A key House chairman lent support Wednesday to President Barack Obama's plan to allow expanded offshore energy exploration.

Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, welcomed the president's plans to allow expanded oil and gas exploration, primarily on the Atlantic coast and in the Gulf of Mexico.

“President Obama’s offshore energy plan sets forth a process to bolster domestic energy security by developing oil and gas resources in portions of the Atlantic, Gulf, and Alaskan coasts while preserving some of America’s most sensitive offshore areas," Rahall said in a statement.
"I also applaud the President for his recognition that a comprehensive energy plan for America must make use of all domestic energy resources, including coal," the chairman added.

The symbolic importance of Rahall's support is twofold. Not only does his statement offer backing from a key committee of jurisdiction, but it also signals a potential shift in the politics on energy and climate change.

Rahall had opposed the administration-backed cap-and-trade climate bill to have passed the House last year, joining with most Republicans and some other Democrats to vote against the legislation.

The West Virginia congressman has been seen as a bellwether on energy and climate issues in the House, especially as the Senate works on crafting its own compromise legislation, in which offshore drilling is expected to play a role.

Republicans have been less receptive to Obama's plan today, with House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) having chastised the announcement for not going far enough.