Obama rescinds Atlantic coast drilling plan

President Obama is rescinding his proposal to open the Atlantic Coast to offshore drilling after encountering strong opposition.

The Interior Department announced the decision Tuesday, reversing Obama’s previous proposal for 2017–2022 of organizing a single lease sale on the outer continental shelf in the area from Virginia to Georgia.

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In abandoning the proposal, the department cited the current oil market, with its weak demand and historically low prices, along with local opposition and potential conflicts with commercial and military activity on the East Coast.

While the governors of four states supported drilling with certain conditions, the plan faced staunch opposition from coastal towns, cities, businesses, environmentalists and nearby states. It was by far the most contentious piece of the offshore drilling plan floated in January.

The latest proposal for offshore drilling keeps the possibility of up to two leases in the Arctic Ocean, something environmentalists oppose. But those sales would be subject to strict environmental tests, including evaluations of the climate change impact from the oil and gas drilled.

“The program takes a balanced approach to oil and gas development, focuses potential lease sales in areas with the highest resource potential, greatest industry interest and established infrastructure, while removing certain areas for consideration that we know are not appropriate for leasing,” Interior Secretary Sally JewellSally JewellOvernight Energy: Obama toughens rules on fossil fuel royalties Regulators close 'loophole' in fees for fossil fuel extraction Interior chief reprimands employees on ethics, sexual harassment MORE told reporters Tuesday, adding that officials gave more opportunities for public engagement in the consideration process than ever before.

Regarding the Atlantic, Jewell said she and her staff “heard from many corners that now is not the time to start leasing off the Atlantic coast. This includes many local communities whose livelihoods depend on fishing, tourism and shipping activity.”

“When you factor in the conflicts with commercial and national defense activities, market conditions and opposition from local communities, it simply doesn’t make sense to move forward with the Atlantic lease sale in the near future,” she concluded.

The Gulf of Mexico would have 10 lease sales under the plan, the same as last year’s proposal. 

It’s the second time Obama has floated Atlantic drilling only to withdraw it later; he did the same thing in 2010 after the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The moves comes in the middle of a presidential election with distinct party divisions on the issue.

Democratic candidates Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonLabor chief: Clinton-Lynch meet not ‘planned in advance’ Clinton scheduled to interview with FBI: reports Dem platform draft adopts Sanders proposal on taxing foreign earnings MORE and Bernie SandersBernie SandersDem platform draft adopts Sanders proposal on taxing foreign earnings Sanders wins concessions in Dem draft platform Dem draft platform a full repudiation of Trump MORE both oppose Atlantic and Arctic drilling, but the Republican candidates generally want more offshore drilling.

The drilling program unveiled Tuesday would give a Democratic successor to Obama leeway to cancel more lease sales but would largely tie the hands of a Republican president by making it difficult to add more sales without extensive outreach and consideration.

The proposal still needs to be made final, which the administration plans to do later this year after gathering more input.

Environmentalists declared victory Tuesday and said that their “keep it in the ground” approach to cutting down on fossil fuels is working.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, said Obama’s plan “reaffirms his dedication to protecting and conserving the great outdoors.”

“President Obama has taken a giant step for our oceans, for coastal economies and for mitigating climate change,” said Jacqueline Savitz, U.S. vice president for Oceana. “This is a courageous decision that begins the shift to a new energy paradigm, where clean energy replaces fossil fuels, and where we can avoid the worst impacts of decades of our carbon dioxide emissions.”

“This plan is a huge win for everyone who treasures the East Coast’s beaches,” said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters.

“Our public lands and waters, such as these oceans, should be managed in the public’s best interest, which means not issuing permits to drill and burn oil that will make climate change worse and divert our focus away from our transition to clean energy.”

But the oil industry and its allies blasted Obama for missing out on a great opportunity to produce more domestic energy.

“By removing the entire proposed Atlantic leasing area, the administration has failed to present a serious offshore plan that will help meet our energy needs over the coming decades,” said David Holt, president of the industry-backed Consumers Energy Alliance. 

“The exclusion also guarantees that domestic energy policy will be a major issue in the presidential election and underscores the critical need for the nominees of both parties to bring forward thoughtful, intellectually serious energy policies that will secure the nation's long-term energy, economic and national security,” he said.

The Chamber of Commerce said Obama’s plan is “remarkable for its catering to fringe constituencies at the expense of energy security and the American economy.”

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) took issue with the administration’s concerns, saying offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico coexists peacefully with fish, recreation, military activity and other uses.

“This decision is a win for foreign workers and a sucker punch to American workers,” he said.

Updated at 12:24 p.m.