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White House explains Atlantic drilling move

New drilling plan includes offshore Alaska and Gulf of Mexico, but pulls East Coast off the table.
By Daniel J. Graeber Follow @dan_graeber Contact the Author   |   Updated March 16, 2016 at 8:18 AM
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WASHINGTON, March 16 (UPI) -- Military interests and concerns from coastal communities were factors influencing a decision on drilling in the Atlantic Ocean, a White House spokesman said.

The Interior Department revised a lease plan through 2022 to include 10 potential sales in the Gulf of Mexico and three for offshore Alaska. Initial considerations for lease sales in the Atlantic were removed because of "current market dynamics, strong local opposition and conflicts with competing commercial and military ocean uses," the department said.

The U.S. Defense Department this week told the White House there may be areas in the original proposal for the Atlantic that may not be compatible with defense operations and interests. Environmental groups, local and state officials up and down the eastern coast had expressed strong opposition to the plans, saying the ecosystem and tourism industry may be threatened by oil and gas drilling.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said there were significant military facilities in areas that were proposed for the Atlantic and national security interests had an obvious influence on the government's decision.

"Also factored in was the response from the opposition that existed in many coastal communities who were concerned about these offshore drilling sites," he said. "And then finally, there was also an assessment of current energy market dynamics, and that factored into this overall decision as well."

An October report from the Virginia Petroleum Council said opening up new waters in the region could create more than 20,000 jobs and add more than $1 billion to Virginia state coffers by 2035. Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., said the Interior Department's decision was out of step with regional and national interests.

"The administration's decision not to allow oil drilling in the Atlantic Ocean suggests a blatant disregard for the energy and economic realities this country is facing," he said in a statement.

The Southern Environmental Law Center said many of the statements made on the economic potential of new offshore drilling were overstated. Tourism and fishing, the SELC said, offered far more benefits.

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