Obama calls for expanded drilling as new energy policy

The plan announced by Obama would also move forward leasing for oil and gas companies off Virginia's coast. It also calls for consideration of leasing off the coasts of other southeastern and mid-Atlantic states after seismic studies.

In a nod to environmental concerns, the plan would scuttle planned lease sales off Alaska’s northern coast to allow further study, and also drops planned leasing in Alaska’s sensitive Bristol Bay.

Obama cast the plans as an attempt to end the well-worn battles between energy interests and environmentalists over oil-and-gas drilling.

“Ultimately, we need to move beyond the tired debates between right and left, between business leaders and environmentalists, between those who would claim drilling is a cure-all and those who would claim it has no place,” Obama said in an energy policy speech at Andrews Air Force Base.

“Because this issue is just too important to allow our progress to languish while we fight the same old battles over and over again,” he added.

The drilling plan drew quick criticism from several environmental groups. “Opening our coastlines for additional offshore drilling will continue the failed energy policies of the past and do nothing to create the new clean energy jobs of the future,” said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters.

But it drew cheers from some industry groups. “If the proposed areas ultimately end up being leased, it will represent the most significant increase in access to domestic energy from our oceans in decades,” said Randall Luthi, president of the National Ocean Industries Association.

Obama called the plan a balance between expanding domestic energy production and protecting natural resources.

He also stressed that the drilling effort is part of wider administration energy policy plans, which call for greater energy conservation alongside expanded development of nuclear energy, renewable power and low-emissions coal.

Obama noted that the administration plans to finalize new auto-efficiency standards tomorrow that he said would save 1.8 billion barrels of oil.

“I want to emphasize that this announcement is part of a broader strategy that will move us from an economy that runs on fossil fuels and foreign oil to one that relies more on homegrown fuels and clean energy,” Obama said.

He also reiterated his call for congressional passage of broad energy and climate legislation.