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Obama Backs Oil Drilling Along Virginia Coast

By: Mark Tenia Email
By: Mark Tenia Email

March 31, 2010

UPDATE:

President Barack Obama is clearing the way for oil drilling off the Virginia coast.

State leaders say this could be an answer to the state's chronic shortage of money for transportation improvements. Gov. Bob McDonnell recently signed a bill that would take money from offshore drilling and use it for the state's transportation needs.

Obama made his announcement Wednesday morning at Andrews Airforce Base.

"This announcement is part of a broader strategy that will move us from an economy that depends on fossil fuels and foreign oil to one that relies more on homegrown fuels and clean energy," Obama said.

It's a first step to a plan McDonnell has envisioned.

"A year ago when I was just a candidate for governor, I talked about a vision of having Virginia be the energy capital of the East Coast," he said.

Not everyone is on board, though. Some environmentalists are speaking out against the offshore drilling.

"What we know about the offshore resources is that there's very little out there, but the risk to the environment, to our coast, and to our economies is significant," said Marirose Pratt of the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Still, some lawmakers said the move is necessary, including Virginia Sen. Jim Webb.

"I think we have put ourselves into a self-imposed exile in terms of our ability to generate energy, both offshore and nuclear, and I support moving forward on both of them," Webb said.

Webb is expected to introduce a bill later this year that would give Virginia royalties from drilling.

"There's a good revenue side for Virginia," Webb said. "If we take the model that was used in the Gulf of Mexico, where they had a 37 percent revenue going to the state of the federal revenues. So we can work on transportation issues and infrastructure issues."

Advocates in Virginia say it will do more than help roads. They say it will also add billions of dollars and thousands of new jobs to the state's economy.

Officials said the earliest drilling could most likely occur is 2012.

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President Barack Obama says he's expanding offshore oil drilling along the Atlantic coast, arguing that America must break its dependency on foreign oil and rely more on "homegrown fuels and clean energy."

Obama chose Andrews air base on the outskirts of Washington for his announcement, telling a military audience "this is not a decision that I've made lightly."

The move reverses longstanding government policy. Obama is allowing drilling along a large portion of Virginia's shoreline and is considering it for a large chunk of the Atlantic seaboard. He said "there will be those who strongly disagree," but pledged that it will be done "in ways that balance the need to harness domestic energy resources and the need to protect America's natural resources."

Gov. Bob McDonnell, a longtime proponent of domestic offshore drilling, said in a statement that Obama's actions will help Virginia's economy.

"The president’s decision to allow energy exploration off Virginia’s coast will mean thousands of new jobs, hundreds of millions in new state revenue and tens of billions of dollars in economic impact for the commonwealth. It will also help our nation take a further step toward energy independence. Environmentally safe offshore energy exploration and production is good for Virginia workers, the Virginia economy and national security."

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., issued the following statement after Obama's announcement Wednesday:

"This is good news and a positive step forward as we work to expand our nation's domestic energy production. Moving forward on the mid-Atlantic off-shore proposal will provide an opportunity to determine the scope of our region's off-shore energy resources, the economic viability of accessing those resources, and the potential impacts on our environmental and national security priorities."

U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello also released a statement, praising the president's actions.

"I have always advocated for an ‘everything and the kitchen sink’ national energy strategy that includes an expansion of oil drilling, and I have cosponsored bipartisan legislation to make this happen. I’m glad to see the president take a step in this direction for Virginia, but this must be part of a real energy independence strategy, not an excuse to avoid one. Ultimately, we must advance technologies that will reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, including renewable energy, biofuels and nuclear power, while using market-based solutions to create a carbon-limited economy. The sooner America leads on this, the more of these new energy jobs will be created here at home and not in China, India and elsewhere.”


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