WASHINGTON – Pointing to the BP blowout and risks of a new environmental disaster, the Obama administration reversed itself Wednesday and promised not to pursue offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico or anywhere else along the nation’s East Coast.
The decision was generally hailed in Florida, which depends on tourists drawn by the state’s white beaches, but criticized by the oil industry, which said the administration was stifling crucial U.S. energy production and costing recession-battered job seekers golden opportunities for new work.
The administration had backed a major expansion of offshore drilling earlier this year, in part to gain support for comprehensive climate legislation in Congress, one of President Barack Obama’s top legislative goals.
With that bill now off the table, the president stands much to gain politically by saying no to powerful oil interests, particularly in Florida, which is expected to be a crucial swing state in the 2012 election campaign.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar denied politics played any role, saying the BP spill taught officials a number of lessons, “most importantly that we need to proceed with caution and focus on creating a more stringent regulatory regime.”
The new drilling focus would be on areas with leases that are currently active in the central and western Gulf of Mexico.