertaken before making a final decision on leasing in areas that might be environmentally sensitive.”
Other House and Senate Republicans were friendlier toward the President’s decision, though they added that much more needs to be done for energy independence. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) called the decision “a step in the right direction,” and Republican Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said the President’s decision was “long overdue.”
“I am encouraged that the administration has endorsed offshore-energy exploration off our coast,” Cantor stated. “Unfortunately, the benefits that the administration’s decision will bring to Virginia will not be felt by many other states and regions.”
Rep. Barton added that President Obama must ensure that the transition from lease application to lease production for the ocean areas is expedited, and not bogged down with red tape.
“It won’t do any good if Minerals Management Service and the Environmental Protection Agency drag their feet and throw up one procedural roadblock after another,” the congressman said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called the plan “a good first step,” and called for revenue sharing between the federal government and the states from the oil and gas drilling. In addition, he advocated opening up other areas in the Gulf of Mexico and off the Pacific Coast to exploration.
“It is a national disgrace that as a nation we are more dependent on foreign oil today than we were before 9/11,” Graham said. “Drilling is an important piece to making our nation more energy independent.”
Democrats from Virginia supported the decision, especially since the state would benefit from drilling conducted 50 miles off its coastline. Senators Webb and Warner pressed for a revenue sharing formula between the federal government and the states on the matter.
“This is good news and a positive step forward as we work to expand our nation’s domestic energy production,” Warner said of the decision.
“Opening up Virginia’s offshore resources to natural gas and oil exploration holds significant promise for boosting needed domestic energy production, while at the same time, bolstering the Commonwealth’s economy,” stated Webb.
Both senators from the state of Alaska approved the decision as well. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) appreciated the administration allowing exploration of Alaska’s offshore resources. Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) approved as well.
“As America’s long-term energy storehouse, Alaska holds some of North America’s largest reserves of oil and natural gas,” Begich stated. “Responsibly developing these reserves is vital for America’s energy independence and security and would be a shot in the arm to our economy when we sorely need it.”
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) expressed environmental concerns about drilling off the Florida coast, but believed the decision would keep the state’s beaches safe.
“Now I need to hear from Defense Secretary Robert Gates,” Nelson added. “I want him to look me in the eye and tell me it will not compromise national security by interfering with the unfettered space we have for training and testing our most sophisticated military weapons systems.”